It’s Not You, It’s Me – But Maybe It’s You: How I Changed My Approach to Rejections (Painful as it is…)

Part of my job as a book editor is sending out rejections. It’s one of the least pleasant tasks in our industry. When I first started (before many people I work with were born – seriously!), Ye Olde Rejection Letter was an art. I mulled and concocted what I thought were pithy, intelligent, and sympathetic ways to say, “No, I’m not interested in publishing this.” I spent way too long writing letters about projects I wasn’t going to publish. I wanted to offer constructive feedback. I put myself in the writer’s shoes. I wanted to be known as an editor who supported authors at all stages of their careers. I wanted to … help.

Now I’m older, wiser, and much busier. A few years ago, I had one of those cartoony, anvil-falling-on-my-head epiphanies: I was spending too much time on rejection letters. Why spend all that time saying…No?

What I love is spending time (often my own precious “free” time) on projects I’ve acquired. Or perhaps hope to acquire, in which case my letter isn’t so much a rejection as an “almost, but not there – yet” missive, with what I hope are helpful suggestions for revision.

Most editors are fully booked with work beyond the manuscripts they’re editing. Meetings, travel to conferences, production issues – there is so much that goes into an editor’s contribution to an imprint and a list. I’m not complaining – we are lucky to do what we do. Everyone – authors, editors, publicists, booksellers – has to stay focused on the business of books to keep our industry alive. One of the things that’s meant for me is letting go of spending a lot of time saying no. Now my rejections are one or two sentences long. And I move on.

A rejection doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the road. It’s a missed connection with one reader. I often wander around bookstores realizing (if I’m being agonizingly honest) that there are successful books I might have rejected, had they been submitted to me.

I don’t expect this to make rejections any less painful. Keep going. Meantime, I have lots of work to do!

Author spotlight

Liz S.

Hi, I'm the Editor-in-Chief at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. I've worked in the book biz for over 30 years (let's just …

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