Don’t let a few (or a few dozen) rejections get you down – Julie Lawson Timmer

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By Julie Lawson Timmer

My good friend, Sheila (not her real name) is a brilliant writer who recently completed her first novel. She had a connection (me) to a literary agent (mine) and sent the manuscript for review. Incredibly, she received a “revise and resubmit” request (R&R). This is a huge win in the query game, and to get one as a result of a single query is rare and wonderful.♥

Sheila worked for months on her revision, even hiring a private editor to help. Sheila sent the manuscript back to the agent, and started planning her book launch party. She figured she had made all the changes the agent requested, so surely she’d be offered representation, then later a book deal. She was shocked and crushed when the agent rejected her revised novel.

Sheila’s disappointment was with herself, and not the agent. There were no sour grapes about the agent, and Sheila wasn’t angry about the work involved in querying more broadly. She was only upset with herself — for “failing.” She thought this rejection meant there was something wrong with her writing.

As I told Sheila, that agent she got the R&R from, who represents me? I landed her after two solid years of rejections, R&Rs, rejections, revisions, and still more rejections. Oh, the rejections! So many I’ve lost count, but I know I sent at least 100 queries, and I only have a single agent, so between the “No thank you’s” and the no responses, I easily amassed 100 rejections in the end.

Yes, you read that correctly: ONE HUNDRED REJECTIONS. For all I know, that’s a world record; I’ve never met another author who had that many.

Am I telling you this to let you know how tough it is to get an agent? No. I expect you already know that. I’m telling you to show that I know whereof I speak when I say that Sheila’s single rejection does not make her a failure. And the same is true for you, whether you’ve recently received your first rejection, or your fifth, or your twenty-eighth.

Rejections are not an objective valuation of your writing or your manuscript. They are merely a subjective response from a single agent.

What about twenty rejections, then, or thirty? Doesn’t the sheer weight of numbers mean that you’re no good? No. You are no more a failure with twenty rejections than with one. You are simply in for more querying.

Of course, if forty agents have told you that your main character seems cardboard or your plot is unbelievable, try revising. If you’ve never had your work read by others, do that. If you think your query could jump up and grab people more, make it so. But if you’ve done all of the work and you’ve gotten a few dozen “form” rejections, then don’t jump to the conclusion that your book is awful.

Jump instead to this conclusion: you are a writer. And being a writer means being rejected.

Don’t take it personally. Don’t let it drag you down. Remind yourself you’re not alone — Sheila, and countless others, are right there with you. Tell yourself you’re in it for the long haul. And send out another query.

And hey, if your rejections reach 101 before you land your agent, let me know, and I’ll pass my world record holder status on to you. And then you can cheer on the next person. (Sheila will help you).

Julie Lawson Timmer grew up in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband, their four teenage children and two rescued dogs. By turns, she is a writer, lawyer, mom/stepmom, and dreadful cook. Five Days Left (Putnam 2014) is her first novel. Her second book, Untethered, is out now.


  1. Karen Booth

    June 29, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    Great piece, Julie! FWIW, I got 108 rejections on my first novel, including one from the woman who is now my agent. It wasn’t an indictment of me or my writing. I know that now, but it was painful. A daily slap in the face. Now I have 12 (or 13…I lose count) books under my belt, have decent-selling indie titles and have contracted 8 books with Harlequin. In the end, I indie published that first book (my baby!) and it brings me more new readers than anything else I’ve written. There’s an author fist bump in there somewhere. All we can do is keep trying.

    • Julie Lawson Timmer

      June 29, 2016 at 11:39 pm

      Author fist bump for sure! That’s perseverance, lady. So glad you stuck with it. You want me to mail you the Rejection Record Holder certificate or deliver it by hand? 😉

  2. sonjayoerg

    June 30, 2016 at 4:37 am

    Don’t send off the Rejection Record Holder badge to Karen yet, Julie. I sent out 128 queries before I rose out of the slush pile at the agency that signed me. Two two-book deals with Penguin later, I’m still shocked it happened, and count myself lucky. What helped me persevere? Well, I’m stubborn, for starters, and it sure helped to have writer friends like you, Julie, who knew exactly what I was going through. xo

  3. Julie Lawson Timmer

    June 30, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Three cheers for stubbornness and good writer friends! Yes, what a huge help it was to have others, like you, to commiserate with during that time. To me, the best thing about this writing gig has been meeting other writers, hasn’t it? Good or bad things can happen, writing/publishing-wise, and writing friends will be there to cheer you on or lift you up.

  4. Holly Robinson

    July 1, 2016 at 8:08 am

    I hope you haven’t given out that rejection badge to anyone else, Julie! I amassed hundreds, because it took me 4 completed novels and over 20 years to sell my first book. Yeah, that’s me: a late bloomer.

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