Rejection letters piling up? Sick of putting yourself out there only to get knocked back? THERE IS HOPE!


Listen up, querying writers: rejection during your quest for representation and publication is not the end of the world – in fact, it can be good for you and your writing!

My own hunt for an agent ended without success. BUT my writing improved! To illustrate this, I contacted various literary agents who rejected my book and asked to share their comments with you.

In April 2013, I participated in #carinapitch and ultimately landed myself a book deal with Carina Press.

While I was waiting to hear back, I decided that I was in need of an agent. I had a newly-polished manuscript in hand and I was determined! I eagerly collated a list of agents and sent my partial out into the world.

To say my first query letters were a disaster is an understatement. They were dire. I’m not even going to go there. Suffice to say, I then got my act together and, by the time I received my offer from Carina Press, I had some idea of what I was about.

I had already accumulated a handful of rejections by this point. Some were obviously forms (though nicely-worded), some rejected on a “no answer means no thanks” basis, and some had personal notes.

Every personal note made my day. And these people were saying no! To a partial! Juliet Mushens, literary agent with The Agency Group and regular #askagent font of wisdom, said “Personal responses, no matter how brief, can be real encouragement that you’re getting there.”

Camilla Wray at Darley Anderson wrote me the following note:

Both myself and our agency reader have read your chapters of [Binary Witness] and especially enjoyed Amy and Jason’s character interaction. It is real, honest and darkly entertaining. Overall there is so much to admire in your work and you have a great narrative voice. However I’m really sorry but we have decided we’re unable to go further. It is essential you find an agent who is as passionate and determined as you are and very sadly my reaction wasn’t strong enough to be the right advocate.

This is a common response I received – passion, personal preference and strength of feeling. Also, after I had an offer in hand, I received a lot of advice about carefully checking contracts and advising I seek assistance from the Society of Authors.

I received two full requests – one from Juliet and one from Oli Munson, A.M. Heath agent and Spurs fan. They are both active on Twitter, which is a NIGHTMARE for a querying author. The urge to stalk is strong, often too strong to resist, and any mention of reading a manuscript, liking a line, hating a character, must be about your manuscript. It’s unhealthy – don’t do it (but you will anyway).

In the end, both rejected me – here’s what they had to say:

Thanks so much for sending me the full, and your patience as I considered it. I was very torn about this one, but ultimately I don’t feel passionately enough about it to take it on. I loved the concept, and I think your dialogue is a real strength, but ultimately I didn’t buy into the characters enough to want to take this forward. Another agent may well feel differently and I wish you the best with that.

~ Juliet Mushens

I have now thought about this long and hard and I’m afraid it just doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. There is genuinely so much I like. Your writing is very good indeed, the pages keep turning and the characters have the potential to be truly interesting. But I just didn’t feel that potential was realised and there was a lot I didn’t buy into…

Overall it just lacks an extra layer of depth for me, but I don’t think I’ll read a manuscript this year which is more suited to the screen. Perhaps that was part of the problem. It often felt like I was watching an hour long tv drama rather than being fully immersed in the novel and the world and characters you were creating.

Honestly though, this is better than 95% of what I usually receive. It just wasn’t quite there for me but if you don’t have any joy with this manuscript, I’d be more than happy to take a look at what you do next.

~ Oli Munson

At the time, I was distraught. However, if I’m honest with myself, they had highlighted flaws I already knew. I struggle with depth in prose – and I’ve spent most of the past few years writing for screen. Characterisation is hard for me. I love plot and my character development often suffers for it.

But when I threw myself into editing with Deb Nemeth, my wonderful editor at Carina Press, I had this additional solid feedback to take with me. To find deeper POV, I amputated thought verbs. I delved into my characters more and I tried to carry that across to other projects, with the aid of Story Forge.

I learned. I grew. I wrote.

Agents want to find gold in the slush pile. They are not your enemy, even if it feels like they’re torching your babies with their fiery emails. And they feel your pain. As one agent told me: “Agents get rejected too – sometimes editors can ignore my submissions. I’ve had one copy and paste an intern’s reading report before and write ‘I agree’ underneath. Sometimes they can be brutal, sometimes they can be positive, or really helpful.”

Ultimately, Binary Witness is the book it is today because of rejection. The compliments were comforting, but it was the constructive criticism that drove me to iron out the creases, strive to be the writer that can ignite passion.

In May, I will be a published author. But rejection does not end with publication – “Getting and learning from rejections is a key part of the process and doesn’t stop even with an agent.”

Want to read the book that rejection made? BINARY WITNESS will be published by Carina Press on 5th May 2014. Like the Facebook Page for updates!


  • Such an encouraging and helpful post (loved Chuck P.’s Thought Verbs article!). I recently posted on this same situation, though I am not as far in the game as you are. I took rejection as a learning opportunity as well, and I think my next round of submissions will prove there’s a payoff. This is a bold topic to blog on, and we all thank you for your wisdom that cones from such a humble place.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Rejection hurts even when you learn from it – I think putting yourself out there and risking your heart and hopes again takes a lot of courage, so well done you for going for that next round!

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for your post – I am about to go through this process myself with my first novel and it has been insightful to read of agent reactions to your manuscript. I find the visual part of story-telling a bit easier as well and am working hard on character development before I send out queries. Glad to see your journey was ultimately successful!

    • You should absolutely make your manuscript the best it can be before querying – I think my mistake was not being honest with myself. The feedback I received from agents were things I already knew. It’s great that you’re already in touch with your own trouble areas and working to improve them.

      Good luck!

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