How to Handle Rejection Letters from Publishers

Completing a novel is a magnificent achievement. However, this is just the beginning of an often rocky journey as the writer endeavours to find a publisher or agent and is likely to face rejection letters.

Overcoming Rejection Letters

Emotional turmoil will often accompany the receipt of a rejection letter and the inexperienced writer might take it badly. Solace might be sought with the knowledge that the most successful writers have received them and is part and parcel of the business of writing novels. The only way to avoid the rejection letter is never to submit a novel.

Publishers' Submission Guidelines

Some rejection letters are arbitrary, as it might be a result of submitting the manuscript to the wrong publisher, for example by submitting a historical novel to an agent specialising in crime fiction. The Artist and Writer’s Yearbook is an invaluable resource for writers on submission guidelines and how to find the most suitable publisher for their work.

How to Submit Novels to Publishers

Most publishers and agents request the first three chapters with the author’s contact details and return postage. The wait will often be six weeks or even longer. Presentation is essential for first impressions. The obvious, such as typos and a dog-eared submission will not bode well for the writer and must be avoided.

Types of Rejection Letter

Strange as it might sound, there are different types of rejection letters.

As previously mentioned, a rejection letter might simply be a result of sending the work to the inappropriate publisher, or the submission guidelines have not been followed.

Some rejection letters are in standardised format and simply say a polite "no," but luck with the future. This is the most common type.

A rejection letter that offers any feedback is a good sign. The longer the rejection letter, the better, for agents and publishers are busy places and need not spend any time giving feedback. Taking the time to offer any advice shows some belief that the developing author has potential.
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The Motivation to Write a Novel

Repeated rejections can be very disheartening for the writer and might often cause a crisis in the writer’s mind. The following pointers might be worth considering.

  • Collate all feedback from the rejection letters and look for a common theme. Jot them down with a view to addressing them during a future draft of the novel.
  • An editorial consultancy is available for a fee. Cornerstones are a well-established consultancy that offers this service for struggling authors.
  • The writer might also consider seeking the feedback of a trusted party. It might be wise to avoid close friends or family members as fear of hurt feelings might taint objectivity.
  • The writer might agree or disagree with the feedback, but one can rarely argue with a unanimous opinion that a problem exists within the story and something needs to be changed.
  • Put the novel away for a few months. A fresh eye will make mistakes look more obvious and easier to deal with.
Developing as a Writer

The author might decide to abandon the project after receiving dozens of rejection letters. Regardless of the negative feelings caused, the following might be worth bearing in mind.

  • When completing the novel, the writer will always read future novels from the viewpoint of a novelist. Aspects such as characterisation, plot structure and the placement of scenes can be assessed and deconstructed from this viewpoint.
  • The "failed" first novel has formed the blueprint and paved the way for future novels that are likely to be a little easier to write from an informed viewpoint.
  • The negative emotions that rejection letters might bring can be put to future use when projecting them onto a character. This can be a liberating experience and will make characterisation more real.
  • Regardless of the conviction the writer might have in their novel, there is little use in trying to convince the publisher or agent otherwise, and this would look unprofessional. It is better to talk to someone in confidence, or to gain some distance from the experience and begin another project.

Finding a Publisher

There are more possibilities nowadays than there used to be. The Internet has opened up the stage for writers have yet to be discovered by the printed world, and it does happen that a writer who has struggled for years has been taken up by a publisher or an agent. Never give up hope.
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© Rachel Shirley