Don’t Take it Personally
Happy Monday and I hope you all had a nice Easter weekend!
Today I want to talk about that age-old platitude, “Don’t take it personally.” I think writers probably hear this a lot when agents and/or editors decline to take on their work. But I don’t think you hear what we mean when we say it.
Listen, we know it’s personal for you. If you’ve taken the time and made the effort to write a book, we know you’ve plumbed the depths of yourself in that process. You’ve put yourself out there, exposed pieces of yourself on the page, and in all likelihood, you’ve suffered some (or a lot) in the effort. You’ve sacrificed, too. Sleep; time with friends and family; peace of mind; whatever it is, you’ve given up a lot to get to that point of having a finished manuscript.
And you know what? We also know that the next step—putting that baby out there for others to read—makes you feel even more vulnerable and exposed. It’s scary. In a way, it feels like you’re letting strangers peer into your very soul.
So yes, we know it’s personal.
But here’s the thing. Most of the time, a rejection is not meant to be personal. It’s not a rejection of YOU. There are so many factors that go into a decision of whether to say “yes” to a query, and some of them don’t even have anything to do with you.
The factors that aren’t about your work can include: it doesn’t fit into what that specific agent is looking for at that moment; the agent doesn’t know of any publishers buying that kind of book right now; the agent already has something too similar on their list; the agent receives so many queries and must severely limit the number of “yeses” and yours just didn’t quite make the cut; the agent doesn’t believe they can sell it—even though the project is well conceived and well written and another agent might be able to sell it. Maybe they don’t have the right contacts. Maybe it’s not “hot” right now. Maybe—and this is a biggee—it just doesn’t suit their personal taste.
Since these reasons aren’t about YOU, it’s important that you don’t take each rejection too personally.
Of course, there are factors that have to do with your work—such as how well written it is, how unique and compelling the story is. And there are factors that have to do with your platform if you’re writing nonfiction. Yes, these are aspects of you.
But I think when we say “Don’t take it personally,” we’re saying we want you to look at it in a more business-like way. Look at it the way anyone in business looks at setbacks and even failures. Take a little time to feel the pain. But then get up and ask yourself: What does it mean? What can I learn? Is this setback part of a larger pattern and therefore significant? Or is it just one person’s opinion? Is there something I can do better? Or have I simply not found the right partners with whom to do business yet?
As someone who absolutely hates rejecting people (because I know how personal it feels), I really want you to take this business-like approach as much as you can. Like all agents, I’m only one person, I can only say yes to a tiny fraction of those who query me, so I end up saying “no” to MANY great people. I’m always hoping each person whose work I decline will find their way in this business. I always pray they realize it truly isn’t personal… while I know it’s deeply personal for writers, the fact is that it’s a business decision for me.
So, even though it’s personal for you… “Don’t take it personally.”
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.