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Coping With Rejection And Criticism As A Novelist, by Alison Booth

You’ve spent months – or more likely years – writing your novel. You did all your homework before sending the manuscript or a few sample chapters to an agent. You checked that the sub-genre in which you’re writing isn’t overloaded and that another novel just like yours hasn’t just been published. You had your typescript read by kind but critical people whose judgement you trust – and maybe you’ve also let an appraisal agency take a look at it – and you took into account most of their comments. You went through your draft again and verified that the first few chapters are as captivating as possible, in order to pull the busy agent or publisher in. You checked that the plotlines are compelling, the characters plausible and interesting, and that there’s narrative tension and lots of conflict to get the reader flipping over the pages.

Yet, in spite of doing all of this, you still get a rejection. You think your novel’s good, every bit as good as those you see stacked up in the bookshops. So how can you deal with that email message or letter saying the agent doesn’t want to represent you or the publisher doesn’t want to publish you?

Reach for the bottle by all means, but stop after a couple of glasses and remind yourself of the enormous diversity of tastes. Opinions about manuscripts are hugely subjective. One person may love it and another hate it. Not only is there a wide variety of tastes and preferences, but there are also fashion trends. Maybe the publisher has other novels in the pipeline a bit like yours. Perhaps the marketing team is breathing down the publisher’s neck, so that even if she likes your novel she won’t think of putting it in front of the acquisitions committee unless it’s really novel (pardon the pun) and marketable.

What’s the next step in dealing with this? First, read through your manuscript again. A bit of time will have elapsed, so you’ll be able to see it more objectively. Can it be improved? If not – if the novel’s as near to perfection as you can make it – try another agent. If the second agent rejects you, work through the entire list of agents. (For example, see the listings in The Australian Writer’s Marketplace.)

If you’re still unsuccessful, put the manuscript away in a safe place. You can return to it later if you wish. Remind yourself that many great novelists have been unable to publish their first few novels. Think of Peter Carey whose third novel was the first he published. He hasn’t looked back, has he?

Now begin a new novel. Something completely different. Something you’re driven to write. It will make you forget about the first. Remind yourself that writing is a craft with a long apprenticeship. And remind yourself that, while the book industry in a state of turmoil at the moment, publishers are still looking around for new authors.

Suppose that now you’ve got lucky and found an agent and a publisher. You sit back and you think the days of rejection are over. You buy a bottle of bubbly and have a glass or five to celebrate.

Enjoy this period to the full. For the days of rejection and not over and they never will be. Someone will read your beautiful new novel and not like it. Okay, most people will love it, but there’ll always be one or two who won’t, and who may be very vocal about it for whatever reason. What can you do?

Ignore the adverse reactions (unless you think you might learn something from them). Remember that some novelists never read reviews. Remind yourself that opinions about novels are subjective. Focus on the good comments. Focus on the pleasure you’ve brought to many readers. Focus on the enjoyment you get from writing.

And then move onto the next project.

***Write with novelist Alison Booth near Hobart, Tasmania with Novel Writing Retreats Australia in April 2014

Alison Booth’s author website:

Alison Booth’s bio page


Stillwater CreekThe Indigo SkyA Distant Land     Burning LiesThe Book of LoveLast SummerGirl Saves Boy

Writing Novels in Australia

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sage advice, Alison. It’s all too easy to take criticism personally, especially if we’ve put so much of ourselves into our work. Your post enforces the importance of a little perspective. I particularly like the idea of staying away from reviews if you’re squeamish. Focusing too much on this stuff can be distracting!

    February 18, 2013
    • Very distracting, and the danger is you get so caught up in this other stuff you forget about the new writing, which is what you do to keep sane…

      February 19, 2013

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