Written by Emily Harstone June 6th, 2024

What Novelists Should Do After Rejection

Having taught novel writing for many years now, one of the most common emails I receive from students and subscribers goes something like this:

“Dear Emily,
My novel has been through years of revisions now, and I’ve shopped it around to most agents and publishers. I could revise it one more time, but I’m not sure I have that in me or if it will change anything. What do I do now?”

There is no one easy answer to this question, but there are options that most writers have available to them.

Many writers think of self-publishing as the only option, and while it certainly is one, it is not the only one.

Below are the three best ways forward from rejection in my opinion.


I’ve worked with many authors who’ve ended up self-publishing, and some of them have been successful going down that route, and really are grateful they chose to self-publish it. Others have regretted it.

If you are going to self-publish, do not work with a vanity or hybrid press, actually self-publish. I talk more about what the distinction is and why you should avoid vanity and hybrid presses here.

Make sure you have an excellent cover and get proof copies in advance to verify that the printer is doing a good job.

It is important to go all out in terms of self-promotion. Make yourself a marketing plan with a six-month lead time to the sale of the book, so you really can put thought and effort into promoting it. This article isn’t about promoting books so I won’t go into more details here, but I will highly encourage you to watch this terrific lecture by Nev March about book marketing beforehand. She’s a traditional author but a lot of her advice is still very helpful and it can make the scope of marketing clearer.

Write another book

I understand that this option is a little confusing, but the fact is most authors don’t get the first book they write published, or rather, they don’t get it published first.

Jennifer Givhan, the poet and novelist, had her first manuscript, Jubilee, rejected widely. She then wrote a second novel, Trinity Sight, and found an agent to represent it. That agent eventually successfully placed both Trinity Sight and Jubilee with a respected traditional publisher.

I have also seen so many other examples of this as a friend and a reader. It’s a far from uncommon story.

In any case writing a brand new book can be a great and helpful experience as writers often take all that they learned writing and revising their first book into writing the second. So right from the start they have a much better first draft.

For writers who are feeling particularly burnt out, consider writing shorter pieces for a bit. These are generally much easier to place and that can help your query letter and your confidence.

Give the project space to breathe

Often it can be tempting to just force a revision to have one, even if you aren’t inspired to do it. In my experience revising too soon after writing the previous draft or after receiving critique, is not generally helpful.

Writers in this situation tend to focus on surface level revisions, and making hasty decisions with little thought involved.

I think it’s much better to give yourself time and form a plan for revising that you are excited about, before working on revising this work. Sometimes this takes weeks, other times years.

In conclusion

No matter which option you chose, I think it’s important to remember that most people who set out to write a novel never complete one, so you have already achieved a lot more than most.

Emily Harstone is the author of many popular books, including The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript SubmissionsSubmit, Publish, Repeat, and The 2024 Guide to Manuscript Publishers. She regularly teaches three acclaimed courses on writing and publishing at The Writer’s Workshop at Authors Publish. You can follow her on Facebook here.


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