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.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Anonymous on April 19, 2009 at 11:39 AM



  2. Anonymous on April 18, 2009 at 8:06 PM

    >I know this is isn’t an agent’s job to say if it was good, but I would love to know whether I’m wasting my time.Josette, I’m not sure you’ll see this comment, but just in case . . .

    I recommend that you find a critique group or at least a writing buddy with whom to share your work. I don’t know what I’d do without my critique partners. They see things I don’t. And I learn so much by reading and critiquing their work. Best of luck to you.

  3. Laura D on April 17, 2009 at 1:43 PM

    >I’m excited about rejections, because it means there is still something out there to be rejected by. (Opinion originally expressed by an actress friend of mine.)

  4. Susanne Scheppmann on April 14, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    >Although writing is our “babies” I do agree with the business approach. I think that if most writer’s could switch their brains and not their hearts to this philosophy it would the way to go.

    Rachelle, I am teaching a writing class a Proverbs 31 Ministries, She Speaks, can I share this in the class?

    Susanne Scheppmann

  5. Sharon A. Lavy on April 14, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    >Thank you.

  6. GentleLavender on April 14, 2009 at 4:15 AM

    >Thanks Rachelle. Your post is not only meaningful to many of us but it comes from your heart and we can see that. It is evident in the writing itself. At the same time, I agree with Timothy Fish who commented that what most authors find upsetting is when someone implies that “Your writing isn’t worth my time,” in words or silence. I think that is the most painful part for a writer and a definitely a valid point. Still, I think its wonderful to know the other side of the grass is not always green. Sometimes it can be a sad dove grey too.


  7. Litgirl01 on April 13, 2009 at 6:52 PM

    >This helps a lot! 🙂

  8. Rose McCauley on April 13, 2009 at 5:03 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle, for sharing from your heart. I, too, have received a “good” rejection where the agent told me she enjoyed my story enough to take it home and re-read it over the weekend, but still passed as it had the word “Perfect” in the title and she had just sold 2 other books with that word! Rose, off to take Jim Bell’s advice and go back to my word-processor!

  9. Aspiring Girl on April 13, 2009 at 3:26 PM

    >Normally, I refraid from reiteraing something someone else said, but after all the negativity of agentfail and queryfail, I think it doesn’t hurt to spread the good cheer.

    Thank you so much for understanding our plight. You totally nailed the writer’s view point. Thank you so very much for helping us how not to take rejection so hard. It makes the whole query process that much easier. I feel like I should make today’s blog the wallpaper on my computer.

    Happy Belated Easter to you.

  10. Megan DiMaria on April 13, 2009 at 3:20 PM

    >about a year ago, I had an epiphany about rejection. Rejection is like my favorite shoes.

    No kidding.

    I posted my thoughts about it here:

  11. Steve Garufi on April 13, 2009 at 3:19 PM

    >Excellent blog entry! I plan to pass this along to a few people who’ve shared their angst over being rejected. (Personally, I’m still slogging endlessly to finish this manuscript of mine. I’ll worry about being rejected later!)

    -Steve Garufi
    Buena Vista, CO

  12. Timothy Fish on April 13, 2009 at 3:14 PM

    >Here’s a thought that probably isn’t worth the time it took to write it.

    When a writer submits a query or a manuscript, he isn’t asking the literary agent to accept him as a person. If the literary agent were to respond, “I don’t like you. I think you’re ugly and I’ve decided not to represent you because your mother smells like a sewage plant. But I love your manuscript. I just wish someone I liked had written it,” I don’t think the author would care. What most authors find upsetting is when someone, in affect, says, “Your writing isn’t worth my time,” either in actual words or through silence.

  13. Colleen Coble on April 13, 2009 at 2:54 PM

    >I think rejection at this stage is a good training ground for the stresses of published life. Those rejections NEVER stop, whether it’s from your beloved editor who doesn’t like a new story idea to a scathing review that cuts to the bone. I tell new authors to take it all in and let those rejections toughen them up. Before my first yes, I received enough rejections to paper a wall in my office–no kidding. 🙂

  14. James Scott Bell on April 13, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    >I often speak to writers’ gatherings, and like to give a few quotes on this. Here are two:

    “Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person, unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.” — Ron Goulart

    “Let rejection hurt for a half hour, no more. Then get back to your word processor.” – Jacqueline Briskin

  15. Nicole on April 13, 2009 at 1:13 PM

    >{Really like the new pic.}

  16. Dawn on April 13, 2009 at 1:08 PM

    >Like Karen, I have an actress in the family. My oldest daughter is in theater, and yes – you get another perspective of what it’s like to face rejection in another area of the arts. She’s talented – but may not have the “look” required for a particular role. Even height can play a big part in getting or not getting cast. So we’ve both learned in our pursuits to not take it personally.

    I’m fortunate that I have an awesome crit group with 3 other women. We laugh together over our blunders and that helps in a gentle way to toughen each other’s skins. 🙂

    There’s a lot of competition in publishing for few spots. I’d much rather have an agent take something of mine that they believe in – rather than half-heartedly take it so they don’t hurt my feelings. YUCK!

  17. Josette on April 13, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    >I just wish their was a definite way to know if you writing is good enough. Ihave had one agent tell me, that my work was good enough to be accepted by an agent, but they didn’t want it. One agent saId I would find an agent because it was good enough. But here’s the kicker, no one wants my work. In fact one agent said it wasn’t crafted well. So what do I think. I know this is isn’t an agent’s job to say if it was good, but I would love to know whether I’m wasting my time.

  18. Krista Phillips on April 13, 2009 at 11:42 AM

    >LOL, this reminds me of one of my fav. scenes from You’ve Got Mail. “All that means is that it’s not personal…to YOU.”

    But that said, I totally agree that we should view rejections in a business-like manner. Let it sting for a second, then brush it off, learn from it, be a better person from it.

    We’ll never LIKE rejections, but it’s part of the business, so if we’re gonna take the wins of the industry, we need to be able to handle the pains of it too.

  19. Anonymous on April 13, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >Still, it helps to know if you’re on the right track and your ms. just needs “tweaking” or a major overhaul or we should switch gears and take up dancing. LOL

    Good feedback is always welcome and appreciated!

  20. Lady Glamis on April 13, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >Nice post. Thank you! Brings perspective to the process. 🙂

  21. Melinda Walker on April 13, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    >Here’s some thoughts that have helped me.

    Since aspiring authors would like someone to pay us money for our work, it becomes a product like the new clothes that appear in the department store each season. Maybe a style or color doesn’t appeal to me or work with my body type. That doesn’t mean I have any negative personal feelings toward the designer of the garment.

    Of course, no one feels happy if their product doesn’t sell. A pattern of not selling may give us direction in improving our craft or changing our focus or other needed strengthening of our work.

  22. Lorie Langdon on April 13, 2009 at 9:49 AM

    >It warms my heart to see you acknowledge that we as writers pour our souls into our work and I thank you for sharing your thoughts and encouragement. Every time I let someone new read my story I feel like I’m giving a little piece of myself away. It’s a vulnerability that I’ve never experienced before and I haven’t even started the query process yet!
    So, thanks Rachelle, your blog has been a great source of knowledge and motivation for me.

  23. Pam Halter on April 13, 2009 at 9:28 AM

    >Stefne said: When I was rejected, I would compare the initial response to someone telling me my baby was ugly.

    We have to remember that beauty lays in the eyes of the beholder. What one editor or agent thinks is great, others will not.

    But I wonder at rejection and submitting. It’s like you get your hopes up and then dashed. Then you do it again … and again … and again. I’ve heard stories of authors collecting hundreds of rejections! On one project!! I wonder if I could hang in there for that long. I don’t take it personal, but sometimes I wonder if I should be doing it at all. Then I sell a devo or article and my hope flares up again and I keep going.

    That’s the only way to get picked up.

  24. Chatty Kelly on April 13, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    >It’s like when someone accidentally shuts your finger in the door – it was an accident, but it still hurt.

    The rejection isn’t personal – but it still stings. But hopefully the end result it that sting motivates us to improve and then our writing improves and we get published.

    On a side note, I love your new profile picutre. 🙂

  25. christa on April 13, 2009 at 8:38 AM

    >Words are their own form of art. I know there are paintings that an artist may have labored over for days, weeks, months. But maybe I just bought one that’s similar, or maybe it’s the wrong colors for where I need it, or maybe it’s totally modernistic, and I’m looking for Monet. Or maybe it’s my first paint-by-number, and its only when I hold it next to the Cezanne that I realize it’s just not there yet.

  26. Lisa Jordan on April 13, 2009 at 8:21 AM

    >When I receive a rejection, I know it’s not an attack on my character, but because I’ve put so much into the writing process, I allow myself to feel sad about not receiving the response I had hoped.

    Thank you for the encouraging words in your post!

  27. Timothy Fish on April 13, 2009 at 8:02 AM

    >Faithful are the wounds from a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. – Proverbs 27:6

  28. Stefne on April 13, 2009 at 7:28 AM

    >I’m just starting the agent search process and I am sure that I will be required to think back to this blog post – often.
    When I was rejected, I would compare the initial response to someone telling me my baby was ugly. It stung and did feel personal, but I moved on.
    Now I’m on the mission of trying to find out if “the baby” is truly ugly or the agent just didn’t like that particular kind of “baby”. Either way, it’s a growing experience and in the end it can only improve my story . . . at least I hope so anyway.
    Thanks for the great post!

  29. lynnrush on April 13, 2009 at 7:24 AM

    >Great post. Rejection is a part of a writers life.

    This is a great reminder. Thanks.

  30. Jeannie on April 13, 2009 at 7:13 AM

    >Excellent post! It’s all stuff I know in my head, but the reminder helps with knowing it in my heart.

    Most people don’t like to reject the work of others. As a writing instructor, I’m constantly struggling with being straightforward with the little time I have to comment with remembering that my student’s heart is right there on that paper I’m inking up.

  31. Richard Mabry on April 13, 2009 at 6:47 AM

    We feel your pain–and no, that wasn’t sarcastic. It’s not hard to see that you have a heart for writing and for writers. Wondering if WordServe’s recently adopted “no response means we have to pass” policy has helped any. Seems like you still send out some pass responses anyway. How’s that working out for you?

  32. Karen on April 13, 2009 at 5:40 AM

    >After seeing what my niece, an aspiring actress, goes through when she is rejected for a part, I don’t feel so bad about my rejections. At least no one tells me it’s because my nose is too small/big, or my legs too short/long, or any other proportions wrong. Now that would be truly personal.

  33. Alps on April 13, 2009 at 2:02 AM

    I want to take this opportunity to say what I know people have told you before: thank you for making your rejections so nice! I got one from you last week, and I mean this sincerely, not sarcastically, I didn’t feel all that bad after I read it. I could tell you were sincere and I appreciated the time you took to answer me, especially because you didn’t have to. Thank you!! And this post makes me feel better about rejections in general too. 🙂

  34. T. Anne on April 13, 2009 at 1:51 AM

    >Thank you for your post. It does help soften the blow to read it from your perspective. At the end of the day it is a business.

  35. vicariousrising on April 13, 2009 at 1:20 AM

    >I know what you mean by this and appreciate what you’re saying. I really enjoy your blog and how you express yourself. It makes me wish I wrote Christian worldview stories because you seem like a lovely person and intelligent agent.

    Thanks for sharing your insight here.