Thursday, September 2, 2010

Should Writers Talk About Their Rejections?

Most writers I know have blogs, Twitters, or some other kind of public forum onto which they can vent all of their feelings and thoughts about the publishing world. (This is probably because most of the writers I know, I've met online. But I digress.) They'll talk about frustrations with their own WIPs, characters from pop culture that annoy them, weird people they meet in real life, email woes, and more. It's nice to have a support system there to tell us that we're not crazy, and to remind us that we're not going through this alone.

But when it comes time to query your novel, how public should you be about the process - particularly your rejection ratio?

I have seen many writers discussing their rejection stats very publicly. To me, that always seemed counterproductive. I've heard repeatedly that pretty much the first thing an agent will do when they think they might be interested in representing you is Google your name. What if they do, and they find a blog or Twitter feed full of rejection stats? Even if the mention seems harmless - maybe something as simple as a running total in your sidebar - it could be potentially damaging, and color the opinion of the agent who was about to fall in love with your work.

I think sometimes we forget that the querying process is about professional communication. During the discussion about the queries hashtag and its various benefits and drawbacks, I read on another blog a commenter who said, in no other industry would it be acceptable to pull actual quotes from business cover letters (which are personal communications) and post them in a public forum, regardless of intent. I thought that was an excellent point, and I think it can be applied in this case, as well. If you were applying for a job in a traditional - but highly competitive - field, would you want to attach your name to the number of people who had turned you down? Absolutely not! You would want the HR managers at AwesomeCompany to think that every company you were interviewing with was champing at the bit to offer you the position. And I think the same rule should apply here - keep quiet about your rejections, and let the writing speak for itself.

I'm not alone in my opinion on the matter. I've heard agents say that's not a smart idea (both in real life and on Twitter), but when I turned to the Internet to try to find some evidence/quotes for a reader, I came up short. Being a journalist by trade, I didn't think that was right. So I contacted Weronika Janczuk, literary agent with D4EO Literary, and asked if she would mind sharing her opinion on the subject. Because she is seriously awesome (I mean, really, really awesome), she graciously agreed. I think she worded it perfectly, so here's verbatim what she had to say:
I think this is one of those odd reverse-psychology things.

If I saw, for example, that someone had a 75% request rate based on the query and the sample pages, I would totally want to read that submission and, if I loved it, try to get in the race for the writer.

If I saw that the request rate was 5%, I would immediately go into reading the submission with a 'this will probably be terrible' mentality, and it will be harder for the writer to amuse me.

Of course, there are always those stories about writers getting 100 rejections before they find the agent and go on to be bestsellers, so a simple statistic wouldn't keep me from falling in love with a story if I did, in fact, love it.

My suggestion is for writers to not share the details. I'm not an agent who's going to go through a potential client's blog entirely, but I will skim a few posts and the one thing that could really turn me off is a really snarky/negative attitude. Anything else is okay (for me), but that means nothing when other agents may feel turned off by the sharing of such details.

I totally think it's okay for writers to share after they sign with an agent, and I think it's totally okay for writers to be like 'Been querying for three weeks, one partial request, hoping,' but a really detailed breakdown can be kind of unnerving and off-putting.
I think Weronika's last paragraph brings up a great point - I love those post-signing stories, where we hear all about how many queries it took. Things like that keep me going, and I know they keep my writer-friends going as well. And once you've signed, there's absolutely nothing damaging about admitting that it took you 50 rejections to get there - in fact, it might just help encourage a fellow writer who is close to calling it quits.

But until you actually sign on with an agent, it's probably best to keep your rejection talk to a minimum. If you need to let off some steam, email your crit partners, or get a group of writing friends together for coffee and trash the agents who rejected you in the privacy of your own home. If you don't have anyone to vent to, there are a ton of great communities out there that you can dive into to find some people (just remember that everything you say on forums can probably be attached to your name, too, so keep it professional. Mostly I'm suggesting that you find friends/support groups here and then take it to a private chat or email if you want to complain about anything. Also I've only used about half of these so I can't speak to the level of awesome/not awesome):
If all of those fail (though I honestly can't imagine that they would), just join in the conversation on blogger or Twitter! I've made great writing friends that way, and come my time to query, I know they'll be there to listen to me if I need them. But of course, I'll keep it all out of public view. (When I manage to snag an agent, though, I promise to let all you lovely readers know.)

Special thanks to Weronika Janczuk for answering my email so quickly!    


  1. Great post. As much as I love feeling like I'm "in the trenches" with people I don't think it's professional. I like the last paragraph of what Weronika said as well - I've really wondered about posting that you've gotten requests or even that you're querying at all. So far I think I've decided mum is the best policy. I want to be friendly and open but professionalism is winning out in these questions.

  2. Agreed great post. I'm a writer who is blogging my way through the query game. The focus of my blog is staying positive while still receiving rejections and the importance of moving forward and doing your best work and research. I've seen writer blogs where it is just a cloud of posts filled with doom and gloom and I think that would be off-putting to anyone, agent or not.

    I wonder some times too about agents who tweet and blog very openly about who and how they are rejecting. Either way great post and I'll be following your blog from now on. :)

  3. Makes complete sense! I think even if you have really great stats, there are other reasons, too, to keep it to yourself. Personally, I'm a fairly private person, and I don't want others all up in my bidness ;) Hehe. But I'll share with you, Heather, cuz I love you. <3

    Great post, sweetums. Excellent thoughts to ponder. And BIG thanks to Weronika for her incredible insight!

  4. Really great points. I've posted stats randomly throughout my blogging process, more as a documentation for myself, and because I'm trying to bring my blog readers along for the ride. Nothing like a stat bar on the side, but more like a note on Fridays along with other info.

    Now that I have an agent, I'm doing that with the submission process. Maybe I shouldn't? I'll have to think this through. Maybe I should wait until after the sale (here's hoping!) before talking about how many passes.

    Good food for thought. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Excellent post. I often read blogs that keep you up to date on rejections and go, "whaaaat?"

    Good to know I'm not alone in the whole private brooding thing :)

    Oh, and yes--Weronika is seriously awesome.

  6. Excellent post! Even though I'm not ready to query, I try to keep my blog posts positive. I've heard about agents not taking on potential clients because of them being too negative, so I try to keep that in mind. And I agree about people who share every rejection they get - it's not professional.

  7. Yep...there is a lot to be said for sometimes not saying everything!!!

  8. You make some excellent points. I do find it a bit offputting when I see that someone has 125 rejections with 34 partials and currently has 22 out and waiting for response. "When will the response come, when will it come, when will it come?"

    It's said you shouldn't bother agents by nagging them all the time but transferring that nagging to your blog isn't much better. I don't actually want to read about it either.

    I haven't started the querying process myself but you have given me a lot to think about for when I do.

    Thanks so much for this brilliant post. You rock, Heather! xo

  9. Social media has made things so interesting. If you've been blogging your entire writing journey, it does seem logical to blog about the ups and downs of querying, including rejections, even if it isn't negative.

    But at the same time...yeah, totally unprofessional, and who knows who is looking.

    I am such a freaking open book, I tell the internet everything. But I also try to tell the internet the best version of everything about me. Even if this wasn't an issue, I doubt I would be public about my rejections. It doesn't really go with my shiny happy internet persona.

    Great post! And I love that Weronika was able to share her thoughts, too! It's great to hear from a real agent!

  10. absolutely fantastic post. I personally wouldn't share any of my querying details online. I might have a rant to my crit buddies over AIM but that's about it really, lol

  11. Fabulous blog post Heather! I totally agree--and this applies to querying, but ALSO to subs, I'd think... I've heard a few agents talk about how deals have been ruined because an author posted too much information about their subs process on their blog/website...

  12. You've got it bang on here, I think. I don't think there's anything wrong with covering the subject of rejectons in one's blog - coping strategies and so forth - but being negative and drawing readers' (and as you say, possibly interested agents) attention to your 'failure' isn't the best idea in the world!

  13. The internet is an open book, and nothing is really private.
    Thanks for alerting the writing community that they'd better start acting more businesslike.
    I know...I is a dirty word and we're all above that. So very, very far above.
    And yet, we want to get paid for what we do.


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