How to handle rejection from a literary agent

  1. English: ice cream cone in the street

    Sit quietly and sip coffee all morning long. Resist the urge to switch from coffee to hard liquor. At least until after lunch.

  2. Forget breakfast. You’re wallowing, after all. Absentmindedly nibble banana chips just to say you ate something.
  3. Eventually, let your loved ones express outrage on your behalf. Secretly feel both validated and vindicated, but outwardly, just sigh and shrug.
  4. Send a kind note to the agent thanking them for their time, because, after all, they did give it careful consideration, and it was a well crafted rejection note, and if they didn’t love the book, they wouldn’t have been right to represent it anyway.
  5. Nevertheless, wallow some more. Develop a massive headache. Lie down for a few minutes and wind up taking a nap.
  6. Eventually, eat lunch, but only because your loved ones make you and because it might help your headache. Think about drinking, but fill a glass with water instead. It is just 2 pm, after all.
  7. Make some vague comment about the rejection online. Then play video games. The more mindless, the better.
  8. Go outside. Preferably into sunshine. Eat ice cream. Get the waffle cone — you deserve it.
  9. Let your loved ones usher you into a serious conversation about what to do next. Noncommittally begin to develop a plan: revise? resubmit? Maybe the former, eventually the latter.
  10. Because you can’t put them off any longer, start acknowledging the consolation messages your friends send you online. Yes, it’s just one rejection. Yes, there are plenty of other agents out there. Yes, it really is a good story, and it’ll happen sooner or later.
  11. As your head clears (ice cream is great for headaches), start getting determined. Realize that your loved ones and your friends are right. It is a good story. Start looking at new agents. Hell, start looking at every big-name agent you can find. So what if they reject you? You can handle it.
  12. Shoot for the moon.
  13. Feel better about yourself. Feel better about your work. Feel GREAT about your work.
  14. And now you can start drinking.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

9 thoughts on “How to handle rejection from a literary agent

  1. Excellent response to rejection. I wish I could follow that path. Usually, I do something I regret.

    Oh, one question, I never respond to rejections. I figure they don’t want to read anything more from me. Is that wrong?

    1. It depends on the relationship up to that point, but in general, if it’s just a plain thanks-but-no-thanks, it’s probably best just to leave it alone and move on.

      In my case, this agent had sought me out, we had corresponded a bit, and the rejection was personal, thoughtful, and full of generous feedback. So I felt I owed her a thank you.

      What you should NEVER do is argue about the rejection. Doesn’t do anyone any good.

  2. My agent tells me this: less than 2% of works submitted ever see print. In times of recession it’s probably less than 1%. It’s less than 1% anyway for poetry. Rejection slips are as common as grass. He tells enquirers not to worry, they’re in good company, and after all they just created something, and that very fact is great in itself.

  3. Love this. And I think it applies to other areas of life as well – job interviews that didn’t go well, clients who decide to take their services ‘in house’ (I hate that line). I especially appreciate your candidness about letting loved ones be angry on your behalf (I definitely do this) as well as wallowing a little. It does seem to help, even if I feel a little guilty doing it. Thanks for this 😉

    1. Thanks! This actually is more or less a record of my day yesterday, so it’s fantastic to see it resonate with people. 🙂

      Pro-tip #15: Get up at the mic and do a reading. I was lucky enough to have one scheduled for last night, and it went amazingly well — not just for me but for the whole crazy crowd of Portland literati who showed up to drink and read stuff and celebrate words — and it was the greatest mood-lifter I could possibly have wanted. (I’ll be posting about it soon.)

      But that was just a happy accident. I’m thinking now that if I hadn’t already had that scheduled, I should have gone out looking for an open mic somewhere, because it really does help.

  4. Sam–Just read you posting on how to deal with rejection of one’s work. First–I loved the advice; second–really good writing of yours on the subject. After reading it I thought of the following quote on art (which of course includes all forms of creativity) by Constantin Brancusi while reading one of my books on art. Brancusi was born in Rumania and immigrated to the U.S. The quote: “Never forget that you are an artist! Do not lose confidence. Fear nothing. You will succeed! Create like a god; reign like a king; work like a slave.” Perhaps you can relate to his thought. His art, by way, is superlative and one of my favorites. Now–get you ass back into the chair and start writing again, and again, and again . . . Stephen

    Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2013 00:00:14 +0000 To:

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