Rejections Are Personal, Just Not How You Think

Thursday, September 09, 2021
TBR: Book love is highly personal.

Rejection letters are not personal. I know you’ve heard that before. 

We tell each other that because rejection letters sometimes feel personal. After all, we’ve poured time and soul into the manuscript. Telling us you don’t want it, or worse yet that you hated it, feels deeply personal. I’m not going to stick up for editors or agents who say that they hated something. Or that you should stop writing or whatever. I think we just have to assume they didn’t have a West Texas grandma with a broom. They’d have learned not to be hateful. 

Recently, I learned just how rejection letters are personal. The book club I’m in just read a mystery. I love mysteries. Love them! And I know that the friend who picked it out did so because she knows how enthusiastic I am about mysteries, but this book was a slog. I disliked it enough to look it up. Surely there would be tons of bad reviews. What?! It won an Edgar. 

I never did warm up to this particular book, but I’m glad I read it because it clarified for me how rejection letters are personal. I like mysteries, historic nonfiction, biographies of historic women, and American history. I like fantasy, science fiction, and humorous fiction. I love everything from picture books to novels and book-length memoir. 

But that doesn’t mean I want to read every mystery. If a book features an anti-hero, I’m not going to be easily pulled in. I don’t mind police procedurals or edgy stories, but there needs to be humor and a bit of levity. And, please, no talking cats. I’m not saying that cats are incapable of speech, but simply that they do not deign to chat with the help. 

I have similar quirky preferences with every type of book I read. For historic nonfiction, Stamped from the Beginning is a YES, but presidential biographies are generally a NO. I love fantasy but not vampire stories. And science fiction must be character driven. These preferences are deeply personal. 

Now think about that in terms of agents and the manuscripts they receive. I recently saw an agent speak at an event. She talked about her love of humorous picture books. I immediately pulled up the library catalog and requested every one of her humorous picture books. I am sad to report that I didn’t laugh even once. Humor is deeply personal, and we clearly like very different things. 

When you are researching possible markets, you are going to find magazines that sound spot on and agents who seem like your dream. Read the magazine. Check out books the agent represented. Some won’t appeal to you but others will, because what we each love is personal and subjective. 

And that’s okay. It is why there are so many books out there. We each like something a little different whether we are readers, writers, editors, or agents. That's why each of us has a different pile of books on their bedside table.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on October 4, 2021).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 4, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 4, 2021). 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--My grandfather used to say, "That's why there's six different kinds of pie at a restaurant." Everybody likes/loves different things.

I have a book I'm going to try and find for you. It's a genre I don't do, but this one ended up being a book I love.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hi Sioux,
What a great way to put it! And now I'm curious about that book...

Theresa Boedeker said...

This is so true. We all have different tastes. And what is sad or humorous to us might not be to someone else. I guess this is one more reason we should read the publication or work we are submitting to, if possible,

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Yes - reading is a must. Fortunately it is something we enjoy doing.

Renee Roberson said...

The rejections were hard to take at first, but like you mentioned, they aren't personal. When an agent says something like, "I didn't connect with the material like I'd hoped," I understand that. I have had a few judges for grants/contests say things like, "this book is not marketable," or "teens don't like to read ghost stories." That's where I get my hackles up. In today's vastly changing publication landscape, I think that's too broad of a statement to make to a writer. Unless my writing was horrible, which I hope wasn't the case!

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