Literary agent rejections can be difficult to interpret and overcome. This article will help you comprehend and cope with the often-cryptic and sometimes-insensitive missives of book agents. It was inspired by an author who recently posted the following comment on one of my websites: “Mark, you do not say anything about those unfortunates that do not get agents. I, being one of those, have suffered the depression and heartbreak of having tried so hard, and while we are certainly happy for those more fortunate, it would be nice to hear a word of encouragement. As for me, I am just recovering from the stress of failure, again. Thought it might do others good to hear encouraging words from someone like you.”

Literary Agent Rejections – Interpret, Overcome, Avoid

I don’t write articles in response to comments very often, but the comment above really moved me. So, listed below you’ll find a detailed list of ideas and strategies to help you interpret, overcome, and avoid literary agent rejections. But please don’t just read the list. Share it... so others can benefit from it. And, if you have ideas and strategies that aren’t on the list, post them in the comments section (after the article) so others can benefit from your ideas, too.

Literary Agent Rejections – Top 10 List

  1. Read literary agent rejections–but don’t read too much “into” them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to calm down one of my author coaching clients because he or she misinterpreted what an agent said (or didn’t say) in a rejection letter. That’s right, even my coaching clients get literary agent rejections. Every author gets them. And it’s not always easy to interpret the rejections. These articles will help: Literary Agent FeedbackStupid Things Literary Agents Say and Do, and Sensitive Author Syndrome.
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  2. Be fully committed to the process of getting published–but don’t make it life or death. It’s easy to get emotional about your writing if: you’re passionate about it, you’ve invested a lot of time and/or money into the process of trying to become successful, and/or you have big hopes about how becoming a successful author might change your life. Caring about your writing is good. Just don’t associate your entire mental well-being (or most of it) on literary agent rejections. You should do everything you can to get an agent, publisher and/or book deal. But you’re not going to die or live a completely unfulfilled life if you don’t (or if it doesn’t happen for you in 12 months or less). So don’t think and/or do things to make yourself feel that way. In other words, don’t put yourself on an emotional roller-coaster or make yourself manic. Emotional intensity isn’t going to make the universe bend to your will. Taking calm, correct, consistent action might.
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  3. Don’t keep thinking your writing is crap–or that you’re God’s gift to literature. This is another reminder to avoid extremes when getting literary agent rejections. I’ve talked to thousands of authors over the years as a former literary agent, former Marketing & Licensing Manager for a well-known publisher, and, now, as an author coach. What have I learned? Most of the time, authors who think their writing is awful aren’t as bad as they think; and authors who think their writing is great aren’t as good as they think.
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  4. Write–but do other things that make you happy, too. You can be both fully committed to your writing and do other things. And you should do other things while literary agent rejections are coming in. Obsessing with something (like trying to get a literary agent) without having enough other things going on in your life isn’t healthy. It also makes it harder to sustain your efforts submitting query letters, because obsessing leads to burnout. Quit stalking your email account. Take time to smell the roses, go the gym, and/or work on your next book.
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  5. Don’t rush the process of becoming a better writer and getting published–but don’t procrastinate either. Everything worth anything takes time. Usually more than we’d like. That includes things like getting in shape, writing a book, and (of course) getting a literary agent for a book. You want to be a successful author? Start by enjoying the journey as much as the idea of being published. And, read this article about Why Writers Write. Then read these articles to jump-start your writing and/or your efforts to market your writing: Publish your Book Before It’s Too LateLazy-A*s Authors Don’t Get Literary AgentsNot Writing – Author Excuses, and Preemie Publishing.
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  6. Dream big–but only as big as your work ethic. Don’t listen to people who think and/or say you can’t make money or make a living as an author. Read this article instead: Make Money As An Author. Then read this article about being optimistic and realistic, and doing what it takes in the face of literary agent rejections: Too Good to Be True. And, lastly, read this article called Entitlement in Writer Culture, which sheds more light on why some people make it… and some don’t.
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  7. Don’t blame anyone for your “failures” as you’re moving forward–including yourself. When it comes to your book(s), the proverbial buck should stop with you regarding literary agent rejections. You’re the author. Anyone else is a supporting character in the story of your literary life. You’re the one who has the most control of your publishing destiny (although it might not always feel that way), so you need to decide how your story is going to end. Don’t pin your disappointments on anyone else: siblings, parents, kids, boss, neighbors, politicians, literary agents, editors, publishers–or me. All you can do, is all you can do. So, stay focused on consistently discovering and implementing the concrete action steps that you take next to achieve your publishing goals. Read this article about Prejudiced Literary Agents and Publishers. And don’t be too hard on yourself, either. Hold yourself accountable, but don’t indulge yourself with too much self-pity and/or self-loathing. A little bit is okay, but don’t wallow.
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  8. Remember that talent is important–but persistence is sometimes more important. Want proof? Think about those awful books and movies you started but never finished. Then read these articles: “Fantasy Writing”Suspend your Disbelief; What’s Your Number?Drink Lemonade, Get Published; and The Most Important Decision You’ll Ever Make As An Author.
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  9. Remind yourself that getting published isn’t luck–it’s a decision–and keep deciding, every day, you’re going to be published “no matter what”. It’s easy to feel like the odds of getting published aren’t any better than than the odds of winning the lottery. Especially when you’re getting literary agent rejections. But the odds of you winning the lottery in some places are as bad as 1 in 259 million (I Googled it). I’m pretty sure your chances of getting an agent are better than that. Read this article called Are You Looking for “Signs” to Help You Reach Your Goals? I’m not saying that any author can get a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal by simply affirming, “Let it be so”. That would be stupid. However, there are many things you can do to increase your chances of getting a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal. Stay focused on those things, follow through on those things, and celebrate the fact that most of the authors you’re competing with are too busy with other things or lazy to follow through. And, many more don’t know what they should do. Advantage YOU since you’re reading articles like this and getting more educated about the publishing industry. Lastly, decide you’re going to get your writing out into the world, one way or another, regardless of what happens with literary agents and the “big-time” major publishers. You should try, of course, to get a literary agent and a major publisher. But, if you don’t get a literary agent and publisher after you’ve done everything possible (including getting help, see below), you shouldn’t give up. You should, instead, try to get a smaller but legitimate publisher to publish your book(s). And, if that fails, you should self-publish. Don’t let your writing die a sad death in a dusty drawer. Self-publishing isn’t the end of the world. But you should read these two articles to see why most authors should only self-publish as a last resort: Self-Publish a Book and Should I Self-Publish My Book?
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  10. Trust your instincts and intuition–but get help (the right help). This is the best strategy when it comes to overcoming literary agent rejections because it can help you avoid getting literary agent rejections in the first place. I don’t mind hard work but I also like shortcuts, which is why I like getting help as well. I enjoy other people sharing new ways that I can do things better. And I love other people sharing new ways that I can work smarter instead of harder. I wasn’t always like that. I used to take pride in figuring everything out for myself. Now I’m older and wiser, and I’m too successful and busy to do everything myself or think I need to. Whenever possible, I hire people to help me do things faster and/or better. Without the painful guessing, uncertainty, and loneliness that comes with trying to be the hero. You can/should do the same thing. For starters, click here to look at the answers to my Frequently Asked Questions and/or Ask Me a Question yourself (no charge) about the best way to write, publish, or promote your book(s). Other things you can do to make the getting published process easier/faster/better: read a book about how to become a better writer; go to a Writers’ Conference; join (or start) a writers’ group; Schedule a Coaching Call and get feedback regarding your pitch materials and/or a sample of your writing; hire a freelance book editor; etc. Just make sure, if you’re planning to hire someone (for anything related to your writing), that you read this article first, which explains How to Discern Between “Masters” and “Wannabees”. Read this article to make sure you only Hire and Surround Yourself with Positive People. And read this article about How to Be Coachable.

Literary agent rejections aren’t easy to deal with, no matter what you do. But I hope these tips will help take the edge off, making it more likely you’ll sustain your efforts to get your work out into the world in a bigger way… and enjoy the journey.

All my best,

–  Mark

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Mark Malatesta answers questions about literary agent biographies

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