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My First Query Rejection

I spent the past few months researching the art of querying my debut novel to literary agents. I watched countless YouTube videos, read articles, and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. A back cover blog, a synopsis, a biography, a one-sentence elevator pitch, a query letter. With every submission I tweaked each one, desperately trying to make it better, praying to the book gods I wasn't making them worse. I forged a hopeful path through a beautiful, snowy field of untouched powder, purposefully trudging ahead toward my goal to become a published author.

I sent my first submission to an agent who lives in my state, figuring it was as good a place to start as any. My hands were sweaty as I quadruple-checked each entry request, making sure everything was as perfect as I could make it for my first try. The second submission was a bit easier. I was no longer a rookie, you see. I had experience now. A tangible track record. And I had an email confirmation to prove it. And it was there I stopped for the night, proud of myself for putting my book and writing skills out to the Universe. And I waited.

Two days later, I sent a few more, and the process slowly became easier, but no less thrilling. It was a rush to daydream about an agent somewhere out there, looking at my query and leaning forward, intrigued, wanting more.

And then I received my first rejection.

And you know what? It made me happy.

I admit, my feeling on the response was surprising. I self-reflected on my reaction, wondering why I took pleasure in the fact I was turned down during my first attempts. And then I realized something. I was proud of myself for trying. I was happy that the fear of rejection hadn't stopped me as it had during other parts of my life. I also realized that this wouldn't be easy (even though I never thought it would be), and if the time comes I receive interest in my novel, it will truly mean something. And isn't that how it should be? If agents jumped at any old story written by anybody, they'd all be out of the job. They'll only choose what they think they can sell. No. What they know they can sell. And if it so happens someone chooses my novel, then I'll know without a doubt my book has marketable potential.

That's not to say I have doubts my book is good. I know it is. And I'm so thankful I had the courage to write it. I think back to something Stephen King wrote about in his book, On Writing. He had hammered a long nail into his wall where he proudly stuck his rejection slips. The papers grew so numerous that they bent the nail. And with every slip, he became more motivated to keep writing, to chase that one story that actually sold. Maybe that's why I felt happy with my first rejection. I knew the best of the best before me had been rejected countless times before they succeeded. It's a right of passage, and maybe that beautiful snowy field in front of me isn't untouched after all. Many have been there ahead of me, and many will follow along behind me. We are not alone. We are writers, and we are many. And because of that, I'll keep writing, and I'll keep querying agents, and when I bend my own nail, I'll find a bigger one.

-Scott MacArthur


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