Rejection Stinks

Over the weekend, Janet Reid wrote a blog post called Exclusives STINK. It was great, and I’m unashamedly stealing her wording because I can’t think of a better way to say this.

Rejection STINKS.

I suppose I could also say Rejection Stings. That’s true, too.

I have a whole lot of projects out on submission. Been having some success lately, too, with a few contracts currently pending. But for every “yes” there are a lot of “nos” and sometimes it wears me down.

I wade through hundreds of projects to find one I love. I work it over… sometimes a few days’ worth, sometimes I’m been back and forth with the author for a year or more. I carefully choose the editors to whom I’ll submit. Sometimes I talk up the project to editors on the phone. I finally send it out.

Then silence.

Then I’ll open my email and find a bunch of rejections.

And you better believe I take it personally. How can they not catch the vision? How can they not agree with me on how great this book is going to be? Why don’t they see it???

So don’t ever think I can’t possibly understand how you feel.

Rejection stinks.

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!


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  5. A J Hawke on August 6, 2009 at 2:37 PM

    >Rachelle,I can understand the anxiety and pain of getting rejections for an agent. You don’t go forth with a project unless in your opinion it is viable and of benefit to an editor. It is your face before the editor much more than the writer of the manuscript at that stage. Then to have the editor, for whatever reason, reject that opinion causes the agent to deal with it. But for the sake of your authors I know you will keep the faith and keep on pitching for them. Each time I have spoken with an agent or editor at a conference, or received that lovely email that states, “good writing and good story, but…” I say a prayer for that person. Because if it were not for that person taking a look I would have no possibility for the email that will come some day, “just what we are looking for…extraordinary writing…we look forward to publishing…” As any good salesman knows, it takes going through the rejections to fine the golden acceptance.A

  6. Tara on August 6, 2009 at 2:05 PM

    >At least the work you do buffers your writers in a way. It isn’t just the writer, it’s you as a teammate sharing in the sting. Admirable.

  7. Beck on August 5, 2009 at 9:53 PM

    >It's amazing to know that agents take chosen works personally – in fact, it makes me smile.

    It also makes me want to give you a big ol' cyber hug and hope that I find an agent just as passionate as you.

    On a side note – I do like to say…

    God bless the agents, God save the editors

  8. Susan Panzica - EternityCafe on August 5, 2009 at 5:44 PM

    >No one was rejected more than Jesus. Our rejection provides an opportunity to become a little more like Him.

  9. Anonymous on August 5, 2009 at 4:57 PM

    >Yes, but keep in mind that the agent gets lots of different projects to pitch while writers tend to concentrate on one project at a time…So I do think it's much worse for us when we put all our hopes in one basket/ms. and one agent.

    Q: I've been published in several mags, but I wonder if rejection is harder for published novelists?

  10. Kerrie on August 5, 2009 at 3:55 PM


  11. Heart2Heart on August 5, 2009 at 3:27 PM


    I love your candor and your honesty that you post here. I guess it's nice to know that even agent hate hearing rejection from publishers as well. I had never thought of it that way before.

    I guess I understand rejection, but I try not to take it personally. When you read about how many successful writers had their works rejected, but later published, it gives us hope. The right eyes weren't looking at it.

    Just have to find the right pair of eyes to see what it is that we see.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  12. Enjoying the journey, Karla on August 5, 2009 at 3:01 PM

    >I love how real you are on this blog. It is becoming one of my favorites to read because you are not afraid for us to see the real you and you strive to give us the "real" picture. Thank you!

  13. Rose McCauley on August 5, 2009 at 1:55 PM

    >Thanks for letting us know that you empathize with us while rejecting us, Rachelle. LOL

    I do have a question from yesterday's post that perhaps you can address in a future post. What exactly do you mean by "dramatic structure" as part of the craft? thanks!

  14. Amber Argyle-Smith on August 5, 2009 at 1:05 PM

    >Heaven Sakes! I know! My book has been out to pubishers for 11 months.

    Rejections stinks, and so does waiting!

  15. Gina on August 5, 2009 at 12:08 PM

    >What Jody said. 🙂

  16. Alice Luther on August 5, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    >Thanks for this . . .
    Its nice to know there is an understanding soul in masses!

  17. Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write on August 5, 2009 at 12:00 PM

    >Well, with all those no's floating around eventually there will be a yes in there somewhere!

  18. Amanda Davis on August 5, 2009 at 11:23 AM

    >Hi, Shigune Matsui. To find markets that are buying what you're selling, do a search on Duotrope's Digest at It's free, and you can narrow your search by genre and length, among other things. Good luck!

  19. Sharon A. Lavy on August 5, 2009 at 11:01 AM

    >Reason 501 why writers need an agent!

  20. Rachel Starr Thomson on August 5, 2009 at 10:48 AM

    >Thanks for that, Rachelle. I'm generally good at viewing rejection as part of the business and not taking it personally, but that doesn't mean it doesn't sap my motivation at times.

  21. Gwen Stewart--Singer-Scribe on August 5, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    >Sometimes I think this whole writing thing is like one very very mild but excruciating stretch of childbirth. It hurts. Bad. But the hurting is good, and you wouldn't trade it, and even in the hurting it's still pretty awesome.

    Yeah. That pretty much sums it up for me.

  22. Stephanie Faris on August 5, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    >I never thought about it that way but agents go through what we go through. It has to be tough, when you really believe in a project, to not be able to get anyone else to see what you see. Rejection STINKS!

  23. Wendy Lawton on August 5, 2009 at 10:23 AM

    >I hear you, Rachelle! As agents, we've received far more rejections than any single writer and sometimes it just plain stinks.

    Great post.

  24. Cheryl Barker on August 5, 2009 at 10:17 AM

    >What an eye-opening post for me, Rachelle. I hadn't thought about how agents have to handle so much rejection, too… Wow, you really DO understand. Guess it's time to send some encouragement YOUR way — hang in there!

  25. lynnrush on August 5, 2009 at 10:01 AM

    >Yep, it stinks.

    Press on, sister.

  26. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on August 5, 2009 at 9:43 AM

    >Hi Rachelle!
    You are so right; rejection stings. Having had a previous career in direct sales, I learned early that rejection is a much more common occurance than acceptance. More important, I learned that being rejected is not as significant as my response to it. First comes the sting, but what next?

    Well trained sales people know how many times on average they will be rejected before a sale will occur. They mark a rejection just received as one more rejection closer to the next acceptance. Successful ones keep working and training to become more skillful in their presentations. However there is one thing they never do; they never stop asking for the sale.

    Prayer, patience and persistence – they are the best antidote for the sting of rejection. They get us past the emotional response and restore our peace. They keep us moving forward towards acceptance. After all, acceptance may be only one more letter away.

    Be blessed!


  27. Kristen Torres-Toro @ Write in the Way on August 5, 2009 at 9:21 AM

    >It really does!

    Thanks for letting us see it from your side!

  28. Heather Sunseri on August 5, 2009 at 9:19 AM

    >Rejection does stink! It's comforting to know that we are not alone in that feeling. I love your blog, Rachelle. You're honest and real!

  29. Kathryn Lang on August 5, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >Another myth busted – agents do have hearts! 🙂

    Thank you for caring about the words and visions of others as much as they do.

  30. Lisa Romeo on August 5, 2009 at 9:11 AM

    >Seems to me there is rejection built in to every single phase of the process…writers "reject" their own ideas before they are completed; agents reject; acquiring editors reject (and are rejected by their own editors & marketing people); book distributors and buyers reject; reviewers reject; booksellers reject; readers reject.

    Fortunately, all of those same folks also ACCEPT, too; though maybe not as often!

  31. Jody Hedlund on August 5, 2009 at 9:05 AM

    >*Cringing* And praying and waiting. It's good to know that if my book proposal is rejected, that we'll both be very disappointed together!

  32. Jill on August 5, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    >Thanks for sharing your heart and showing us how you take it personally as well. I love that you care that deeply and passionately about your work.

  33. Reesha on August 5, 2009 at 8:52 AM

    >This is definitely a heart rending subject. I am still new to the writing business and have not had as much experience with rejection, but it makes me feel a little better to know that all the crap people keep telling me to believe ('it's not personal', or 'they're just too busy to take on another brilliant artist', or 'their personalities aren't a good match for you') don't make you feel better either.

    On one hand I'm very glad for the rejection process because it means I get to read really great books and (most?) of the drivel gets weeded out. But I hope I don't get weeded out.

  34. Matilda McCloud on August 5, 2009 at 8:39 AM

    >I imagine this is extremely hard as you are dealing with someone else's hopes and dreams. In some ways, I think it must be harder than our rejections.

  35. Sharon A. Lavy on August 5, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    >Thinking of a talk by Chip MacGregor when he lived in Indiana.

    Get to know agents before you pitch. Such good advice. And it is fun to get to know agents as people without the pressure of trying to pitch.

    The beauty is that I am still friends with agents who had to tell me my work was not yet ready.

  36. Aimless Writer on August 5, 2009 at 8:33 AM

    >Karen: "Rejection stinks/stings yes. But it's also a tool for God to use to get us to move in another direction. Knock on another door. Perhaps the one he wants opened for us."

    I think I might have to post that over my computer. Good perspective.

    I think it stings most of all when I read all the agent's wants and wishes and think I have a perfect fit and I get form rejection. 🙁 Very sad. But also just part of the biz and you can't dwell on it. Better to keep on moving on. Someday, somewhere someone will love me.

  37. M. Dunham on August 5, 2009 at 8:31 AM

    >Ahhh, thank you, Rachel, for reminding us that it's not just the writers who are bummed by rejection. I think our rampant tunnel vision does lend to that sort of thinking.

  38. SM Blooding on August 5, 2009 at 8:21 AM

    >The only good thing with emails, I think, is that you know you've been rejected sooner.

    See? A possitive thing about rejections. I'm looking at it with glass-half-full eyes. Course, I still haven't finished my first cup of coffee, yet, but that's possitive. Right?

    Shigune, I love the title, One Romeo, Two Juliets. Makes me want to read whatever you wrote.

  39. Chatty Kelly Combs on August 5, 2009 at 8:09 AM

    >I have 4 editor meetings at my conference this week. This was probably a good post for me to read before I leave. 🙂

  40. Teri D. Smith on August 5, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    >This proves an agent is an author's best friend.

  41. Tiffany on August 5, 2009 at 7:49 AM

    >It's nice to know that even the "pros" feel the frustration of rejection. It's comforting to hear that it's not just us newbies! 🙂

  42. Marty Coleman on August 5, 2009 at 7:39 AM

    >In the days of actual letters of rejection I used them as the basis for an art series called 'The Rejection Suite'. I collaged rejected photographs of mine on top of rejection letters. Each letter had a collage over the body of the letter with certain words or phrases from the letter allowed to show through. A few of the phrases (and titles of the pieces) are:

    Some of them were:

    “The bearer of sad tidings / whatever’
    ‘Have found you to be lacking / your future’
    ‘Obliged to eliminate’
    ‘Final reckonings / imply a negative’

    Ironically enough, the Rejection Suite ended up being my most popular body of work back in the early 90’s, with shows, grants and much publicity coming from them. It was the artist’s version of the poet’s story of wallpapering his bathroom with his rejection letters.

  43. Karen on August 5, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    >I have never stopped to view rejection from the agent's perspective. Thank you for sharing your thoughts (and heart) on this. And take heart that this very sensitivity for your clients is what makes you a catch. 🙂

  44. Jessica on August 5, 2009 at 7:33 AM

    >It does stink.
    I feel for you and other agents though, because you guys get them constantly. At least I only get them one book at a time. LOL

  45. CKHB on August 5, 2009 at 7:28 AM

    >And that's yet another reason we all hope to find an awesome agent… so that when we start getting editor/publisher rejections, there's someone by our side feeling our disappointment and/or righteous indignation.

  46. Sharon A. Lavy on August 5, 2009 at 6:54 AM

    >Thank you for your dedication.

  47. Richard Mabry on August 5, 2009 at 6:53 AM

    >Those of us fortunate enough to work with you know that you truly do "feel our pain" when you have to forward those rejection notices. Thanks for being so caring and empathetic, admirable qualities in an agent and in a friend.

  48. Katie Ganshert on August 5, 2009 at 6:50 AM

    >This is why I love this blog.

    I'm not happy you go through the same stinky rejection stuff, but it is nice to know we're all in it together, in a sense. We all go through the same waiting and the same blasted disappointment when rejection comes our way.

  49. ginny martyn on August 5, 2009 at 6:48 AM

    >As sick and twisted as it sounds…it actually makes me feel good to know that you get sad too, right along with us. I'm glad to know you are an agent that is willing to settle down in the trenches.

    Very cool.

  50. Katy McKenna on August 5, 2009 at 6:47 AM

    >As Meg Ryan says in "You've Got Mail," "Whatever else anything is, it should start by being personal."

    I for one want to thank you for taking it personally, Rachelle. I know when the good news comes in, you take that personally, too–and thoroughly enjoy the process!

    Thank you for understanding—and sharing—the rejection.

  51. Anne L.B. on August 5, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    >Rachelle, from the depth of my heart: Thank you for sharing that burden your clients carry. Thank you for remaining faithful.

    For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
    (Hebrews 6:10 NKJV)

  52. Julie Gillies on August 5, 2009 at 6:32 AM

    >I couldn't agree more, Rachelle.

    I cling to the fact that my times (and all my queries/proposals/articles) are in God's hands.

  53. Krista Phillips on August 5, 2009 at 6:25 AM

    >I love the honesty in your post! Rejection does stink, no matter what fun, positive twist we try to put on it to make ourselves feel better.

    But hey, life stinks sometimes too, and I'm not giving up on that anytime either. So crack our knuckles, pull up our bootstraps, and press on…

  54. Karen on August 5, 2009 at 6:02 AM

    >Rejection stinks/stings yes. But it's also a tool for God to use to get us to move in another direction. Knock on another door. Perhaps the one he wants opened for us.

  55. Roxane B. Salonen on August 5, 2009 at 1:55 AM

    >Rachelle, thanks for allowing us to see that there are times you, too, feel the sting. I guess it's a part of being human, isn't it? Rejection is going to happen. It's what we do from there that counts. Keep going! The right one will connect when it's meant to.

  56. Shigune Matsui on August 5, 2009 at 1:45 AM

    >I've had rejections with my writings before. It was a work called One Romeo, Two Juliets that I wanted to submit to a literary magazine, but they said it was too small to be in a market.

    Do you have any online literary magazines I could go to?