Friday, February 19, 2016

Learning from Manuscript Rejection

Rejection is not easy to put up with, but writers do it all the time. It's not that it's easier for writers, but it's the nature of the beast, so writers accept this aspect of their business and move forward.

What You Can Learn from Rejection

Rejection can give you little nuggets of opportunity to improve your chances of gaining a contract with a literary agent. Believe it or not, even when the rejections are a standard, general letter, you can learn what you need to improve upon in certain circumstances, as explained below. If you think about each rejection you receive for your work, there are golden nuggets of opportunity to improve. You just have to consider the circumstances of the rejection and see what you can do to improve those elements.

Remember, a rejection from a literary agent has nothing to do with you, your abilities, your skill, or you as a person. It's simply a rejection of the work you are submitting at that point of time.

Rejection of Your Query Letter

If you are submitting your work to literary agencies and you don't get a nibble to see your manuscript, this is a signal that you could work on your query letter or that there are other reasons that are not related to the manuscript itself.

Your query letter is your hook. It needs to contain a great summary of your manuscript. But it needs a little more than that. It needs a hook to gain the interest of your audience, which in this case, is a literary agent.

Also, your query letter should contain your logline and a brief synopsis of your story (if your book is fiction). This should be no more than a paragraph or two.

As Ms. Rebecca Pratt of the Rebecca Pratt Literary Group states, your query also needs to contain "contain a brief paragraph about you—why you wrote the book, story—your qualifications, past experience—all in the third person."

Crafting your query letter is just as important as your novel. Pay attention to your query letter, and it could pay off big in the end.

There are other reasons why your query could be rejected:

  • The prospective agent isn't interested in the subject matter. 
  • In some circumstances, it could be the wrong time of year to submit. 
  • There might not be much of a market for your novel. For example, if you decided to start a new genre of fiction, there will most likely not be a publishing company who has a readership for that type of fiction. Using existing production and marketing channels for your work will increase your chances of getting your work noticed among your potential readers.
  • You might need a little more experience in writing in order for some literary agents to consider you and your work.
  • The literary agent might not be accepting more manuscripts at this time.
As you can see, there are a few reasons that are not directly related to the quality of your work. Make sure you do your research to see if the agent is the right agent to represent your work and if there is an established channel for the type of book you've written. This can save you a lot of time in the end.

The Agent Asks for the First Fifty Pages, but Your Manuscript Was Rejected

If an agent asks for your manuscript, that is a huge accomplishment. It means your query is written well enough to attract interest.

However, if the beginning of your manuscript doesn't do what it's supposed to - grab the reader and keep the reader reading - then you know where your manuscript needs some work. This is good news, because tightening up your beginning is something you can accomplish.

The first ten pages of your manuscript should grab your reader - which, in this case, is a prospective agent. Because of limited resources, most publishers will not look at a manuscript if it doesn't grab them within the first ten pages. 

The Agent Asks for the Entire Manuscript, but Your Manuscript Was Rejected

If you experienced this, this can be frustrating for you, and that's understandable. However, instead of focusing on the rejection, instead, look at what you've accomplished.Your query letter was enough to hook your reader. Your beginning fifty pages were strong enough to illicit the agent to ask for the whole kit and kaboodle.

Look to your story elements. If your manuscript was rejected after the literary agent read the entire manuscript, this means that it held an interest, but perhaps there is a major element of your story that needs improvement. The agent could have found major plot flaws, for example, or a lack of character development. A problem in the way the idea was developed within the story could cause a literary agent to reject your manuscript after reading the entire thing.

If you are in this situation, read some books about developing the elements of a fictional story or writing a nonfiction book. Then try again.

A Rejection Is a Beginning

Every writer deals with rejections. It's part of the learning process and can occur even later in a person's career.

Paying attention to when your manuscript was rejected can give you important clues as to what areas you need to improve to increase chances of gaining a contract with a literary agent.

It never hurts to ask. See if you can get some feedback on your work. Ethically, literary agents are allowed to charge for this service. If an agent is going to take the time to help you improve your work, this might be worth the investment if the agent is willing to give you some feedback. Although, if an agent is asked, they might be willing to give you a short answer as to why they did not accept your manuscript for no charge.

If you are lucky enough to receive feedback for your work, I suggest asking the agent if he or she would be interested in viewing the work once you improve those aspects of your manuscript. If you have gotten far in the process, this might be more of a possibility.

First and foremost, remember that your relationship with your literary agent is about developing a long-term professional relationship. Showing your willingness to develop yourself as a writer and a professional goes a long way, and it could eventually lead to getting you that contract.

Happy writing!

Kirsten Schuder, M. S.
Associate Literary Agent