Getting rejected by literary agents? Here’s what to do next

All writers face rejection. But what if you’ve sent your book to well over fifteen literary agents or small publishers and still aren’t getting anywhere? What do you do?  

As a writer who has faced exactly this MANY times, I want to let you know that this doesn’t mean it is over. Not by any means. There are things you can do to continue working towards publication, even if that doesn’t feel possible right now.  

So – let’s look at the options available to you.  

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Option 1: Edit the crap out of this book  

So maybe you have an idea here that agents seemed to be excited about, but you were getting feedback on something like ‘unlikable characters’, or ‘lack of voice’.  Fortunately, this is something that can be fixed with some hard work and perhaps even a bit of help from other people.  

The first thing to do is to identify what parts of your book as it stands aren’t really working. This can be difficult in itself because a lot of agents don’t have the time to deliver feedback. You could be getting standard rejections, with no idea why.  

This is where something like a Manuscript Assessment might come in handy. An experienced editor will read your entire book and give you a detailed report on what is working and what isn’t. You can then use this as a base to look at your book as objectively as you can, and ask yourself if that is something you are able, or willing to fix. This is a REALLY IMPORTANT QUESTION that we’ll explore a little more in the next section.  

But let’s say your feedback is mainly that your idea is brilliant, but your execution needs work. And you think you are able to do that work. What next?  

Now, the real work begins. And it’s worth knowing from the off that re-writing a book is hard. First drafts are a doddle compared to it, because you have a blank page and a whole world of opportunity to write something awesome. So my personal tip for big re-writes is exactly that – start a new document. Learn from your old draft (and copy/paste some sections if they are working), but give yourself the space to write the book you are trying to write, rather than getting bogged down with what you already have.  

There are people who can help at this stage, too. Debi Alper’s brilliant Self-Edit Your Novel course was created specifically for this purpose. You can work with a tutor and a small group of writers in the same boat as you to identify and fix the issues with your book. With 1-in-5 alumni now published, it’s fair to say that it works! 

Once you have something you are pleased with, send it out again to new agents, or any agents who have asked to see any changes again. You can also test it out with some competitions and see how far you get this time! 

Option 2: Write another book  

This is my personal favourite option. I found myself in this very position three times before my debut novel was published, and I 100% stand by my decision to ditch every single one of those three books.  

The thing was, that although each of those three lost books were good, they just weren’t good enough. The writing in my first book was dire – but then it would be – I was completely new to writing and I hadn’t learned the basics yet. My second book I think might have been a masterpiece, but wow – was it problematic. That book will never find a publisher because it couldn’t be marketed. And my third novel was fun, but I knew before I’d even finished that it just wasn’t special.  

Your book needs to be absolutely mind-blowing to stand a chance in this market. It needs to have an original concept, brilliant characters, a striking voice and a plot that will keep readers turning pages. Nothing less is good enough.  

I mentioned earlier that there was a REALLY IMPORTANT QUESTION you needed to ask yourself. And that is: ‘Is this book really good enough? Or can I write something better?’  

I know it can be hard to say goodbye to a project without really seeing an end to it. But it isn’t wasted time. Every book you write will take you one step closer to one that will launch your author career. So write another book. And if that’s not right, write another. And know that once you get published, you will keep needing to write, write and write some more – it never stops.  

But that’s okay. Because we’re in this because we enjoy it, right?! 

For anyone wanting to write another book and ensure their idea is marketable right from day one this time, then I recommend joining the Ultimate Novel Writing Course. This is ultimate for a reason.  

Option 3: Self-Publish 

Now this one comes with a big BUT. Self-Publishing IS an option, BUT it is NOT a last resort because you couldn’t get a traditional publishing deal.  

Self-publishing takes a great deal of time, passion and dedication if it is going to work. It only works if you are willing to write book after book (preferably in the same world/series) and you accept the fact that you probably won’t sell any of this first book until after your third or fourth have come out.  

To self-publish properly, you need to be a writing machine. You also need to learn everything you can about what it takes to become an indie author. You need to invest time and money into it, and so you need to be 100% sure that you are willing to do that.  

If you are, then great. This is a fantastic option that should have perhaps been your option 1. You’ll earn more money from your books, have more of a say in how they are presented and engage with your readers in a way traditional authors can’t.  

If you’re embarking on this option, then ensure you sign up to be a Jericho Writers member. As a member, you’ll get free, unlimited access to our professional Self-Publishing course, as well as masterclasses on everything from cover design, to book marketing.  

Whatever option you choose, know that rejection doesn’t mean the end. If publication really is something you want, then get ready to roll up your sleeves and work for it. Read everything, learn everything and write the best book you possibly can. If you want it, you’ll get there.  

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template