Rejection

Bitchery reader Jane sent me a link to a Boston Globe article about an ages-old rejection of a manuscript submitted to Harlequin. Part examination of the romance genre, and part trip down memory lane, the writer re-examines her 53,000 word novel that dealt with forced marriages AND sexual harrassment in the work place.

Sadly, her efforts were rejected then, and now, by the Harlequin editors. So – let’s talk rejection.

Bitchery reader Ostrea linked to Rejection Collection where the rejectees go to commiserate and compare notes – or letters from publishers and agents. What do you do with your rejections? What’s the worst or best rejection you’ve received?

And most importantly, what’s your advice to someone who got the one page “no thanks” form letter in the mail?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    missus wing says:

    When I received my first rejection letter, I viewed it as my ticket to the “Real Writers” club. Before then, I was just someone pretending to be a writer.  With the rejection letter, I could say “yes, i sent it to a publisher, but they didn’t like it.  it’s now on its nth stop on its worldwide tour, but *it’s out there*.” 

    Hopefully, one day, I can be a “Real Author(tm)”.  (-:

  2. 2
    --E says:

    I’m with missus wing. Rejections are the Purple Hearts of the writing world. They’re medals that say you’re willing to take a bullet in pursuit of your goal.

    When I get a rejection with some suggestions or advice on it, I try to glean what lessons I can. (Occasionally, I can’t glean any, as with the rejection that didn’t like “some of the words.” I wonder what words they wanted? “Call me Ishmael”?)

    But in the end, a rejection is just a rejection. I waste little time in rejectomancy; “not right for us” means NO.

    I don’t take it personally, any more than I think published authors should take it personally that I don’t like their book or short story. I’m not the be-all and end-all of literary opinion, and neither is any given editor.

  3. 3

    I’ve got a file full of rejection letters from agents and publishers.  Some of them are form letters, some were quite specific about why my novel wasn’t right for them.  But I kept at it, and eventually I found a publisher who said my novel was just right.

    The important thing isn’t to dwell on rejection, but to keep working and figure out how to make your book saleable.

    When you finish book number one, if it doesn’t sell right away, start working on book number two.  And then number three.  If one of them sells down the road, you’ve got a drawer full of manuscripts you can work with.

    Rejection hurts, but it’s only a stepping stone, not a roadblock.

  4. 4
    bethany says:

    Formally, I toss the rejection into the pile or read mail and then do what every writer does (admittedly or not)—brood and stew in self-pity for a day or so.

    Then, if you are stubborn enough like me, I get back to querying and writing.

    Worst rejection:  Thanks but no thanks.
    Best rejection:  I’m on the fence—as I love the premise, the characters, and the plot, just doesn’t have enough edge.

    What happened to that best rejection?  I apparantly wrote another version that had the edge she was looking for.

  5. 5
    E.D'Trix says:

    As a reject-or, I can say that it isn’t easy to be on the soul crusher end of the equation either! A quick and easy guide to my rejection letters would go something like this:

    1. Extremely generic form letter = book is either very wrong for our line or borderline illiterate.

    2. Form letter with a brief line about what was good in the book before standard rejection = book is wrong for the line but see a bit of potential in the writing.

    3. Form letter with compliments and a few lines of criticism = Writing is good enough to encourage work on basic skills (grammar, dialogue tags, etc.) but not good enough to encourage a revision/resubmission of current manuscript.

    4. Non-form letter that details what issues I had with the plot, characters, etc. and that encourages revision and resubmission = the HOLY GRAIL of rejection letters. PLEASE do not think a letter like this means the editor is just being nice or polite or letting you down easy. A letter like this takes a lot of time and effort to craft, plus it likely means that the editor read your entire manuscript—which can be quite rare!
    In my case (and in many other editors’ cases) what I mean by a letter like this is “hey, your book has potential, but it also has problems—are you willing to do the work necessary to make it shine?” If an author takes my advice and works on the manuscript and resubmits it in better condition, chances are very good that they will be signed. I have written letters like this 4 times now in my career. 2 authors took me up on the offer and were signed, the other 2 I never heard from again.

    Anyway, just a bit of insight from the “other side”!

  6. 6
    Miri says:

    The rejection letter I was the most, shocked by was the one I got back from this one agent that was mearly scribbled in the margin of my cover letter. It wasn’t rude, but it was more like “Dude can’t even be bothered to send out a photo copy of a form letter”… got one of those too… Guy used my SASE too. Cheap ass, I’m happy he did’nt sign me.

  7. 7
    Marta Acosta says:

    I worked in community relations and we gave grants to non-profits.  When a group didn’t fit our guidelines, we didn’t reject them.  We declined their request.

    Instead of thinking that someone rejected the opportunity to represent or publish me, I thought that they declined the opportunity, just as I might decline an invitation.

    I got a variety of, uhm, declines.  Some where merely a few words (“not for us”) scribbled on the side of my query letter, and some were form letters.  But I’ll always remember the very kind letter I got from a prominent agent.  Even though she, uhm, declined representation, her encouragement meant a lot to me.

  8. 8
    Stephanie says:

    My worst rejection letter had a multiple choice section as to reasons why my book might not have floated their boat. It was so appalling I nearly piddled myself laughing.

    Best rejection letters used my name (not Dear Author) and told me they liked my work, but cited reasons why they would not offer for it.

    I have a folder of the rejections. I keep it as a reminder and testament to the writing faith, long may it last me.

  9. 9
    ShuzLuva says:

    A little off point here, but I gotta say, I cannot believe it! Nadya Labi was in my high school class. For those of you that scoff and say “so what”, note that my graduating class was 72 people, of whom 20 were together from kindergarden through 12th grade.

  10. 10
    Tonda says:

    Worst (was from the first agent I ever submitted to): A badly photo-copied form letter saying they didn’t handle my genre (this was a rejection of a requested revision!).

    Best (was from an edtior at Avon): A three page gushing letter about how much she loved my heroine and my voice, but that the book just didn’t “feel” like an Avon book. Whatever that means. I’m thinking it means she loved it, but her boss didn’t.

    Advice: Keep sending queries out until someone bites.

  11. 11
    tisty says:

    I must be odd in that I haven’t really kept all of my rejection letters. I’ve had tonnes and every time I clean up a cupbord or what ever one floats to the surface. I tend throw them away.

    Funilly enough the only one I have kept was a form letter of the tick-the-box variety that said my book wasn’t suitable for their company’s editorial needs (what does that mean? Crap? Crap but savable-but not for us? We are only publishing vampire crap??? What?? Give me a hint!). i now keep it in my file next to the two book contract i have signed with the same company some four years later. Same book, but submitted the second time through an agent.

    When the agent told me she had submitted to this company (Alone with several others) I didn’t have the heart to tell her been there tried that!!!!!!!!

  12. 12
    Zoe Archer says:

    I have a folder of rejection letters which I keep in my filing cabinet.  Someday, when I have a house, I think I’ll use them to paper a powder room….

    When I was a wee sprout of a writer, one of my prized possessions was a rejection letter from The New Yorker for a short story.  It was a form letter, but written at the bottom was “Please try again!”  Perhaps I was kidding myself, thinking that that served as any kind of encouragement.  It worked, though, because five years later, I toddled off to the MFA program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

    Once I was able to put my MFA on my queries, I started receiving detailed criticism of my stories rather than outright rejections, and I tried to wring what further encouragement I could from that.  It wasn’t easy, though.  I often lay on my floor and sighed heavily. 

    Then, after I graduated and started shopping around a romance manuscript, looking for an agent, another delicious round of rejection letters followed.  One prominent agent declined representation, but asked me to purchase his book about how to get representation.  Mmm, classy.

    I did, finally, land an agent, and she would forward my rejections on to me.  Dutifully, I put the letters into a file, vowing that I’d laugh and laugh over them when I was sitting atop my piles of money.  But I needed to make that little dream a reality, so I would scrape myself off the floor and schlep myself back to the computer, where I would write another spec manuscript and wonder if this one would also be thrown into the editorial void.

    My favorite rejection letter was the one my old agent handed me at last year’s RWA conference, rejecting the book that was going to be published by another house.  Ah.  (I have a new agent now, btw.)

    Anyway, it’s an old chestnut, but a true one: rejection letters are just part of the business.  They really, really suck, but they can’t act as a deterrent to writing.  You’re allowed to feel like ass after receiving a rejection letter, but after a suitable amount of time (minutes, hours, days), you just go back to your computer and keep writing.  I’d say that there’s a goodly amount of being a writer that involves native talent, but the other major part of the equasion is tenacity.

  13. 13
    Wry Hag says:

    I don’t understand the damned things and never will.  I quit trying a long time ago.

    An editor at Knopf once called one of my manuscripts “moving and intelligent.”  But I guess Knopf doesn’t like publishing “moving and intelligent” novels, because they nixed it.  I have a truckload of rejection-letter nuggets.  (However,  they’re in some file cabinet in the garage, and it’s dark outside, and I don’t want to schlep across the yard and possibly surprise some nocturnal creature that could possibly surprise me.  I’m too frail.)

    Anyway, my publishing salvation ultimately came in the form of e-books.  After having pissed away many years and many dollars dealing with two agents and countless editors, I thought, Screw it.  So I just dammed up my creative juices for a while and did other things.  Then I discovered e-publishing, and—BLAMMY—things started happening.

    So far, there hasn’t been a rat’s turd worth of money in it, but I’m hoping that will change.  More important, though (WAY more important), my stuff is finally being read.  Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

  14. 14
    Caro says:

    My rejection letters go into a folder in the filing cabinet—that way, if the IRS audits me, they can help prove I’m seriously working at writing as a business.  (Hey, tax refund was how I paid for my laptop.)

    Worst rejection letter?  Badly xeroxed multiple choice form letter from an agent with ticky boxes—the one she check for me was half off the edge of the page!

  15. 15
    Nora Roberts says:

    My favorite rejection letter from back in the day was from Harlequin. It said I had talent, and the ms showed considerable promise. But they already had their American writer. Hard to argue as I was, indeed, a Yank.

    In the irony portion, that single American writing for Harlequin was Janet Dailey.

  16. 16

    Ha!  Nora, your comment made my day.[g]

    I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not, but there’s a story in SF circles that Lois McMaster Bujold has a rejection letter that tells her she should stick to being a housewife and give up writing.

  17. 17
    AnimeJune says:

    I’m surprised at the people who are angry at the multiple-choice rejection letters, because the best one I received was a multiple-choice rejection with the “reason boxes” to check off why they didn’t like my story.

    True, I was more encouraged by what WASN’T checked off (they didn’t check off “Unrealistic fantasy element”! They didn’t check “story didn’t make sense”! They didn’t check “unbelievable characters”! They checked “didn’t quite ‘do it’”). But for a form letter, it’s certainly a step above a single line “Didn’t work for us”.

    Of course, the reason this was my best rejection letter was because the editor wrote a note on the bottom that said, “Your story is well-written, and I encourage you to send me another.” Hooray! I mean, he didn’t say “take up gardening” or “don’t quit your day job”.

    And you know what? I ended up selling that story to another magazine for two and a half grand.

  18. 18
    charlie says:

    I don’t mind form rejections, as I’ve had to send these out in the past at an agency and a lit mag, but the worst was when I accidentally stapled a story (paper clips only), and the “rejection letter” was the story plus cover letter sent back in the SASE, and the corner where the staple had been was snipped off.

    I fumed about this for a couple of days, then cooled off when I thought the reader/editor must have just gone through a sheaf of cat poems [that I sent under a pseydonym].

  19. 19
    Felice says:

    My boyfriend’s worst form rejection letter had a smear on it that might have come from the magazine editor’s nose. It was kind of greeny brown. We didn’t want to get close enough to it to find out more.

  20. 20
    Stef says:

    My favorite rejection letter came from a big name agent.  The letter itself I’ve completely forgotten.  What made it grand was that another author’s rejection letter, along with her proposal, AND a best-selling author’s advance check from Kensington (largish 5 figures) were included in the envelope.  Needless to say, I was gratified she rejected me – I hated to think of my checks getting sent off to strangers.  I called to tell her, and spoke to an intern, who didn’t appear the least bit worried.  “Uh, yeah, I guess go ahead and mail it back.”  So I did, on my dime – it still blows my mind.  I’ve always wanted to mention it to that agent, because I always wondered if she even knew.  And I seriously thought about telling the author, but I don’t know her and it seemed a bit like telling a stranger they have an ugly baby.

  21. 21
    Stef says:

    p.s. – Nora, I spewed coffee when I read your post.  No, it’s not funny in the purest sense, but ironic?  Oh my God, yes!  Seriously made my day.  Thanks for sharing.

  22. 22
    Raekki says:

    A comment from the publishing side. I’m in the editing department. We send out extremely brief form rejection letters – basically “not right for our audience” or “does not meet our current needs”. Why don’t we provide more specific information? Well, we used to do that, thinking we were helping the author, that they’d appreciate the advice. Our editors expended time analysing the submission and trying to provide helpful feedback. But we got so many writers who would respond back to us, arguing or bitching, screaming that we are obviously incompetent or just plain evil for not leaping at the chance to publish their work. Many writers unfortunately do not handle rejections in a professional way, and don’t seem to realize how they are destroying their own chances by their behaviour.

    As was said by E in an earlier post, “not right for us” means NO. And please do not revise and resubmit unless specifically invited to do so.

  23. 23
    Jeri says:

    I got rejected twice by the same agency on the same submission.  The first was something more than a form letter, but less than an encouraging invitation.

    Then a year later, out of the blue, I got a poorly Xeroxed third-of-a-sheet form rejection letter from the same agency, when I hadn’t resubmitted or so much as thought about them in the intervening time.

    I laughed, because it was like they’d woken up one day and thought, “Man, I REALLY hated that manuscript.  Better reject it again in case the other one didn’t stick.”  I’m sure it was just an administrative error, but painfully funny nonetheless.

    Happy ending, though: When I sold my Luna book, this agent was one of the ones I subsequently interviewed.  They offered representation, but I picked someone else instead.

    And I swear it was because my preferred agent was a better fit, not because of the SMACKDOWN! factor.  Almost not at all.

  24. 24
    Sandy says:

    My favorite rejection story ever is on Ursula LeGuin’s website: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Reject.html

    Dear Miss Kidd, [her agent]

    Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well, but I’m sorry to have to say that on the basis of that one highly distinguishing quality alone I cannot make you an offer for the novel. The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith. Yours sincerely,

    The Editor

    21 June, 1968

  25. 25

    I tend to send out #4 on E.D’Trix’s list.

    I’m at the moment primarily ebook. At the risk of getting my ass flamed, there is a serious lack on quality control in ebooks. An author rejected at one pub can get signed elsewhere without a pause.

    This is a major disservice to the author’s future career, because while they can claim a pub stat, they’re missing out on learning their trade and improving their skills. Ebook authors have gotten picked up by the big—the right ebook pub can get your foot in the door. The wrong one, well…

    I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t at least point out WHY it’s not appropriate for my house and give them a second chance. At least then my conscience is clear, and I feel I’ve done what I could.

    On the negative side, I tend to get responses like, and I quote, “You wouldn’t know a good book if it bit you on the ass, you useless hack.” But that’s the price you pay.

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