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The Gift of Book Proposal Rejection

Recently, a client wrote me about a literary agent encouraging her to send a book proposal before the beginning of the month.

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I didn’t think the proposal was ready, primarily because the author’s platform was just getting off the ground and she needed time to gather an audience. She was off to a good start but I felt pretty sure the agent would want to see more than promise. She’d want numbers, as would publishers.

I suggested waiting and my client wrote back to the agent asking to wait a bit longer until she had time to grow her platform. The agent’s email said something to the effect of, “I won’t have time to consider it until January if you don’t send it this week. I want to see it now.”

So, she sent it and the agent rejected her book proposal. And sent some interesting feedback.

The author felt crushed. “Should I even keep going?”

Reframing Book Proposal Rejection

I suggested a meeting where we reframed the “rejection” as valuable information:

  1. The agent’s urgency had helped the author accomplish much platform building and writing in a short period of time.
  2. The agent’s feedback helped us see places where the proposal needed to make a stronger case. The agent’s response helped us anticipate potential resistance or concerns that other agents and publishers might experience, so we could prepare and prevent that.
  3. The type of book the agent was looking for was not the type of book the author wanted to write (or potentially even could write). So, it helped the author recommit to her own vision for the book and realize that this was not the right agent for her book anyway. Sometimes a rejection helps you clarify your vision and not get lost in someone else’s (Certainly the reverse can happen and you end up with a different, and perhaps even better, book, based on an agent or publisher’s feedback.)

The Opportunity for Other Approaches

I pointed out another possibility to my client. If she didn’t want to develop the huge platform required by most agents, we could potentially approach a mid-sized publisher directly. While they would still want to see platform (which I encouraged her to continue to work on), the bar would be lower (agents don’t make much money with a modest advance of say $5,000 so most tend to turn down projects that are likely to get only a modest publishing advance).

vision
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

She liked this idea and I reached out to an acquisitions editor I know who said that while it wasn’t a fit for them because they generally had not had success with health books, they would be interested in a book on x. Again, she got to consider her vision and again she got to recommit to the initial vision of the book, the one she most wanted to write and that people often told her they’d love to read!

So, she’s back to developing her platform and, with a bit more work, we’ll either approach more agents or I have a couple of other publishing houses in mind we can ask directly.

My Takeaways on Rejection

A few more generalized takeaways:

  1. Don’t let rejection get you down. You may find gifts in the experience.
  2. When rejected, ask for feedback. That feedback could make your proposal stronger or even lead to change in direction.
  3. Meet with a trusted source and brainstorm what you can learn from the experience. Determine next steps together.

Keep Writing

Rethinking Narcissism book cover

Whatever you do, keep writing! When Dr. Craig Malkin‘s first book proposal and idea was rejected by the largest publishers, he wrote to me in despair, considering giving up the writing, altogether, including his popular Psychology Today column. We had a quick phone call where I reminded him of his passion for the wisdom and experience he had to offer (and his amazing true stories!).

He thanked me for the support and kept writing his Psychology Today posts. Shortly after, one such post led a publisher, who had rejected the first book idea, to invite Dr. Malkin to consider writing a book about the subject of a blog post he wrote shortly after the rejection (which went viral, BTW). The result was Rethinking Narcissism, published by HarperWave to great acclaim and which continues to be in the news close to a decade after initial publication.

You can read more about Dr. Malkin’s inspiring story of “How to Get Published: Changing Rejection into a Great, Big Book Deal.”

Don’t give up! And if you need more support, consider joining my “Get Your Writing Done” program. It’s a fantastic way to remain accountable, no matter your mood, and get into a state of creative flow with ease, so you write your best, most inspired stuff. We meet Thursday mornings 11:30 am – 1:30 pm ET and/or Wednesday evenings at 8pm – 10pm ET. Find out more (or sign up) here.

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Winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award & Independent Publishers (IPPY) Award

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Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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The Joy of Writing Journal:

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Winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award & IPPY Award

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