The ever-fabulous Justine Larbalestier writes a post on Agents and Rejection that is well worth reading.
Go on. You know you want to. I'll wait until you're back.
For those of you waiting around for the ones who went to read that blog post, I wanted to mention that I purchased a new paddle today. Actually, I ordered it about 6 weeks ago from Mana Blades, and today the man who makes them met me in a parking lot and he handed me the blade and I handed him the check and we were both very happy. Not only do I like buying local, but I love buying straight from the master craftsman who did the work, and who is rightly proud of the work he did (and he did; he bragged on that blade--the one he made for me--when he handed it over, not in a unseemly way but in the way you brag on your kids). It's the X1, by the way, but for some reason I can't get a photo of that one to come up. You'll have to use your imagination.
Okay. The rest of you are back, yeah?
As you know, there are many reasons novels get rejected by agents for representation, much less publishers for publication.
A well written book might be too dark (or too add-your-adjective-here), in a way that isn't trendy. It might be too focused, code word for being a story told in a way that is unlikely to appeal to a broad cross section of readers (such a book may still find a home at one of the fine small presses we're so fortunate to have in the publishing world). It may be controversial in a way that isn't sexy (i.e. salable). Racism or sexism, or the simple conflation of privilege and access, may be paying a role in what gets seen and/or determined to be publishable. And so on. All these things are true, and sometimes they are true all at once.
But let me digress to paddling again.
Last year one of our coaches explained to the entire group, "when I call out 'reach!' or 'watch your timing' or 'dig deeper,' don't assume I'm talking to one of the other paddlers in your crew. Assume I'm talking to you."
If you have a novel or story rejected, it may well be because of a factor that is to a greater or lesser degree outside of your control. But if you, as a writer, approach your writing only from that perspective, you're pushing yourself into a corner.
What you can control is your own writing and your ability to revise, clarify, improve, rewrite, and write new and better things.
The truth is that many (maybe even most) rejected stories and novels are rejected because they're not good enough.
Look, I've been there. I've raged and gnashed my teeth and felt stymied and frustrated and upset and weepy, and I may well be there again--there is no surety in this business, and one who is up today may be down tomorrow regardless of the quality of the work. And, yes, I have my moments when I look at some utter piece of tripe getting buzz and sales and tear out my hair wondering why my painstakingly crafted and grown from the heart piece of narrative is being ignored. I would be inhuman if I did not have those feelings. You would be inhuman if you did not have them.
That craftsman I bought my blade from today mentioned that a couple of the men from Manu (O Ke Kai, the canoe club I paddle with) had just ordered blades. He doesn't get orders for what are, after all, expensive pieces of workmanship by making something that isn't first rate.
All you can control is your own stroke and your own rhythm. And I tell you, I do not want to paddle with a person who is sure that the canoe does not have glide or is not going fast enough because everyone else is doing something wrong but not, oh not, them. Maybe they are perfect, but that attitude doesn't help the crew improve or the boat to go faster.
So if you get rejected, absolutely go ahead and get pissed off, cry, gnash your teeth. Writing is a deeply personal act. Be invested in your work. I'm invested in mine. I care about it deeply, passionately, fully.
But out in that canoe, with the wind in your face and the swells getting in the way of your rhythm, you've got to assume that you're not reaching long enough, you're not digging deep enough, you're off on your timing.
That's not a bad thing. It's the way you get better.