Ninety-six Rejections, and Other Tiny Roadblocks on the Road to Publication

Yes, you read the title right. Ninety-six rejections. On the same manuscript. In the span of one year.

Some of the rejections were from publishers, but the majority were from agents who clearly thought the work I produced was unsalable. There were several requests for full manuscripts, synopses, partials, bios, more chapters. If they asked to see it, I sent it out. Over and over and over again.

We’ve all read articles about surviving the query process, and taken to heart the platitudes that are supposed to keep us sane, and keep us going. Throw the query net wide and deep. Be patient. Don’t get discouraged. Believe in yourself. Cream rises to the top.

But what if it doesn’t? I kept asking myself. What if I’m sending out manuscripts five years from now, and the rejection numbers stay the same? What if cream doesn’t rise to the top? And then a small voice deep inside my soul whispered, But what if it does?

The query process can be heartbreaking. Especially those close, close calls. I’ve been writing for over twenty years, with lots of stops and starts when life got in the way. But during the last ten years, I’ve really hunkered down and worked hard to get published. In the course of my writing life, I’ve experienced the incredible and the horrible. I’ve won and placed in numerous contests. I’ve had goodhearted agents (and publishers) write gems of encouragement across the bottom of their rejection letters. I’ve had agents ask for the full manuscript, keep it for three months, then reject me with a form letter. Once, on a previous manuscript, a respected publisher asked for revisions, then held on to the revised version for thirteen months and rejected me with a form letter. (Gotta love those form letters!) I’ve also had an agent call me on the phone to tell me she loved my book and would really like to represent me (My heart stopped!), if only she had room for another author in her stable. Well, the list goes on.  

I remember reading an interview with a well-known multi-published author who was bemoaning the fact that she had sent her first manuscript to five different agents before she secured representation. Five agents. Wow, I thought, shaking my head. How in the world did she ever cope with that kind of rejection? Sarcasm aside, it all boils down to this: Everyone has their own path to follow. Some are rocky; some are smooth. Some are short, and some wind through the forest and back out again until nightfall. But if you give up and sit by the side of the road fanning yourself, because it’s just too damned hard to keep going, you will never reach your goal. 

There were times when I pulled back and regrouped. Times when I had to face the cold, hard truth that the manuscript I had been rewriting for over a year would never work, and find the courage to move on to something new. I’ve pulled my hair out by the handful in frustration. But I never gave up. I kept going and going and going. Just like that old Energizer Bunny. And a few days ago, I stood and wept as I held a copy of my first book, A Dance to Die For, in my hands.

So, whoever you are, and whatever you write, just keep flinging those finished manuscripts out into the world, and sooner or later, one will land on the desk of someone who “gets” you  and loves your work. But until that happens, you have to keep on trying. Because you can’t win the lottery if you don’t get in the car, drive to the store, and buy a ticket. Or two.

Rebecca Lee Smith
Guest post by Rebecca Lee Smith. Rebecca lives with her husband in the beautiful, misty mountains of East Tennessee, where the people are charming, soulful, and just a little bit crazy. She’s been everything from a tax collector to a stay-at-home-mom to a house painter to a professional actress and director. Her two grown sons live nearby, still have the power to make her laugh until she cries, and will always be the best things she’s given back to the world. It took her a lot of years to realize that writing was her true passion. When she’s not churning out sensual romantic mysteries with snappy dialogue and happy endings, she loves to travel the world, go to the Outer Banks for her ocean fix, watch old movies, hang out at the local pub, and make her day complete by correctly answering the Final Jeopardy! Question.



  1. 96 would be heart-breaking, yet here you are. WELL DONE!!

    Thank you Rebecca for a wonderful tour. Wishing you well in your endeavors.


  2. Thank you for hosting Rebecca today!

  3. My gosh...What an inspiring story of perseverence. I'm not a writer, but I know myself and I know that I would not have that kind of pluck and persistence in me. It makes me think of those folks right now who are jobless...who send out dozens of applications and resumes, and maybe get some encouraging interviews, but then get a rejection form letter. It would be so discouraging and hard on one's self-esteem.

    I did not know the Final Jeopardy question yesterday, but that's OK because neither did any of the contestants! LOL.
    catherinelee100 at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks, Catherine,
      I read over the blog I wrote and thought, Whew! When I look at the long, angst-filled story of my writing life in print, it does seem kind of amazing. But it's all true.

  4. Thanks for having me today. I love this website, and am bookmarking it. So helpful and inspiring.

  5. Congratulations on your book release...well-deserved!


  6. I know of an author who said she queried 400 agents before she found one. 400! Now that is tanacity! lawd! But it happened for her and she can put all that rejection behind her.

    Congratulations on your book! Enjoy every little minute. All of them--big and small. This is the best advice I can give from experience!

  7. Congratulations! It is worth it in the end :-) each step, in my experience, takes one step closer to where I wanted to be. I wish you much success!


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