5 Things My 600 Rejections Taught Me
I’m the 600 rejections guy. Yepp, that’s not a typo. 600. But I recently accepted my first offer of representation. I learned a lot on my journey to find a literary agent. Here are 5 things my 600 rejections taught me.
Submission Length: 25 months (1/27/17 - 2/17/19)
Editors or Publishers: 8
Maybe or Revise/Resubmit Request: 2
SCBWI MEMBERSHIP IS A GAMECHANGER
Shortly after I stumbled upon the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I attended a workshop and was hooked. That Christmas, my parents ended up giving me a year’s membership as one of my gifts. What a practical gift for any kid lit writer! Being a member of SCWBI sets you apart from writers who aren’t. Membership looks great on your query bio, especially if you’re a total newbie like me and have no other publication credits.
Can you get an agent, or sell a book without being a member? Sure. But you’re far more likely to set yourself up for success if you are. Membership in SCBWI gives you access to print and online information from industry professionals, provides a built-in community of support, offers professional development, events, workshops and conferences, and opens occasional doors to submit to agents and publishers who normally don’t accept unsolicited submissions. That’s just to name a few.
For me, everything changed when I joined SCBWI. If you’re a writer who wants to invest in your career and take your craft to the next level, I cannot recommend this organization more highly.
Another game changer was the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. This was the first place I ever found agents and agencies. There’s also great articles, interviews, contests, publisher info, and so much more.
IF YOU’RE NOT IN A CRITIQUE GROUP, YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME
Probably more important than joining SCBWI was when I started actively participating in a critique group. Being in a critique group, swapping manuscripts, and letting others get eyes on your work is not just important, it’s non-negotiable. I’d go as far as to say that if you don’t have a critique partner or if you aren’t letting people speak into your work and you’re on submission...STOP. BACK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. DO NOT SEND ANOTHER STORY!
We are all blind to our strengths and weaknesses, and we all get story blind. If you are the only one reading your work, you’re essentially spinning circles like Sound of Music Julie Andrews on a hillside of confirmation bias. Or maybe you’re dancing in an echo chamber. These examples are getting strange. The point is, I have learned more about writing from my various critique groups than I ever have from reading a book, or attending a workshop, or reading some guy’s blog about how he learned stuff after getting rejected 600 times. So go join a critique group. NOW. Don’t have anywhere to go? Start one! You don’t even have to meet in person. Email manuscripts. This is an absolute must and I am so appreciative of all the people who took this journey with me and got my stories to where they are today.
FOCUS ON STORY NOT SUBMISSIONS
Querying isn’t like fishing with dynamite. It’s not arbitrarily blasting a shotgun at a flock of geese, hoping to snag one. Querying should be intentional. Laser focused. Specific. It takes patience. Good timing.
For most agents, rejecting an author once or twice doesn’t mean you can never query them again. But it also doesn’t mean you should submit all 5 of your manuscripts to them at once. Or in the same week. Wait a little bit. Be ready and eager to send without fear, but don’t be so eager that you have agents tell you never to send them stuff again. They are people. You can annoy them. I learned the hard way to slow down on submissions and focus more on the stories themselves. On revision.
There’s so much to do while you wait. Focus on making it perfect. Put it through round after round with different critique sessions. Yes, it’s frustrating if you feel like you have multiple stories ready to go. If that really is the case and they like what they read, they’ll ask you to send more work to get a better feel for your style and voice. That’s how I got my agent, but she didn’t bite until the third submission. So don’t be afraid to get back on the horse and submit again...after at least a month or two.