Rejection Is Not For Sissies

I’m on vacation… but due to the wonders of modern technology, the blog is NOT on vacation. This is a re-run.

“When am I going to stop feeling so bad about rejecting people?”

My husband muted the football game. “What?”

“When am I going to get a thicker skin? When is it going to get easier for me to tell people no?”

Okay, I probably should’ve waited until half-time. But I’d just written a rejection letter that was painful and it was bothering me. My compassion for writers sometimes makes saying “no” difficult.

Remember when parents used to say “this hurts me more than it hurts you” and then deliver a whopping spanking? Well, I can’t say it hurts me more than the person to whom I’m delivering the big “no” blow. But it does feel bad.

Anyway, hubby had to sit through my agonizing and analyzing. “I hate ruining someone’s day. And right now, with the holiday coming… I don’t like to ruin someone’s holiday.”

First he told me to get over myself, I’m not so important that I can take credit for ruining someone’s holiday. Fair enough. Then he said, “You know, every bit of MY job is about someone else having a bad day.” (He’s an EMT and firefighter.) “When I show up,” he said, “it’s because they’re having a really bad day.”

Right. And your point?

“I don’t cause their bad day,” he went on. “I’m just there for it. I’m there to help.” Uh-huh. “And YOU don’t cause a writer to have a bad day, either. You’re just the messenger, delivering some hard truth. And you’re there to help, too. Sometimes you help by telling them a truth they need to hear. And other times you’ll help by improving their manuscript or by selling their book to a publisher. You don’t cause their good days or their bad days. You’re there to help. Just like me.”

Huh. Wisdom from the cute guy on the couch. I have to admit, it made me feel better.

So if I ever send you a rejection letter, don’t imagine me sitting at my computer with an evil grin and a high pitched laugh, hissing maniacally, “Tee-hee-hee… got rid of another one!”

Seriously. I don’t relish the rejections. Just part of the job.

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in 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. Julie Weathers on January 5, 2009 at 1:23 AM

    >Late to the party as usual.

    Rachelle, I think you need to look at it from a different perspective.

    Why did you reject the project?

    If it needs work and you couldn’t sell it, would you do the writer any favors by getting their hopes up?

    If the writer is really a writer, they will look at the rejections for what they are. They’ll realize they need to change something and make those changes.

    If it simply isn’t right for you would you be doing them a favor by accepting it when there is the perfect agent out there for it who will love it?

    As a writer, I don’t want “an” agent. I want the right agent.

    I guess that’s egotistical of me, but I do believe the perfect agent is out there for me. The ones who reject me aren’t right.

    It’s just a culling process on both sides.

    Hope you had a good vacation.


  2. Michael Johnson on January 2, 2009 at 10:43 AM

    >Thank you sir, the letter was from a publishing company.I don’t know if that makes a difference.

  3. Steve Bloom on December 31, 2008 at 10:25 PM

    >Hey Michael, I don’t want to be too forward in answering your question on Rachelle’s blog, but since it’s New Year’s Eve and nobody may be around to respond for a few days, please be really careful about that agent! Usually “cooperative publishing” is merely a disguise for vanity publishing.

    Your Brother in Christ,

    P.S. Why am I here on New Year’s Eve? It’s been a crazy busy year and I am relishing a quiet night at home with my wife! (Well she’s actually asleep on the couch at the moment, but I’ll wake her up at midnight!)

  4. Michael Johnson on December 31, 2008 at 9:04 AM

    >I have a question, I received a letter from an agent offering something called cooperative publishing. there is a small fee. What is cooperative publishing? Is IS self publishing?

  5. Chatty Kelly on December 30, 2008 at 4:49 PM

    >I loved this post! I’m so glad you posted it.

    Hope you are enjoying your vacation!!

  6. ciarcullen on December 30, 2008 at 3:19 PM

    >The older I get, the fewer bad days I have. An old relative used to say “any day I wake up, look down, and don’t see a toe tag is a good day.” I’m starting to get it. I know people who think a bad manicure is a tragedy, and those who happily listen to an iPod through their chemo. A rejection that doesn’t have the phrase “I just didn’t love it quite enough” is a plus.

  7. Jennifer Roland on December 30, 2008 at 2:30 PM

    >Rejection is simply part of the business. Like actors, we writers must get used to it.

    As someone who has sat on your side of the page, I think you have the harder job–writers can choose not to take rejection personally, but an editor/agent who wishes to provide helpful feedback must take each very personally.

  8. Dara on December 30, 2008 at 1:13 PM

    >I agree with what Lady Glamis said: a personalized rejection letter actually makes it better because then you know what you did wrong specifically as well as knowing that the agent actually took the time to look it over and give such insight.

    I do realize that not all agents can do this especially with the number of queries that come in, but it does help us writers to see where we may be lacking.

    Thanks for the re-run!

  9. Camille Cannon Eide on December 30, 2008 at 1:11 PM

    >What? It’s what’s on the page, not the person that’s being rejected?

    There’s a thought. If only we could remember that and get back to work on our craft. 🙂

  10. Lisa Jordan on December 30, 2008 at 12:41 PM

    >Your hubby sounds like a great Voice of Reason. When I get a rejection letter, I shed a few tears of disappointment, think about what the letter had to say, and work harder to make my manuscript better. I don’t blame the agent or editor. I try to focus on the positive–a personal letter instead of no reply at all or the fact they took time to let me know why they rejected my proposal.

  11. Lady Glamis on December 30, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    >You know what? If you’re willing to write a personalized rejection, that can make all the difference. It’s those form rejections that kinda hurt…

  12. Jill Corcoran on December 30, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    >Go hug that man. He’s a keeper:)

    Rachel, I think most writers (eventually) understand that an agent can only take on a limited number of writers and agents must choose the writers that make their hearts sing. Publishing, like everything we do, is a business of choices. Opportunity cost of time/money/spirit./soul.

  13. cathschaffstump on December 30, 2008 at 11:41 AM

    >As well as an aspiring writer, I am a professor. I get to fail lots of students, and at the beginning of the semester, I do a speech about how it’s not about them, it’s about what’s on the page.

    How lucky they are to have someone who’s willing to then help them learn how to make it better, right then! Because that’s the nature of teaching.

    Think of yourself as the first step in the educational process. An author can now understand what they need to improve, especially after triangulating your opinion with other agents, and begin down the path to improvement.

    Words of wisdom from cute guys? Score.


  14. Jamie on December 30, 2008 at 11:39 AM

    >Isn’t that the truth. The same thing goes for doing general writing critiques. It’s not your fault. You’re just trying to help them improve.

  15. clindsay on December 30, 2008 at 11:28 AM

    >”And YOU don’t cause a writer to have a bad day, either. You’re just the messenger, delivering some hard truth.”

    That’s exactly it. Well said!

    Happy Holidays!


  16. Tina M. Russo on December 30, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    >LOL, this brought a smile to my face. As a former R.N., married to a guy who works for Pridemark Paramedics up in Arvada I REALLY enjoyed your husband’s commentary.

    It’s not personal, it’s business. If we needed someone to pat our backs we probably should convince our mom to become an agent.

    But it is nice to know you are so empathetic.

  17. Rachel on December 30, 2008 at 8:58 AM

    >This reminds me of another post, wherein you encouraged writers to “manage their expectations,” taking their hopes before the Lord. A good word for writing and for life.

  18. lynnrush on December 30, 2008 at 8:17 AM

    >Rachelle, you are so genuine. Thanks.

    You can’t MAKE someone have a bad day, someone would have to “allow” you to…which is THEIR issue. Not yours.

    Blessings to you and yours.

  19. Timothy Fish on December 30, 2008 at 7:10 AM

    >I figure the author who can’t handle rejection is too full of himself. I don’t see where that should become the agent or publisher’s problem.

  20. Kim Kasch on December 30, 2008 at 2:51 AM

    >Rejection may not be for sissies but it is definitely for those who don’t target their submissions, just check out ”Colleen Lindsay of The Swivet”

  21. Inspire on December 30, 2008 at 2:17 AM

    >I can imagine your job is tough in many ways. But I have to say, that some of the rejections that I received from agents after they looked at either a few sample chapters or the full manuscript for Surrender the Wind, got me where I am today. I have been signed with Abingdon Press. One NY agent that took the time to read the full, made comments in the margins of how I could improve as well as marking what she liked. Her comments helped me polish the manuscript.

    As an agent you do more good than you might realize, and you do writers a favor when you are honest about their work.