Thursdays with Amanda: Rejections Don’t Determine Your Worth as a Writer

March 7, 2013 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her book on author marketing, The Extroverted Writer, releases March 15.

I usually post marketing and platform-building stuff, but today I’m gonna get all warm and fuzzy on you. Because, well…I think it’s high time for a pep talk.

As an agent, I see lots and lots and LOTS of rejection on behalf of my authors. There are days when the rejections just seem to roll in, and the very relationships that I’d been counting on coming through for me don’t. So then I have to go to the author, explain the rejection, and try to help them through it.

And here’s what I’ve noticed…too many times, authors look to editors and big publishing houses to validate their ability as writers.

So when the rejections come in, it’s so common for authors to begin doubting and questioning and “oh, if I can just fix that one thing…tweak that one chapter…” I’ve seen this happen over and over, and you know what? I’M SICK OF IT.

When you’re on my side of the desk, the picture is much bigger. Yes, there are lots of rejections…sometimes for good reason. But there are also AMAZING books that never get picked up. Blame it on timing, budget constraints, weird personal preferences, or a bad day at the office, but it’s true. There are great novels and book ideas that don’t receive offers. They don’t see that one “yes” that makes all of the rejections fizzle into nothingness. So for me to say that a string of rejections from editors means that there’s something wrong with my author or their writing or their ability would be to say there’s something “wrong” with all of the athletes out there who never make it to the Olympics, or there’s something “off” with the church and local musicians who never get picked up by record companies.

There’s nothing wrong with rejection. While sometimes it can help pinpoint trouble spots in a manuscript, most of the time it’s just one person’s opinion based on editorial needs, preferences, and the kind of meeting they just got out of.

I wrote a novel (hooray!), and it’s currently being shopped to a few houses. I almost expected myself to be nervous and fidgety and paranoid. You know, refreshing my inbox every two seconds even though I know the process takes much longer than a few weeks.

But surprisingly, I’m not like that. I’m cool. I’m relaxed. And I can ONLY attribute that to the fact that after seeing waves of rejections…after seeing GREAT and talented authors get told “no,” I know that my worth is not found in an editor’s opinion of my book. Sure, I’ll be thrilled if they have good things to say about it, and any critiques they have I’ll be sure to take in stride, but I worked damn hard on that thing. It went through five drafts, had a dozen test readers, and even faced a complete rewrite of the first half.

And not everyone is going to love it. They may not even like it. That’s okay, because I did my best with it and at the end of the day I know I’m a good writer.

So it’s just a matter of whether it’s my time for the spotlight.

How do you face rejection? How do you filter through feedback? I want to know!

Posted in Career, Publishing

  • http://twitter.com/CandaceCalvert Candace Calvert

    Great post: Writers do indeed need a pep talk . . . regularly. In my hunt for an agent, I literally (pun intended) sent out 100 queries–and received 99 rejections. So worth the mountain of antacids to finally team with my amazing agent. AND even with her help, it still took 2 years to sell that first book. I couldn’t be happier with where I finally landed and though my skin’s a little thicker, I’m right with you on encouraging aspiring writers. You gotta keep picking yourself up and stepping out there. You have a story to tell that someone (hopefully LOTS of someones) needs to hear. It will happen.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      Glad it worked out for you, Candace! And glad you stuck with it.

  • http://twitter.com/aboutproximity Lisa Van Engen

    I love this encouragement, thank you. I’m just realizing there is so much amazing talent out there. That does not diminish what I have to offer. We all have a unique voice that will touch different people in different ways. (There are for sure discouraging spaces though, like today, I had the I’m never going to make it melt down.) I just kept typing through.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      Oh no! Those meltdowns will get you. But you’re not alone :)

  • Rajdeep Paulus

    Thanks, Amanda. I often find myself wanting to explain the rejections. That instinct to defend yourself, you know, cuz if the publishers had read just one more page, they would have hit that briliantly written line that will be quoted for generations to come! haha.

    Nice to be reminded that my worth is not in the hands of a few opinions. :) -Raj

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      Yep, I understand the need to explain!! Thanks for sharing this :)

  • http://www.healthyspirituality.org Jean Wise

    You ARE encouraging! I agree we often justify our worth and when we are rejected, especially multiply times, we think something is wrong with us. You have helped many of us see the big picture and it is a great reminder. I think I will share your words with my local writers group.
    I have been praying, reading and thinking about vulnerability. Brene Brown has written Daring Greatly where she explores that issue. When we are vulnerable – sending our precious words out to an agent or a publisher or even readers – it is easer to get hurt. But vulnerabilty also means courage – the courage to send our work out and the courage to keep trying.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      Great words here, Jean. Thanks for sharing!

    • Tina Bustamante

      I love Brene Brown and loved her TED talk on vulnerability! Potentially life changing.

      • http://www.healthyspirituality.org Jean Wise

        Tina you are so right.. Those TED talks are great. That is where I ‘discovered” Brene Brown and have now read her writings. Very interesting work and insightful

        • :Donna Marie

          TED talks are amazing! Actual talks about so many things that are worth listening to! I wasn’t aware of Brene Brown, until now :) Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/rachelleighgeek Rachel Leigh Smith

    My pile of rejections is admittedly quite small. Only four, to be exact. Three of them were easy to take. One because I expected it and it was a “what the heck, why not?” submission to Harlequin in the first place. They don’t usually publish things that are 60% his POV.

    But one of them… man, it HURT. I cried for an hour. It read and felt like a rejection of me personally instead of my writing, because the agent attacked me as a historian and researcher who poured years into researching what I wrote. It still makes me angry sometimes. It was very unprofessional, and thankfully I talked myself out of being unprofessional right back.

    I admit, I watch my email for the first twenty-four hours after I send something out. Partly to make sure it doesn’t get kicked back as undeliverable. But after that I move on and keep going. Getting hung up on what’s out there right now can be a career killer, IMO. Gotta keep writing, keep moving forward.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      Sorry you felt attacked by that rejection, Rachel. That’s no fun :(

  • http://twitter.com/JMZeiger Jennifer M Zeiger

    So encouraging=) Thanks for the pep talk.

  • Ron Estrada

    Thanks for the pep talk, Amanda. It’s odd that I’ve been so successful in other areas of my life, but can still feel less than confident in my writing, and I’m certainly more passionate about writing than I was about my engineering degree. Keep the pep talks coming. Yell at us if necessary.:

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      :)

  • Theresa Lode

    Good stuff, Amanda. I remember one of my first rejections from way back when but the editor (it was for a magazine,) added “you are a good writer.” It put me over the moon.
    Gads, we writers can be a needy lot.
    Anymore though, I realize getting rejected isn’t a big deal.
    If my 48-year-old self could tell my 25-year-old self a thing or two, that would be one of the big lessons.
    BTW- I love catching your posts on FB. Thank you!

  • T

    How do I deal with rejection and negative comments? Galatians 1:10 – Am I trying to win the approval of men (women) or of God?

  • http://www.facebook.com/janell.rardon Janell Rardon

    Hi Amanda,
    As always, such a great post. I have had so many rejections. Finally, on a hot day in July when yet another rejection came, A whisper came, “Rejection is merely redirection.” It eased my disappointment and softened the blow. I have found that I have to trust God’s infinite timing and know his purpose. As I sharpen my skill and continue to hone my craft, I can only trust. That is all that is left. HE promises to lead and guide. Thank you, once again, for re-minding us to stay the course.

  • http://therockstardevotional.blogspot.com/ Clint Hall

    It’s so easy to fall into the trap of allowing the rest of the world to validate us. The question of whether I am a writer, musician, painter, poet, singer, or whatever else does not belong in the hands of anybody but myself and God.

    When you are able to look at it that way – and yes, it’s difficult – you realize that when you finally receive that email starting with the wonderful/dreaded “RE:” you need not fear any rejection lurking behind the bold-faced type. It doesn’t define you. It only serves as proof that you are doing what you were created to do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.deblieck Karen DeBlieck

    Thanks for sharing this truth with us Amanda. I am just at the beginning of the submission process and after a few rejections I found myself thinking, “Man, this is harder then writing or editing my novel.” Now you have shone a light on WHY it was so difficult. Thank you! Time to get off this roller coaster of being validated by others and focus on writing! I’ll definately keep this post in my pocket as a reminder. :)

  • Shirley Corder

    Until the last few days, I have taken rejections in my stride. I’ve continued to send them out and tried to not pay attention to the rejections (which are normally just a case of not hearing back.) But I’m currently into the marketing stage and I have to say it’s really getting me down. It’s a different form of rejection–but rejection is what it is. All my reviews to date are 5 stars. I know the book is good. But if no one knows about it, they won’t buy it. So yes, I am trying to remind myself that I know the book is good. I know I am a good writer. And no, I’m not gonna quit!

  • Julie Garmon

    Love your warm and fuzzy post! Thank you, Amanda.
    Grinning in Georgia.

  • Henya

    Oh boy, I really needed to read this post today. Thank you.

  • Gabrielle Meyer

    When I received rejections from the two publishers who requested my m/s at ACFW, I had to take a day to process through their feedback and figure out what I could learn. I also needed to realize that I received the best kind of rejection. They both liked my writing and invited me to send further proposals, but they didn’t think that particular story was the best to debut me with (even giving me suggestions with what might be a better story). I think the best thing we can do is keep a humble attitude and remember that a rejection isn’t an indicator of our ability.

  • http://twitter.com/viviankirkfield Vivian Kirkfield

    So helpful, Amanda! You speak to the fear that exists in most writers…what if ‘they’ don’t like what I’ve written? And you soothe us by pointing out that it is as much about the timing, the particular pair of eyes…and yes, the luck…as much as it is about the quality of the writing. Great stories sometimes get passed over…a couple of times anyway.:)

    How do I face rejection and filter feedback? With my critique groups, I welcome their insights…another pair of eyes and a fresh perspective is what making the story better is all about. If I absolutely feel something shouldn’t be changed, then I don’t…but I take every comment as a constructive one. I’ve only just gotten into submitting to agents…and the one ‘no’ that I got was a lovely personal response with helpful advice. I’m not expecting rejection letters such as that one from everyone…but it sure was nice to have that be the first one.:)

    Amanda, best of luck with your ms that is out there! This was a great post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/PeterD.Mallett Peter D. Mallett

    Good article from the agent side. I wrote on this not too long ago in a post Receiveing and Rising Above Rejection.

  • Wallace Brown

    Good article. Also, being an ex-athlete has taught me this: Just keep going forward. An obstacle only lives within the imagination.

  • http://www.devotionaldiva.com/ Renee Johnson Fisher

    There’s nothing wrong with rejection. That is the best sentence ever :) Thanks for sharing and so glad I have an agent who is going through the process so you can truly understand it from both perspectives :)

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