What’s next: part four

So after you have been very patiently waiting to hear back about your query, you receive a rejection email (or letter). What should you do now?

Firstly, remember this is not the end of the world! I know the news probably sucks, but as hard as it may be to hear, try not to take it personally. Take a few deep breaths and step away from the computer. Now we can deal with this head on! Hopefully this is your first rejection letter: if not, never fear – we are going to formulate an action plan to allow for your best possible opportunity next time.

Have another look at your rejection. What exactly was said? Is it similar to any of the responses listed in Part Three? What kind of tone is used? Has the agent made a personal reference to your query and specific details about your work? All of this information makes a difference in how you should respond (or if a response is necessary) and how you will approach your next query.

Should you respond to the rejection? Unfortunately there is no blanket response to this question. As stated above, it really depends on what has been said in the email. What is the tone? Did the agent offer you any advice or feedback? If it is a fairly generic rejection, I wouldn’t worry about writing back. Agents can get hundreds of emails a day and while it’s a polite gesture, it’s not always necessary.

If the agent has given you some useful and personalised feedback or if they have recommended someone you contact, then I would recommend taking the time to reply with a short thank you email. If you are going to respond to the rejection, take a bit of time first, to avoid the chances of doing something you will regret later. Do not send anything that would be construed as rude or unprofessional. Do not send anything written in anger, with sarcasm, or containing a personal attack on the agent (or agents in general). Do not send anything like this. I cannot emphasise this point enough. No matter how hurt/angry/stressed/over-tired/over-caffeinated you are, don’t do it! Agents do talk and it is an industry all about contacts, so anything like this it will definitely get around and soil your chances elsewhere (plus agents generally do not want to take on anyone who is less than professional in conduct).

Now it’s time to start thinking about your action plan. Take some time to think about what the rejection letter said – was the reason directed more towards your query or your manuscript? If it was more to do with the agency (i.e. they aren’t taking on new authors, their lists in that area are full or they don’t represent that genre) go back to Part One and look at your research lists. Look again at the agents you researched and see if any of them would be suitable. If so, re-work your query and personalise it to them (I cannot stress this enough – do not just copy + paste. If getting an agent is that important to you, spend the time writing them a new query).

However, if the rejection leans more towards the manuscript itself, look carefully at what the agent has said. Was the tone relatively positive? Did they comment on your writing style? Sometimes it’s just a case that the agent may not be interested in that particular manuscript, but may be open to reading another piece of your work. There is nothing stopping you from developing another manuscript and sending them a query for that work in the future. If the criticism was more on the manuscript itself (they felt it needed work more/an edit/major structural work), look into this. I’d recommend taking a breather and getting some fresh perspective on the work. Maybe join a writing group, or visit your local writers centre. Read your work aloud (this is a way I personally pick up a lot of mistakes or awkward expressions). Have someone else read your work. Workshop your writing with other writers. Check out editing services offered by your writers centre – as I’ve mentioned before, many have excellent and affordable editing services and can not only improve the spelling and grammar of your manuscript, but also offer feedback and constructive criticism. Another idea is to try a short course in writing or editing, which can be quite beneficial – even if only for contacts made.

If you can’t bear to return to this manuscript, are completely over it, or need some decent time away – write something new! It certainly doesn’t hurt to have another finished piece in your repertory and can only increase your versatility. Spend some time developing the new work – relish discovering new characters and exploring new settings, play with plot and narrative structure, and just enjoy the act of writing. Then, when you’re ready, you can get started and go through the query process again!

Don’t Forget:

  • Be confident, not cocky. Assertive, not aggressive
  • Patience is a virtue – be prepared to wait
  • Proofread everything!
  • Read widely within your genre and be aware of recent publications
  • Follow an agency’s submission guidelines and technical specifications
  • Sending rejection letters is not a fun job – agents have feelings too!
  • Stay positive, write with passion and always act in a professional manner

-Steph of My Girl Friday currently works as an assistant to a Melbourne literary agent.


3 responses to “What’s next: part four”

  1. Mel says :

    Hey Steph,

    Just wondering how to put together a picture book submission when you have text and pictures? Just submit the drawings and the text separately? Print the text on a transparency so it can be placed over the pictures?

    I know you generally don’t send both, but in this case my sister is an illustrator and we’re working on a project together.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Steph says :

      Hi Mel,

      It really depends on the agent (or publisher). If you are emailing it, I’d just had the text in a word document and a sample of the drawings as attachments. If you are sending a hard copy, I’d probably burn the images to a CD.
      Feel free to email me smswain@live.com.au and I can give you a more detailed answer and a better explanation 🙂 Steph

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