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Seven Levels Of Rejection: And How To Make Them Work For You

Nov 7, 2007
Most people in the writing world talk about the three levels of rejection--form, personal, rewrite--but I've discovered seven types (after over 200 rejections before being published and about hundred after, I should know). Learning how to analyze rejection is a helpful skill for any writer because you'll learn what to ignore, what to consider, and what will put you on the right track or, as the case may be, off of it.

Here are the seven types of rejections that may find their way in your email or mailbox:

1) No response. The agent or editor doesn't send you anything. I find these ones most annoying. You wait in anticipation, hoping, praying for something either in the mail or online. Nothing. Six months past. Still nothing.

2) Form rejection. These are the ones that start Dear...fill in the name. They tell you that your work isn't right for them and wish you better luck elsewhere. There's no feedback. You should toss these rejections immediately. But be warned, form rejections are easy to get if you don't follow directions: submitting to the wrong magazine or publisher, a wrong topic, wrong manuscript format, or writing in crayon or invisible ink. To avoid form rejections, study the magazine or publisher's criteria for submissions to make sure you're giving them something they'll want (i.e. a clean manuscript that addresses the needs of their readers) and not a missive of "Why I Should be Published by You."

3) Multiple choice. These agents or editors have gotten creative and made a list of reasons they're rejecting your work because a) they have something similar, b) the quality of your work doesn't meet their standards and/or, c) they think you're completely without talent and hope you'll never query them again. Sometimes they'll check one, sometimes they'll check all three. This is still a form rejection because it's too general to give you any real advice; however, you at least get an idea of what they're looking for. But then again, if number three is selected it is best ignored because it's just an opinion.

4) Personal note. These are nice, except when they're mean. A nice personal note can provide support like, "Good job, but needs work." A mean note on the other hand can be devastating like, "This is awful" written in blood red ink on the corner of your query. When an agent or editor takes the time to put "Not bad" on the corner of your query take it as the sign of encouragement that it is. Ignore the nasty ones. But even if they don't tell you why your work is being rejected, you're heading in the right direction. Getting a good or bad personal note indicates your style. It is my experience that it's better to get some kind of response rather than just a form rejection. Why? Because that's how readers will be. Some will hate your work. Some will love it. Receiving a response, especially a personal note, lets you know that you're hitting buttons and that's a good thing.

5) The critique. Most aspiring authors expect this type of rejection, but editors and agents don't owe you this. They get hundreds of queries and manuscripts a week and they can't critique all of them. If you do receive one consider yourself fortunate that someone has taken the time to tell you why they're rejecting your work. They may be wrong, but at least you know why. Remember, they are taking a risk by sending you bad news. The form rejection is popular because many editors and agents have suffered the wrath of rejected authors who will bombard their offices with letters arguing why they think they critique was wrong. Don't be one of those authors. Take what you can from the critique then move on.

6) Try again. This type of rejection is close to a personal note, but it's never mean. They are saying that what you submitted isn't right for them, but they're curious to see more. Make sure you follow up.

7) Rewrite request. This type of response can make most writers jump for joy. The editor is interested and is offering hints on how to gain their favor. This is good news, of course, only if you agree with the suggested changes. Unfortunately, this is still a rejection and there is no guarantee that making the changes will result in a sale. However, the most important lesson to learn from this type of rejection is that you have caught the interest of an editor and it's a relationship you should nurture.

No matter what type of response you get, 'close' is still 'no.' There is no gray area in publishing. You are either offered a contract or not. However, as I've outlined above, look at the type of rejection before you burn it. When you get varying rejections like: 'I hate the character, but love the plot' and 'I love the character, but hate the plot' you're on your way. Why? Because whoever is reading your work is stating personal preference instead of offering a common complaint. That will be what makes your style unique.

Most writers loathe rejections and for some their careers never survive the pain of getting them. You don't want this to happen to you. You now have the skills to sift through your rejections and never fear them again.
About the Author
Dara Girard is an award-winning author of romance and nonfiction who provides support and information for beginning and experienced writers, to help them keep going when things get tough, or when nothing seems to be happening. Visit Dara Girard
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