An Open Letter to Authors Who Hear a “No”

Many of you know that I’m acting as a mentor in Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars contest, in which authors seeking representation pitch projects to mentors who then pick one (and, to my dismay, only one) project to work with in preparation for review by a panel of agents in January.

I’ve made my selection, and also chosen two alternates (projects I’ll work with if the one I’ve selected obtains representation before the agent review) – and I can say, with total honesty, that I envy agents and editors even less today than I did before making the choice.

Their job is hard. Terribly, sometimes impossibly hard.

But choices have to be made.

I regret the fact that some of the people who pitched me will – by necessity – have to hear “no” instead of yes. I’ve suffered my share of rejections over the years, and you never become accustomed to hearing “no.” It sucks. It hurts. And I hate that this time I’m the one who has to say it.

But I hope the people who don’t hear “yes” from me (or another mentor) will take this in stride – or at least, recover their stride in short order after hearing the much-loathed “not this time.” Because that’s what this is – it’s only “not this time.”

And you wouldn’t want it any other way. Here’s why.

At the end of the day, all the projects that pitched me were projects I could have chosen, if I made the choice on competence alone. Every one of them showed sufficient writing skill to reach publication – some in this draft, some with revisions required. At the end of the day, the choice came down to a project I couldn’t refuse. A project I thought about in my off time. A project that grabbed my mind like a dog with a bone – and simply refused to let go.

Does that mean the others weren’t good enough? NO. They were, and their authors have skill. There was simply one project that seemed to pick me – and at the end of the day, that’s the one a mentor – like an agent or an editor – simply has to choose.

Let me repeat that: if you heard a no, from me or from any other mentor, we aren’t rejecting you as a person. We are NOT telling you that your writing’s not good.¬† We are not telling you to quit. In fact, quite the opposite – I’m telling you all to keep at it.

But what ARE you saying? I hear you asking. When will it be my turn? What if my work never sings that siren song in an editor’s ears?

It will, if you refuse to give up.

I know this, because it’s true. It happened to me. And even though it took me five novels to get there, I’m thrilled (now) that the first four didn’t get chosen. I needed that time to find myself as an author, to grow in skill and confidence, and to realize that my real calling is murdering my imaginary friends. (“Writing mystery” sounds so pale by comparison.)

It took me nine years, five novels, and more rejections than I can shake a stick at. But I made it, and you can too. If I could ease the path for you, believe me, I really would. If I could take every novel and author deserving of publication and put them in front of the agent and publisher who would fall in love with the work and accept them – I’d do so.

I can’t. But you can, by refusing to quit. Rejected? Get up, endure the sting and keep moving forward – writing, querying, editing, working. Make connections. Make friends. Above all, keep writing and honing your craft.

Publishing is a game of last man standing, and there are only two possible outcomes. You find someone who loves your work and wants to publish you – or you quit.

And only you decide when the game is over.

Trust me – it isn’t over for any of you yet.

21 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Authors Who Hear a “No”

  • December 10, 2012 at 4:20 pm
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    Oh, I need to hear this every day or two. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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      Glad to be here to say it, D’Bella. Hang in there. You’ll make it. I know you will.

  • December 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm
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    We all get knocked down. It’s getting up …that get’s people published. ūüėÄ

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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      Precisely, Kim! I once heard someone say that success means getting up one more time than you get knocked down. Sometimes the getting up seems hard, but every time MIGHT be the last one – and believe me, you never know when the next one IS the success!

  • December 10, 2012 at 9:51 pm
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    I love this! Thank you–I’ll keep this in mind when I get that pass on Wednesday . . . ūüôā (At least, given the caliber of writers in Pitchwars, that’s what I’m expecting).

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm
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      Stay positive! I hope you get good news Wednesday – and remember, even if it’s not a yes this time it WILL become a yes if you hang in there and keep moving forward. There were days when I couldn’t possibly believe that was true, and yet it turned out to be true for me too. It will be for you!

  • December 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm
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    Wonderful advice, Susan, and not only for those in the pitch war contest.Thanks for a message all writers need to hear, no matter where they are in their journey. You put the power back in the writer’s hands, where it belongs. Who wouldn’t be motivated to stay on their feet after reading your post?

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm
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      Thanks Julianne! It’s so important to me to help other authors any way I can. I’ve walked the sloughs of despair – not so long ago, in fact – and I absolutely remember what it feels like to wonder if it will EVER be your turn. I remember hearing other authors say “just stay in the game!!” and now I realize how VERY true those words really were.

  • December 11, 2012 at 1:32 am
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    Thanks for this post!! I need to re-read this at least once a week!

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm
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      I’m glad I could offer encouragement. Do whatever it takes to keep motivated and keep in the game. Success is as much about determination as anything else!

  • December 11, 2012 at 3:05 am
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    Thank you so much for the wonderful encouragement my friend. You are an amazing teacher, a phenomenal writer, and a slap-yo-mama fan-freakin-TASTIC friend! You’ve improved my writing so much over the years. I treasure you!! And wish you all the success in the world with your book AND your new ” mentee!” Whoever it is….they are one lucky writer!

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm
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      Thanks Janet!! You make me blush, you know. I hope you get picked Wednesday – and I’m glad you’re in YA. I’ve seen the way you write and I certainly wouldn’t want to be competing against you!

  • December 11, 2012 at 7:52 am
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    Wonderful post! I enjoyed reading it. I guess a writing project chooses its mentor or agent the same way a wand chooses its wizard, right? Gotta keep trying! And I totally agree with you. I’m SO glad I got rejected when I first thought my book was ready for publication. I can’t even read that draft without blushing now. I’ve learned so much since then.

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:06 pm
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      Thanks so much Annie! And yep – the books choose their agents, editors, mentors … and authors – exactly the way a wand chooses its wizard! (Great reference, btw.) It’s amazing how long it took me to fully realize that. And I feel exactly the same way you do about the early drafts (or in my case, the early manuscripts) – thank goodness for the wishes that didn’t come true!

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  • December 19, 2012 at 8:47 pm
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    Thanks for the reminder, Susan! And good for you for sticking with it through 5 novels! Wow!

  • December 19, 2012 at 11:10 pm
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    I find that if I thank the person for their time even though they rejected my work, I can often make a friend. Also, two rejections in particular really helped me grow as an author. How is that a loss in any way? Great blog, Susan.

  • December 20, 2012 at 2:05 am
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    Thank you. I need to read and re-read this morning, noon and night. You are my inspiration. I adore you. You just further raise yourself on the pedestal of amazingness. (is that a word?)

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  • December 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm
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    Could you add a follow by email button to your blog please?
    Thanks,
    Kathryn

  • December 30, 2012 at 12:41 am
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    Wonderful post and so necessary for all of us to hear no matter where we are on our paths.

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