How do we handle rejection? Find a new path.

By Carol / December 6, 2016 /

This past week rejection hit me right between the eyes. While I was not altogether surprised by the rejection, I was still disappointed. To the point of tears. In that moment, it helped to be reminded that even the best of writers have been where I am now.

I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”Sylvia Plath

Fortunately, Sylvia Plath’s quote showed up when I needed it most. On the very day, in fact, that my new manuscript was rejected by the publisher who acquired Go Away Home. The reason I was not surprised is that my new manuscript is an issue-driven, contemporary story while Go Away Home is historical fiction. Yet rejection is rejection. And it stung.

Y in the road

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Plath’s quote reminded me that I had tried. I had done my best, writing the best story I could. During a good long walk, I came to see the opportunity, to realize that while this rejection diverts me from the comfortable path I’d been on, it opens another publishing path to explore.

My writing journey reflects the many faces of publishing. For a variety of reasons, I elected to indie publish my memoir Growing Up Country. That experience connected me with a host of talented, supportive indie authors who helped me learn the business. My marketing background offered the comfort zone from which I launched and promoted a book that continues to find readers 10 years later.

That effort was so successful that when it came time to publish my first novel, I didn’t even look for a publisher. The indie world had treated me well, and I launched with confidence, using everything I learned from the memoir.

Lake Union’s offer to acquire Go Away Home came out of the blue. I could not have been more surprised or delighted. The publisher’s editors built my writing skill, and their team opened marketing avenues I’d never have accessed on my own. The partnership remains a success even if it stops at one book.

Having experienced the power of a good publisher, I want that for my next work. So I embark upon a new path – Find an agent.

Finding an agent

Research is the place to start. I’ve begun to amass a list of agents who specialize in my genre and are open to new submissions. I’m researching the best query approaches. I’m preparing myself for the wait and see and inevitable acquisition of more rejection slips. I remain hopeful that one of these agents will love the story and want to work their magic with publishers.

No matter what happens, I know I’ll learn a lot. And that’s always good.

Authors, have you been this route? Do you have recommendations on agents or the process?
Readers, any advice on handling rejection?

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  1. M.K. Tod on December 6, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Dear Carol … your writing is excellent. You will succeed. Sending you warm wishes and a big hug.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 6, 2016 at 9:41 am

      Thank you, Mary. Your support means a lot.

  2. Merril Smith on December 6, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Sorry to hear about the rejection, Carol. Rejection of any sort hurts, but as you said, it is also sometimes a learning opportunity. (Did Lake Union provide you with any feedback on why they didn’t want to publish your manuscript?) I don’t have any advice on agents. I’ve heard it’s sometimes as difficult to find a good agent as it is to find a publisher, but you have publications and good reviews, so I would think that would help. Good luck! I’m sure it will all work out.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 6, 2016 at 4:11 pm

      Yes, the did. They said their readers are looking more for escape than a serious read, which, as a friend point out is not the same as saying my baby’s ugly. It just didn’t suit their needs at this time. The editor was encouraging both in terms of the story and with ideas about finding it another home. Having publishing credentials is a definite plus. I’m confident it will turn out, too.

  3. karen rawson on December 6, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Great post Carol. You certainly have a positive outlook and I know you’ll do great!

    I’ve used QueryTracker ( to find agents, although I always backed it up by further researching the agents I was interested in. Let me know if you want an extra set of eyes on your query–I have had a bit of luck in that department and I’d be honored to offer my two cents.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 6, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks for the lead on Query Tracker. All resources are good at this point in my search. Also thanks for offering to review the query letter. I’ve done research and have a good draft for which another set of eyes would be welcome. I’ll be in touch.

  4. Nan Johnson on December 6, 2016 at 11:54 am

    When I was told that getting an agent would be as difficult as getting traditionally published, I began looking for publishers who accepted manuscripts directly from authors. I vetted them carefully, steering clear of vanity presses, of course, but as you are an experienced author, you would see those from a mile away. I checked the websites of legitimate small publishers carefully, noting the kinds of books they published and looked at their submission guidelines. I humbly recommend searching “publishers accepting unagented manuscripts” and check out Kensington Publishing Corp or Milkweed Editions as examples.
    You are in fine company, Carol. The list of brilliant authors who were rejected by publishers is long and impressive. I have no doubt there is a publisher out there for your new manuscript. You two just haven’t met each other yet.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 6, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks for mentioning small publishers and those who accept manuscripts directly. I admit I was overlooking those. But now that you bring them up, I realize I know a couple already. I’ll look into the ones you mention, too. The publishing business is anything but one-size-fits-all.

  5. Shirley Hershey Showalter on December 6, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    I’ve been so impressed by your ability to focus and to keep writing through thick and thin, Carol. It’s a mark of your eagerness to grow as a writer that you move from one genre to another and one subgenre to another every time you write a manuscript. Perhaps the historical fiction category is the place where you have the most traction. Another suggestion to consider: Send query letters to agents focusing on social issue contemporary fiction. Then tackle your next historical fiction project with gusto, setting the issue of agent to the side as you wait for more rejection letters. 🙂

    Hoping to talk with you this week. I’ll bet you are already bouncing back. Glad your friends can offer encouragement here. Thanks for sharing even when the news isn’t great.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 6, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      I have often shared the good news or my writing journey here. It seemed only right to let folks know when all was not sunshine and roses. This, too, is the writing life. In this circumstance, as with so much of my writing journey, I’ve found help in the community of writers.

      The phrase “social issue commentary fiction” is one I haven’t used, but I immediately Googled it and came up with a host of hits. Thanks for the tip. Our connection continues to yield benefits. I hope we talk later in the week, too.

  6. Tracy Lee Karner on December 6, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    I loved your novel, Carol. I have read so many forgettable stories and few that stay with me. Yours stuck. Rejection? I would rephrase that. Consider calling it, “Not the most optimum place to showcase my new baby.” I predict you will someday be glad they rejected your manuscript. A better venue awaits.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 7, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Thank you for affirming my first novel, Tracy. A new perspective is so useful. Having the right platform is critical, so if my novel isn’t a good fit for them, I don’t want it there. Who knows what awaits? I’m eager to find out.

  7. Carol Ervin on December 7, 2016 at 5:23 am

    Since I started to publish independently, I haven’t tried to find an agent or publisher, so I haven’t been rejected! But readers have pretty much rejected my attempt at science fiction (Dell Zero) and now it’s free. My conclusion is that while my historical fiction series suits people’s expectations, Dell Zero does not hit the audience I hoped for. My contemporary romantic suspense (Ridgetop) also does not do as well as the historicals. It’s neither a romance nor a thriller. I think I hit it lucky with the historical series, so I’ll stick with that! Good luck to you–I’m sure you’ll find your niche!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 7, 2016 at 9:08 am

      You and I have both explored different genres with our writing, Carol. In each case, the story I wrote is one I wanted to tell. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been satisfied. Probably the same for you. Sometimes it works for readers; sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve admired your persistence – and success – with indie publishing. Who knows? I may go that route again, too. I enjoyed “Ridgetop,” but I loved your Mountain Woman series. You have a real talent for historical fiction and strong women.

      • Carol Ervin on December 8, 2016 at 3:52 am

        Thank you, Carol, and thanks for reading!

  8. Sarah (S.R.) Mallery on December 7, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Much thanks for sharing this excellent post. There is no doubt in my mind that you will find an agent, Carol! My very first short story “Good Advice” was immediately picked up by a supposedly “picky” literary magazine, which shocked me. But a year later, when that same editor immediately rejected another story I sent to him (which later was picked up by another magazine), I was very disappointed. But it taught me a good lesson. Basically, it all boils down to not only personal taste, but personal taste at that moment in time.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 7, 2016 at 9:12 am

      Your story makes a really good point, Sarah. No matter how it feels in the moment, the rejection isn’t personal to the author. It’s business for the publication/publisher. What does the editor believe will fit their platform or sell at any given moment? Thanks for adding your experience to this discussion.

  9. Sharon Lippincott on December 7, 2016 at 9:31 am

    Condolences on the rejection Carol and congratulations on your resilient attitude. I hope you’ll write another post with specific details about the level of service you experienced with Lake Union that set them so far apart from your own efforts. Aside from the new cover and extra, thoroughly professional edit above what you’d invested in. I’ve heard from many other authors that traditional publishers were lax about editing and even more so about promotion, so the authors ended up doing it all anyway. How will you be sure another publisher will live up to Lake Union’s big moccasins?

    I worked with a traditional publisher on my first book twenty years ago. That book went into a second edition. Both times the staff knocked themselves out on promotion. The same publisher did my second book ten years ago and … promotion was largely in my lap. That publisher is no longer active, and by mutual agreement, my books are out of print. I’m thrilled I had that experience, but all things considered, would not go that route again.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 7, 2016 at 11:15 am

      You’ve asked an important question, Sharon. As we all know, the ability to publish a book is made easy by technology. Any of us can do it without a publisher. Beyond the fact that they were a great time to work with, the two most important services Lake Union provided were superior editing and superior, ongoing marketing. The editing support is available many places; the marketing support far more difficult to find. Marketing is the main thing I will look for in a publisher. How to guarantee they live up to the promise? I don’t know. Stay tuned.

  10. Laurie Buchanan on December 7, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Carol — In reading through the thoughtful comments you’ve received from your readers, I think that Sarah Mallery hit the nail squarely on the head when she wrote:

    “Basically, it all boils down to not only personal taste, but personal taste at that moment in time.”

    By the way, I’m posting about this very topic—literary rejection—next Tuesday.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 7, 2016 at 11:09 am

      And what the publisher thinks they can sell. When she read the synopsis, my Lake Union editor was excited about my book because, she said, it was exactly the kind of story she liked to read. But she had to step away from her personal preference and think about their readers’ preferences.

      I look forward to reading your post, Laurie.

  11. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on December 7, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Im very bad at handling rejection, Carol. I put on the brakes and didn’t go back there for a long, long time. Now I’m eager to try again (I think!). You at least have something to show already, I have nadda!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 7, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      We put ourselves out there and the response isn’t always what we hope for. Then we give ourselves kudos for trying and move on. When I was ready to publish my memoir, I sought a publisher and the rejection letters rolled in. I believed in my stories and published it myself. Never disappointed in that decision. I hope you will write, Elfrieda. You have a powerful story to tell.

  12. Marian Beaman on December 7, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    Your writing career has just hit a snag. I loved your memoir and historical fiction books, both successful ventures. Rest assured your new one with find the right path for publication too. You are brave and generous with your audience to lay bare your soul here.

    Here is the link to a rejection letter Ursula LeGuin received. The language is pompous and, to me, laughable in light of LeGuin’s later success:

    Brava, Carol. I expect to see a bright sequel to this post one day soon. You have what it takes, believe me!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 8, 2016 at 8:32 am

      Oh, my. LeGuin’s rejection letter was beyond pompous. It was downright mean spirited. My editor at Lake Union was kind,supportive and encouraging. And she left the door open for future manuscripts I may wish to send her way.

      Thanks much for your encouragement, Marian. I agree. This is a snag. Nowhere near the end of the road.

  13. Joan Z. Rough on December 11, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Thanks, Carol, for letting us in on your writing journey. When we share our successes and failures, all of us learn. I love your positivity and I know you will publish this next book successfully! I wish you Happy Holidays!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 11, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks for the boost to my confidence. I, too, believe this story will have a successful end. The best of the holidays to you.

  14. Chuck Robertson on December 21, 2016 at 1:05 am

    I have a sort of dry humor motto: Too dumb to succeed, too stubborn to quit. I don’t really think I’m too dumb to succeed, it’s just part of the joke. The serious part of that mottol is “too stubborn to quit.”

    • Carol Bodensteiner on January 3, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Ha! I doubt you’re too dumb to succeed, Chuck. And stubbornness is something we might all benefit from a dose of upon occasion.

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