Why Are We Doing This?

My writer-friend Richard wrote poignantly last week about the pain of repeated rejections, and how it sometimes makes it hard to stick with this gig. Why do we keep writing? Why do we stay in this business?

If you’ve started submitting your work to agents and/or editors, then you’ve probably joined the ranks of the rejected-and-sometimes-dejected. I just want to tell you one thing from the perspective of an agent and former editor: You’re not alone. All of us have to deal with rejection.

As I commented on Richard’s blog, agents submit your work to publishers and get lots of rejections. I’m still new at this agenting thing and it surprises me how much it hurts to get pass letters on my clients’ work. I only agree to represent projects I truly believe in. Once I take them on, I put my heart into them and my full resources behind them. When I send them out there and get “sorry but this isn’t for us” within a matter of hours… I gotta tell you, I take it kind of hard.

But those editors in the publishing houses? They get rejection, too. If an editor likes a project, they usually have to take it to their editorial meeting, and that’s their first opportunity to get rejected by the other editors. If their project makes it through editorial and goes to Pub Committee, it has a pretty good chance of getting rejected there. Individual editors might or might not take it personally depending on a number of factors, but you can bet they’re keenly aware of their record of hits vs. misses. Rejection stings on a professional level, and often the personal one as well.

Publishers experience “rejection” when a highly anticipated book doesn’t sell. Consumers are the final link in this rejection chain.

I guess we are all “in sales” to a certain degree. We have a product we need to sell. But when our product is also our art, and our words feel like they’re coming straight from our soul, it just feels awful when nobody’s buying!

So we ask ourselves, why am I doing this again? And we usually come up with answers like: I do it because I can’t not do it. This is what I love. I’ve been addicted to books since I can remember. I do it because this is how God has gifted me. This is what I do.

And as long as those motivations hold true, we’ll keep doing it. Writers will keep writing, editors will keep editing, agents will keep agenting, readers will keep reading, and publishers will keep publishing. And we’ll all keep getting rejected.

Is it worth the pain?

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. Anne L.B. on March 3, 2008 at 9:17 PM

    >As my work is submitted to agents and publishers this week for the first time, it’s difficult to think that thousands of hours of research and writing – as well as my very soul – will be rejected by people I respect.

    Yet I have peace about that possibility because:
    1) This work has enriched my life, made me a better wife and Christian, and drawn me so close to the Lord that I can honestly say I’ve already received a reward for my labors.
    2) This work has belonged to the Lord from start to finish, and it is His, to do with it whatever pleases Him. It is difficult to hold loosely all that is most precious to me, but I’m only a steward of what my Master graciously gives me, so it isn’t really mine anyway.
    3) Ultimately, there’s only one Person I need approval from.

  2. Anonymous on March 3, 2008 at 7:08 PM

    >Rejection is worth the sting to me and I have had my share of rejection letters. Nevertheless, I am writing my second manuscript while I wait. I look at it this way, maybe my first was to teach me all I need to know to make the second one greater. I will continue to send my queries because I am inspired to so and when I say, oh well, I will not send another one; I am compelled to send yet another one. It was not my plan to write, I have another great career. But one day, after reading so many good books, I started writing myself. I will continue to write until I can no longer type or hold a pencil and then I will look into ghostwriting or maybe I should do that now (smile).


  3. Zoe on March 3, 2008 at 5:45 PM

    >It’s worth saying that, on the editorial side, not every rejection is worth beating yourself up about. Sometimes, you’ve said the right thing at the wrong time, sometimes you’ve said the right thing to the wrong publication. I know it hurts, but if you can use it to come to a greater understanding of what will work in the future, it might take some of the sting out…

  4. Linda Harris on March 3, 2008 at 4:16 PM

    >As I posted over on Richard’s blog, I frequently ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” My answer always has to be, “Because God is asking me to do it, and I must be obedient.” That’s the bottom line for me. It doesn’t matter if I think I’m inadequate; that’s why God is asking me to do it, so he can receive the glory.

  5. Tiffany Stuart on March 3, 2008 at 3:48 PM

    >Yes, it’s worth it. I lose track of time writing and rewriting. I get lost in a good book searching for a quote. I love to learn. Reading and writing are ways I do that.

    I enjoy it all. Well, maybe not all, but writing brings me pleasure. And it’s all the greater when someone buys what I had to say.

    Either way, I do it because I am called to write. I like it. Playing with words is my game.

    I just wish the business side wasn’t so challenging.

  6. Marla Taviano on March 3, 2008 at 2:49 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle. What a depressing, uplifting post

  7. canvaschild on March 3, 2008 at 2:18 PM

    >It was good to learn that we all face rejection… to understand things from the agent’s side of things, and the publisher’s too. Probably the hardest part is believing so strongly in something and not being able to share that belief with others; but as the Bible says, suffering produces perseverence, and perseverence, hope.

  8. Timothy Fish on March 3, 2008 at 11:44 AM

    >Rejection is good because it motivates us to improve. If rejection didn’t sting, it wouldn’t do us any good. The real question is, what are we going to do about it? I see three choices. 1.) We can quit this gig and do something productive. 2.) We can develop answers to justify our persistence in the face of failure. 3.) We can go figure out what we need to change so we can run with the big dogs. Of the three, the absolute worst thing we can do is #2. What is true of the characters in the stories we write is true for us, if we don’t change then we’re dead (or at least, very boring).

  9. Ed J. Horton on March 3, 2008 at 11:24 AM



    Embrace it anyway. Jesus did. Where would we be if he hadn’t been born to be rejected?

  10. Nancy I. Sanders on March 3, 2008 at 11:12 AM

    >I always remember Vincent Van Gogh who faced constant rejection and even RIDICULE of his work. He got so dejected he committed suicide. Yet his works are considered priceless masterpieces today. I refuse to make the same mistake as Vincent! Thanks for the reminder, Rachelle, to pursue our calling from God and write for His glory in whatever timing He deems best.

  11. Pam Halter on March 3, 2008 at 10:20 AM

    >Some days it’s worth the pain. Some days it’s not. But I agree with every other writer … I can’t not write. What else would I do? I have no idea.

  12. Ariel Allison Lawhon on March 3, 2008 at 9:10 AM

    >My father taught me to ride a horse when I was little, and I will never forget what he said one day while picking me up after a particularly nasty fall:

    “There ain’t a horse that can’t be rode, and there a ain’t a rider that can’t be throw’d.”

    The same is true in the life of a Writer I suppose. There isn’t a book that can’t be written. And there isn’t a writer that can’t be rejected. But picking yourself back up is the most important thing.

    Here’s to bumps and bruises and the persevering heart!

  13. Richard Mabry on March 3, 2008 at 8:15 AM

    Thanks for saying that what I thought was self-pity was instead “poignant.” Your comments on my blog and your thoughts here are affirming, not just for me but for every writer who has ever been rejected. And, so far as I can tell, that’s about 99.99% of us.

  14. Anonymous on March 3, 2008 at 1:17 AM

    >Here’s how I would word your question: Is it better to have written and lost, than never to have written at all? And my answer? I didn’t realize I had a choice.

  15. Catherine L. Osornio on March 2, 2008 at 11:54 PM

    >Yes, it’s worth the pain because if this is really what God is calling you to do, then one day there will be a yes all around.