How to Deal with Rejection Letters

First things first. Click this.
Catchy, isn't it? For those who don't know, this is a clip from one of my all-time favorite childhood shows, Zoey 101. I generally refer to it as my "rejected song," simply because every time I would open a rejection email from an agent, that song would play in my head.
When I first started querying agents, I had no idea what I was doing. I had read only a couple articles on crafting the perfect query letter and finding the right agent, and yet I thought that was enough for me to be a master of querying. HAHA, no.
The first agent I queried seemed like the perfect fit for me. Everything about her seemed perfect, and I was so sure that she would want to take me on as one of her clients. So I wrote up a query letter and sent it in. I was nervous and I would tell people who asked that odds are I would get rejected, but secretly inside I was fairly certain she would ask to see my entire manuscript, no doubt.
Yeah...nope. I was sitting in my American Lit class and quickly checked my email (as I had been doing for four days straight as often as possible) and boom, there it was--my very first rejection letter.
I was in the middle of class, and I wanted to cry. I was so disappointed. And on top of that, embarrassed. I felt like being rejected was something to be ashamed of. I wanted to go home and curl up in a ball and never query again.
After class my friends noticed that I seemed upset, and I very quietly told them that I had been rejected. They were super supportive, and encouraged me to keep querying. The worst, though, was having to tell my mom I got rejected when she very excitedly asked me if I had heard anything back that day. Telling my friends and family that I had been rejected felt like I was telling them I had failed, and I hated it. It made me feel horrible inside.
So. Fast forward to the present. Am I a master at the art of query letters? No. Not even close. But I have grown up quite a bit when it comes to them and dealing with rejection. So far I've been rejected nine times. Will the number keep going up? Probably. I'm still going through the Waiting Roller Coaster right now. But even if it does, I've learned a lot through my experiences of being rejected, and how to handle the disappointment and frustration you may feel. (Update: I got rejection #10 the other day. Disappointing at first, but I ended up sending out another query the same day.)

1. Accept it. This is the suckiest part, but it's necessary. So you got a rejection letter. Maybe it's your first, or maybe it's your 100th. Either way, it's still a rejection, and it still sucks. The first thing to do is accept it. This might take anywhere from seconds to days, depending on your personality type. But accepting rejection is the first step to getting through it. Don't pout or quickly email the agent back and demand they change their mind. Not only is that ineffective, but it's also extremely unprofessional.

2. Look it over. Determine what type of rejection letter it is. Is it a standard "Dear Author" letter, or is it a personal email from the agent that gives some sort of feedback? The first rejection I got was far from personal. However, a rejection I got a few months ago had some personal elements to it, as well as some feedback. They liked my writing style, but the genre didn't fit what they were looking for at that time. Sometimes if you get a response email and see the words "unfortunately" or "I'm sorry" in the preview lines (or basically any words that make it obvious that you've been rejected) it's tempting to just delete the email before opening it. Don't! Read the email first, then you can...

3. Delete it or save it. After reading over a rejection, my first instinct is always to delete it right away. For the longest time I felt like the rejections in my inbox were nothing more than reminders of my failures, and I hated it. But then my friends gave me some advice that surprisingly encouraged me to stop deleting rejections.
My two friends and I were hanging out downtown one day when we stumbled into a small independent bookshop. It was one of those places where the books are stacked to the point that they were nearly touching the ceiling. We were literally walking through narrow pathways of books; there were just hundreds. And as we walked, I began to get discouraged. How would I ever get published when there were already so many books in the world? I said this out loud, and my friends just gave me a look. "Miranda," they said, "how many rejections have you gotten?" At that time, it was only two, so that's what I told them. "Exactly!" they said. "So how can you say you'll never get published if you've hardly even tried? You keep querying, and when you get a rejection, hang it up on your wall. If you have enough rejections to cover the walls of your room and you still aren't published, then you're allowed to give up."
That helped me in more ways than I thought it would. I don't actually print them off, but I do save my rejections in a folder in my email now, rather than simply delete them. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what to do with the rejection. You could print it off, hang it up, stick it in a folder, or delete it. Your choice.

4. Don't beat yourself up. This is always a hard part for me, but eventually I realized that rejections are not shameful. They're not failures. This is a hard thing to accept, but please believe me when I say that getting rejected does not mean you are a bad writer. It does not mean that you will never get an agent or a contract. It simply means that your project was not right for the person you queried, and that's okay. There's nothing you can do to change that, and you didn't do anything wrong! You tried, and that's amazing. Don't beat yourself up over one rejection, or two, or ten. Rejections are disappointing to get, but don't sit around and feel sorry for yourself. Instead...
5. Keep querying! So the agent/publisher you liked didn't feel your project was a good fit for them. Lucky for you, there are many, many agents and publishers in this world--you just have to find the right one! And the only way to do that is to keep on querying. Read more articles on how to write a good query. Draft a few more query letters using different kinds of techniques and approaches. Experiment. Research. Rewrite. After all, practice makes perfect!

Rejections are hard and can really feel like a punch to the gut, but they are absolutely not the end of the world, I promise. Once you learn to accept them, you'll be able to get through them easier. Every writer gets rejected at some point. (Unless of course you've somehow managed to land an agent and a contract in one try. In that case, please be my best friend so I can learn all of your secrets.) And remember, getting an agent/publisher isn't easy. It isn't supposed to be easy; it takes work.
But if you work hard and don't let your rejections slow you down, then some day you'll find yourself as a published author.

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Psalm 118:22