Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Reaction to Rejection

Last week I had a bad day. It probably wasn’t much different from any other day, but for some reason it felt worse. Two editors, both whom I respect and trust, rejected two different projects, both of which I love.

Just as rejection is part of every author’s life, it is part of every agent’s day, and as part of my job I need to get up, brush myself off, and start fresh. Most important, though, I need to find a way to boost the confidence of my authors and remind them why I took them on in the first place—I love their work, love their writing, love their voices, and, most important, have confidence that they have what it takes.

So what does an agent feel when getting rejected? I imagine most of you know very well what it feels like for an author, but how do agents take it? Obviously I can’t speak for anyone but myself. However, I imagine that all agents have had a similar experience. When I answered my email and picked up the voice mail, both came in at once, which should really be outlawed: my stomach knotted up and my heart felt heavy. It actually, physically hurt. I knew I had to make those phone calls and disappoint my clients, and you know what? It just plain sucks (excuse my language). I’m disappointed and angry. Why can’t these editors see what I see? I’m frustrated. We’re so close. In one case the book had been read by most of the editorial staff, and while the editor I submitted to really liked it and had nothing but extremely positive things to say about the author’s writing and voice, ultimately she couldn’t get the support she needed.

I’m also kicking myself. I feel that in some way I have let down my authors. By being excited about their work, by telling them how much I love it (which I truly do), did I set them up for a fall? After all, it’s my job to sell these books and I have yet to do so. I have, thus far, failed at my job. I know in the end both of these authors will see success. They are much too talented not to. But for today I wallow in my own feelings on the rejections, and tomorrow I will get up, brush myself off, and start fresh. I will send out more submissions, brainstorm new and better ideas, and dang it, I will sell these two authors . . . and many, many others.



elysabeth said...


This is great. I love the insight into "bad days" for anyone - the psyche of people - and as they say in order to succeed, you must try, try, try again - and with the attitude you have about the works I don't see that you won't sell them and then you have your success which definitely makes up for any bad days you had -

they also say you can't win them all - so hang in there - the right publisher's editor will come along - E :)

Stacia said...

Sorry about the rejections. It's comforting to know it bothers you as much as it does us--but especially comforting to see this doesn't change your opinion of the writer or the work, which is a big fear for writers.


The toughest part of rejection is the self-doubt that follows. I think that's inevitable, but the trick, as you pointed out, is to try again after a suitable mourning period.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this experience. I had no idea that agent-submitted books had to go through so many levels at a publisher to be bought. This is another insight on how tough it is to sell a book, and how lucky your clients are to have you in their court.

Kate Douglas said...

I've said this many times before, but I'm living proof Jessica doesn't give up when she believes in an author. I'm just really glad she's as tenacious as she is! From an author's point of view, having my agent upset over her inability to sell my work took the pressure off me...it freed me to keep writing, knowing she was doing her best to sell me. The rejections didn't hurt nearly as much--the editor might not feel a particular submission was right, but Jessica believed in the work enough to keep trying. That's huge.

Sam said...

So what happens now? When you get a project you really like, is there a list of editors it gets sent to, or only a few? Do you send to more than one at a time? Does the project get put on the back burner, or does it get sent off right away?

Anonymous said...

The difference, in my eyes, between an author and an agent, is that with an agent you know there are two people who love the book...with an author alone, there's only yourself...but it's good to know that you're so invested in your clients -- excatly what one hopes for!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that. Sometimes I think we writers feel as if we're the only ones who are emotionally invested in a story. It's nice to be reminded that agents, some agents, also care about the author and her story that's been born of hard work, persistence, and, sometimes, tears.

merlinsmuse said...

Wow, I'm touched and I'm not even one of your authors (yet). I would wager that not all agents feel the same when one of their author's manuscripts is rejected. I really, really, really, want you for an agent.

Have a great day and thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, you are the champ at picking people up and helping them start over. And it can't be easy, especially when you're already hurting, yourself.

But ... sometimes, getting up and trying again isn't the answer. Sometimes, it's just time to let go. How do you and your authors know when the time to keep trying has passed and it's time to move on?

Anonymous said...

Of course, it is truly a subjective business.

I admire your loyalty to your clients. That is the mark of an exceptional agent. I'm confident you will get back out there submitting those books and sell them.

However, I wonder if the editor shouldn't take a good portion of blame for the no sale. If she loved the book and believed in it, then isn't it part of her job to sell the staff on her choice? Maybe I don't understand this process, but I'd expect the staff to trust her ability to 'pick winners' and if they didn't agree, then for her to do her own sales pitch with heart.

I've found that sometimes opposition is given when all the opposing force wants is to be convinced.

Your clients/authors are very lucky to have you as their agent!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this posting. I had an agent who dropped me after sending my work out four times. She said the same readers work for all the houses, so there was no point in carrying on.

We've all heard of books with 50 rejections being sold, so I assume she didn't "love" my book enough to try again.

Although I'm not, unfortunately, a BookEnds author, your empathy touches me. I'm glad to know some agents really do feel for their clients.

Anonymous said...

By being excited about their work, by telling them how much I love it (which I truly do), did I set them up for a fall?

No way. I bet your enthusiasm means the absolute world to your writers.