The Rule of Ten


How many rejection letters should you open before you decide it’s time to change course?

My rule is ten.

Now, before I go into details here, please know that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to rejection letters. Only guidelines. But here’s why I think ten is a good number.

At ten, you’re getting a message that something isn’t working. Perhaps it’s your query. If the agent or editor has requested a partial and/or full and passed, then you know your manuscript might have problems. Ten is a warning, but not a white surrender flag.

At ten, you can make changes and then either re-submit the manuscript to an agent you really want to work with (assuming they’re okay with that) or branch out to a new agency.

At ten, you haven’t exhausted the list of agents out there whom you might work with. Ten gives you breathing room to submit to new folks after some have passed.

At ten, your inbox isn’t over capacity with messages saying “we don’t want what you wrote.”

Of course, as I noted, this doesn’t work for everyone. In this interview, author and agent Mandy Hubbard talks about how discouraged she got when she hit rejection 20. Nowadays, her book, PRADA AND PREJUDICE, is a huge bestseller. I’ve already blogged about how many great authors received a host of rejection letters, ignored them, and kept going.

Do you have a rule of thumb for rejection letters? What’s your submission process been like?


    August 1, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Well, it took me 14 tries to get an agent (13 rejection letters), but honestly, I would have kept going above 50 if I had to.

    August 2, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    I submitted to way more than 10 my first time out, but I think it was a mistake. You need persistence for this business, to be sure, but I think there’s an idea among writers that the industry is sort of stupid and random… that if you’re a good writer with a good story, it’s just a matter of finding the “right” person who will connect with your work. But here’s the thing: you can be a good writer with a good story and still have a manuscript that’s kind of subpar. There could be something–a lack of action in early chapters, sluggish pacing, tepid dialogue–that’s holding back an otherwise exciting project. 10+ rejections could be a sign of something not quite right. For me, the trouble is often identifying the challenge–I get too close to the story–which is why I think the process of having editors and agents is so important.

    I totally understand why agents/ editors can’t and don’t give very specific feedback when rejecting, but I think that’s all the more reason to have good readers/ critiquers. It’s hard to always be objective about your own work, and writing can be such a private process. But getting fresh eyes to say “this is why you might be getting rejections” can move you in the right direction.

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