Learning from Rejection

13 September, 2013

Inevitably, no matter how strong or enticing a new project might be, I know that when I go out to sell, rejection is part of the process.  It can be discouraging.  No sooner do I contact editors, who often sound enthusiastic about considering a proposal or manuscript, then almost immediately, some “passes” stream in.  As we agents often say, the “no’s” come in quickly.4

When I first started agenting, I have to admit I did feel the sting of rejection almost as keenly as the author.  After all, every submission I make is not just about selling an author’s work–it’s also about putting my own taste and reputation on the line.  What I am communicating to editors with each submission is that what I represent is worthy of their time and interest.  So my name is on that submission along with the author’s.

But the truth of the matter is that publishers are under no obligation whatsoever to love everything I represent.  And even if they like it, they may not choose to publish it.  Publishers are super picky–and they should be. Every property they acquire represents an investment, an allocation of resources, both monetary and in terms of time and effort that it will require.  They need to choose wisely, betting on books they truly believe in and that are a great fit for their list.  Agents try to keep up with the constant changes within the publishing houses of staff, but also of mission and goal.  Every new acquisition needs to advance an internal goal the publisher has. Each publisher has a clear sense of identity, of what they feel most comfortable with and are most capable of marketing successfully.

So bring on the rejection.  Because with each rejection, I cross a publisher off the list and focus on those that are actively considering my project.  Of course agents love it when everyone wants what we are selling, but truth be told, that’s rare.  I tell my authors–we need to go where the love is.  As with any meaningful partnership, all you need at the end of the day is the right publisher, one who “gets it” and will get behind it to make it a success.

–Joelle Delbourgo