Query Log, Stardate May ’21. Rejections Are… Hard

Today is a ‘rejections suck, but I’m not going to quit and neither should you’ post.

That’s right, fellow writers:

Engrave this in your brain: EVERY WRITER GETS REJECTED. You will be no different.

John Scalzi

Since I began sending out my first manuscript in January this year, I’ve received the following responses:

  • Agent rejections: 15;
  • Agents who never replied (assumed rejection): 5;
  • Agents who requested a partial manuscript and then rejected: 1;
  • Agents who have been queried recently and not yet responded: 3;
  • Agents who are currently reading a full manuscript request: 1;
  • Small independent publisher rejections: 1;
  • Small publisher offers: 3;
  • Small publisher offers which I declined: 3;
  • Medium publisher rejections: 2;
  • ‘Big 4’ publisher no response: 1;
  • Withdrawn from a small publisher before they finished reading the full request: 1.

Yes. My querying has been all over the place.

But not any more, folks.

I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, “To hell with you.”

John Updike

Updike said it. Every time I received a rejection — or worse, a did not respond — I’ve had to grow thicker skin. But I also tried to consider it as another step on the path towards those who will want to take on my story.

"Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better." - Steve Maraboli quote

The road so far

I jumped in at the deep end in January, firing queries left, right, and centre. I contacted big presses, small presses, hybrid presses. I queried agents in multiple countries, and agents and publishers who ‘liked’ my Twitter pitches. Every time I received a rejection, I sent out another query. I was on a roll, and I started receiving read requests.

Having no less than three small presses come back and offer a contract on the book was an amazing experience. Suddenly I was validated: people wanted to buy my book!

I won’t name them, but I’d like to explain here what happened so that perhaps other debut authors won’t make the mistakes I did.

  1. US indie press. Offer made on first book, with a view to future books depending on how this one sold. Most distribution was online, print-on-demand, or in SFF conventions on the East Coast of the US. I’m in Australia and I do want some distribution contacts here. Wasn’t the biggest fan of the cover art. Additionally, we had a disagreement about my vision for including increased diversity in future books. I declined. Lesson: Research better before querying.
  2. Canadian indie press. Offer made for the trilogy (!), with book 2 to be delivered by the end of this year. The editors had some excellent suggestions and a positive marketing plan. But the press was brand new, without any books yet published. Without distribution in place. Without a reputation for me to find out whether they actually could come through. And this post on Writers Beware (by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) had me thinking. Did I want to trust my debut novel to these lovely-sounding people, or should I use my business head and wait? I declined. Lesson: Use your head before signing a contract.
  3. Australian small press. Offer made for the trilogy, again with book 2 to be delivered by the end of 2021. This company appeared to have a great support network for their writers. Australian distribution. Agents across the country to advertise my book to conventions. Contacts overseas for additional distribution. Everything looked good. But then I asked some established authors what they thought of this press (which was scary to do at first, but approaching published authors became easier after the first few times). The feedback was concerning. I declined. Lesson: Ask other members of your genre community for advice. Everyone was a newbie once. Most people are happy to help.

Part of the reason I rejected the second two presses also occurred due to a stroke of luck: I received a full manuscript request from an agent! Now, those not in the book world might not realise, but some publishers (including many that I would love to work with) require the author to be represented by an agent before they can submit a manuscript. I felt bolstered by the idea that my book was publishable, and excited by the idea that if I can land an agent, we can query other, bigger, more established publishers.

There is no guarantee this agent will come back wanting to represent me. But I’ve got my fingers crossed.

I don’t believe that On Solar Winds is a groundbreaking, genre-bending book that will have people fighting to buy it. I’m not plugging myself as an outstanding author, or comparing the Archivist series to literary and genre greats. In the words of my MC, “Stars, no”. Was turning down those publishers hard? Do I lie awake thinking about how I could be nearly published already? Yes and yes.

But I believe my manuscript has solid potential. And the advice I was receiving from other Australian SFF authors was this: don’t sell yourself short. You only have one chance to bring out your debut novel. Make it the best chance you’ve got. If that means waiting… well, I just have to add another layer to my thickening skin.

"Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its everlasting coul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist are its survivors. Better ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by tentacles of woe?" - Chuck Wendig quote

Current status

I am no longer querying publishers. It’s agents only from now on. Or for a while, at least. After a whirlwind start, this writer has got a plan. I spoke to a professional contract assessor who reiterated the conclusion that I had come to: time to stop pantsing this querying thing the way that I approach my writing.

The only concession I’ve made is at an upcoming writing convention, in which I’ve signed up for a pitch critique with a Big 4 publisher. I see that as a no-lose situation.

I’ve got a list of publishers I could submit to up my sleeve, but they’re comfortable there. I just added a dozen more potential agents to my query list. My responses spreadsheet is currently a sea of red… but one day there’s going to be a green.

And that’s all I need.

In the meantime, I’m halfway through the first draft of On Lascian Seas, Book 2 of the Archivist series.

Just don’t ask me about my short story rejections list.


"To be a writer is to embrace rejection as a way of life." - Dana Stabenow quote

PS: There are many authors who take the independent self-publishing route. The way I am hoping to publish in no way detracts from the amazingly hard work such an endeavour takes. I haven’t ruled it out in my own future, either. I’m simply choosing a different pathway for now. And that’s okay. We are all part of the writing community, sharing stories, contributing to the library of what it means to be human.

Don’t self-reject. Persevere. However you do it, find a way to share your stories.

I can’t wait to read them.

What’s your “box-of-rejections” story and how do you keep going?
Have you learnt anything that might help others in the ‘querying trenches’?
Are you feeling down about your own rejections? Share your woe and receive a soothing kitten gif (these help me every time).
Or let us know about a recent win instead (I love these; it gives me hope!).

Comment below

11 thoughts on “Query Log, Stardate May ’21. Rejections Are… Hard

  1. Sounds like you’ve got an awesome plan in place, Emma! And it sounds like you’ve got some promising leads too. Best of luck with the agent search 😊. I had a small press contract that I ended up declining too and I learned what you did: go with your gut and do the best for your book. For me that was self-publishing, but I know every writer has their own path to take.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! I just started querying last month, so this post is really helpful, especially the information you shared about small presses. Good luck in the query trenches! I’m rooting for you.

    Liked by 1 person

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