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It's pretty rare to have your very first submission accepted for publication.
I certainly didn't. My first submission was a series of four picture book scripts about a teacher called Mrs Daffodil and the strange things that happened to the children she taught. Inspired to write them by some of the children in my own class, and inspired again by their responses when I read them to them, I sent the manuscripts off to a bunch of agents and I waited.
And, slowly, the rejections began to come in.
Except that one agent didn't entirely reject the stories. She told me that picture books are pretty expensive to produce and no publisher is likely to take a chance on a series of them by a previously unpublished author; but she did like them, and felt that if I reworked them as a single book of four stories they might stand a chance. Despite the fact that she was gearing up for maternity leave and so wasn't taking on any new clients, she took the time to give me a bit of advice about submitting the stories directly to publishers - and, crucially, gave me permission to use her name in approaching them.
So I did. And, again, the rejections began to come in.
Except that one editor didn't entirely reject the stories - or, rather, didn't entirely reject me. I had a letter from Sue Cook, then at Random House, telling me that although she couldn't use these stories, she liked my writing enough to want to see more from me.
And so began a period of years during which I would write stuff in my spare time - when teaching and, latterly, being a dad allowed me enough of the right sort of spare time - and send it to Sue, who invariably took the time to give me genuinely useful feedback and guidance. One of the stories I half-wrote during this time was The Legend of Bansi O'Hara, a fantasy-comedy which got completely tangled up in its own sub-plots but in which Sue still saw enough to encourage and advise me.
And then, finally, after Sue had suggested I try writing a school-based story for Random's Young Corgi range, I came up with Zeus on the Loose
, and - after a bit more guidance from Sue, and a couple of rewrites - it was accepted for publication, more than six years after I'd first sent off those Mrs Daffodil stories.
"Wow!" said a friend, when I told him. "You've worked for such a long time for this, haven't you. It really shows that if you want to do something, you shouldn't ever give up."
It's been twelve years since that first acceptance letter, and more than ten since my first book was published. I have eleven published books now - including Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy
, much reworked from the original - and another five finished and due for publication in the next year or so.
And it's been about eighteen years since, naive and hopeful, I first sent off my Mrs Daffodil's Class stories. Eighteen years during which, occasionally, I'd read my favourite of the four on a school visit and tell the children that not everything you write as an author gets published, but that I still hoped this one might do one day.
So imagine my excitement, just a few days ago, to hear that Egmont has made me an offer on it. It's my first picture book deal, and - while I have other unpublished picture-book MSs in the figurative bottom drawer, many of which i still very much believe in - it feels somehow fitting that it's for one of the stories which, all those years ago, started me off on the road towards publication.
It reminds me to never give up.
_____________________________________________________________________________ John's latest book, Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, is illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP
Sometimes, too frequently, I bore myself.
"Why would you say (or write) a statement like that, Eleanor?"
On occasion when things are in a static state (like the sound of those two words together), I begin to question my playwriting ability. Thinking back, the impetus for taking up writing plays in the first place was my love for dialogue. It seemed only natural, at least for me, that playwriting, which consists of telling a story through the spoken word, was a natural progression. However - it's always the 'howevers' in life that get you - there are times when one questions the quest (still more words when said repeatedly that have a pleasant sound) for recognition by theatres...producers...directors...or anybody, actually.
"So what has you bummed, Eleanor?"
Nothing new or momentous (I wish!) to report. As shared in previous blogs, I actually submitted some of my plays to theatres that seemed like a good fit in addition to entering a competition. As is frequently the case, I'm in a waiting state of being. Waiting and patience is not one of my strong points.
Rant time. Can't understand or maybe don't want to understand why theatres or playwriting competition organizers don't advise playwrights when their plays are rejected. As a playwright, hope is frequently the only thing we have to cling to and waiting is tortuous. Okay - I exaggerate. It's definitely nerve-wracking. All it would take is for somebody to write up a few sentences to indicate a rejection:
Sorry but your play doesn't cut it. We may not even have read it given the amount of submissions we receive. Or perhaps it didn't have enough potential to attract investors. Then again, it needs more editing. Go know.
The person who has been designated to send rejections to playwrights
Now, I mean, that seems simple enough to me. Anything is better than nothing and waiting and hoping for some news. Right playwrights?
Still in the finishing stages and last few pages of "Neighbors", which in itself is a personal achievement but it's only the first draft. It will be put into storage for a period of time and then brought out again for changes or - heaven forbid - an indefinite storage never to see the light of day. No new updates on my "Old Soldiers" submission or the play reading series in which "Retribution" will be introduced to actors - and the world - for the first time. As I've said many times, we live in hope. In the end, that's all we have.
A cat says ________.
A dog says________.
A skunk says______. (We don't know!)
Watch this video
to hear a skunk, a ground hog, a bison and more.
And What You Can Do to Prevent Rejection
It’s first and foremost about a well-written story. But after that, there are many reasons for a novel, picture book or early reader series to be rejected. These are real excerpts from real rejections I have received over the last eighteen months.
- Right editor, right manuscript; wrong timing.
QUERY REJECTION: Thanks so much for sending me this query. It sounds fun, and definitely my kind of humor, but I’m afraid XXX actually has two different (same topic) series already in the near future, with enough books signed up that I fear this would be directly competing with them for a while. (Early chapter book series proposal)
- Wrong editor, wrong manuscript, wrong market because it isn’t a strong enough trade book.
I appreciate and enjoy the heart you infuse to both characters here, and . . . I think you pull off both voices so that they’re fun and distinct. But. . . I feel like this story is still on the quiet side for our commercial-focused list; I see this book being a better fit for the school and library market, where teachers and librarians will appreciate the authentic portrayal of daily school life.
(middle grade novel, contemporary).
- Right editor, right manuscript, wrong market because the book is too much of a trade book.
I like your style. I like the topic. . . we do look for a pretty strong overlap of trade and education market material and for the education market that means a topic that is touched on by teachers. (Picture book, nonfiction.)
- Right editor, right manuscript, wrong market because the book isn’t strong enough for a trade book.
I presented this project to my colleagues at our editorial meeting and while we agree the writing is strong, ultimately it’s just a bit too quiet for our list. (Picture book, fiction.)
- Right manuscript, wrong editor.
Your writing and sense of detail are very nice, but I did not find myself compelled enough by the characters. (Middle grade novel, contemporary)
- Right manuscript, wrong editor.
Picture book about a dog: This is such a fresh, creative idea, and you execute the story quite well. Even so, as much as I enjoyed the manuscript, I’m afraid I didn’t love it quite enough to move forward. Perhaps it’s because I’m more of a cat person ☺. (Picture book, fiction)
- Right editor, right manuscript. No broad-based support.
I’ve shared it with two of other editors here, and we’ve had some good discussion around it. We all found it well-written and compelling. . . After some discussion, I’m afraid it’s a decline for us. (Middle grade novel, contemporary.)
Latin: Rejection certain; hour uncertain. Roughly, it means that you will certainly be rejected; the only uncertainty is when.
Getting that Acceptance
In the end, you need a well-written, compelling story, sent to the right editor at the right time; and it must fit the market of the publisher, not slanted too much toward the trade market or the education market; and it must be a story that can find broad-based support.
It starts with your topic choice. I know editors will tell you to write what you are passionate about. But within those passions, look for topics that will also gain that broad-based support. NO! Your story will NOT be the exception. Problem-based stories for middle graders will probably not fly. If you feel compelled to write about the plight of 11 million children under the age of 18 who live with an alcoholic care-giver, make this a minor sub-plot. Definitely do not make it the main plot, because you will not find that broad-based support needed to produce a best-seller. Maybe for YA, but not for MG. Match your topic to the age of your audience.
Look, instead, for high-concept ideas. (Read this article, which is about high concept nonfiction but the principles apply to fiction, too.)
Know your market. There are trade markets and education markets and publishers who try to cross-market lines. Know where you are submitting and try to match up your story with the needs of the publisher. Remember, they are in the business of selling books and they have established channels for those sales. You must send them a story that will fit into THEIR market. They won’t do special marketing just for you.
Know the editor. Attend conferences, meet editors. It’s the only way you will find out what this or that editor likes. I had no idea that one editor I subbed to was a “cat person,” not a dog person. Maybe, I would have found that out from hearing her at a conference, maybe not. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but submit. But if you hear these sorts of things–well, I will definitely send this editor any cat stories I write. As much as it is in your control, get to know specific editors.
It’s a crazy world out there. Good stories, told with compelling voices, are not enough. To sell books, you must also appeal to a certain editor, who can then find a broad-based support across the publishing house for your story. You must also find a publisher whose market fits your type of stories. It’s not easy, but good solid market research is much more possible in these days when editors write blogs, there are dozens of conferences to attend, and there’s lots of info on Google and LinkedIn.
Good luck. You’ll need it.
There is no writer alive who has never received a rejection slip. Or, probably, dead for that matter.
This is the test of fire; one you have to undergo time and time again. Because for every “Yes! We'd love to publish your book and give you a squillion pounds advance!" There are 100, or possibly 1,000 “Thank you for sending us your manuscript, but I am afraid it does not suit our requirements. We wish you the best of luck elsewhere".
There are several possible reactions to receiving a rejection letter:
Retiring to a monastery:
Falling into despair:
Taking the same manuscript around every agent and publisher in the world:
Looking again at the manuscript:
By the way, this is a page from the edited manuscript of George Orwell's 1984
. Now there's a book I wish I had written.
Of the above options, my personal recommendation is for the fifth. I have tried two of the other four, but I'm not telling you which ones.
This is because, as everyone knows, persistence is the handmaiden of luck, which is the catalyst for success.
But being able to appraise and revise your own work objectively is a skill, and probably the most difficult part of writing.
Even more difficult than appearing on chat shows.
So here are my top ten tips for revising a novel
. (And by the way, I am talking mostly about novels for young adults.)
1. Go through it and look to see if your viewpoint is consistent
. If we are not following the action through one particular character's point of view, there must be a very good reason why. If you dart into another character's head or perspective, or find that you are giving your own description of a scene, during the same scene, steer it back to the primary viewpoint.
2. Are we as close as possible to the feelings
of the character? Are their feelings reported and described, or evoked and given? This is the difference between "She felt a jolt of shock" and
her shouting: "How dare she?" Don't distance the reader from the action and emotion; maximise the effect you are after.
3. Put it through a cliché strainer.
Hang the manuscript up in a net so that everything falls through the holes except the clichés. We all write clichés; they're a kind of shorthand put in at the first draft when you want to get on with the plot. Then, we don't always notice them later. Here's a list of some cliches I strained out of a recent novel:
‘makes a beeline for’ p8, ‘spot it a mile away’ p21, ‘stand out a mile’ p98, ‘head is reeling’ p22, ‘mouth falls open’ p22, ‘cold as ice’ p25, ‘knows it like the back of her hand’ p34, ‘coast is clear’ p109, ‘dead to the world’ p41.
What do you replace them with? Inspired images!
4. Apply a similar filter for speech words
. Really, the modern reader doesn't want to be held up in their appreciation of the plot by a variety of inappropriate speech verbs. Here is another list of mine, that you won't find in the latest draft of a novel:
‘trilled’ p9, ‘croaks’ p24 & p42, ‘breathes’ p45, p52, p88, p90 & p114, ‘laughs’ p46 & p89, ‘gushes’ p50, ‘giggles’ p71, ‘grins’ p76, p79 & p151, ‘weeps’ p82, ‘growls’ p88, ‘muses’ p94, ‘wheedles’ p111, ‘blurts’ p169 and ‘starts’ on p173.
5. Check the pacing
. If it feels like it's dragging, or you feel a bit bored at any point when you're reading it, cut it down. Be ruthless. Sometimes you find you have rushed where you should have taken your time to paint the scene a little. Throw in some nice imagery. Evoke that sense of place or person using all of the senses.
6. Check the transitions
. These are how a chapter ends and the next chapter begins. Each chapter should end with a cliffhanger of some sort to keep your reader up until four in the morning because they can't bear to put it down. In some way there should be a link with the beginning of the next chapter, but vary what kind of link it is. This could be a word echoed, or an image subverted. It could be similar in mood or theme, or violently contrasting. After a period of high tension, you probably want a light moment of humour, or take the opportunity to insert some vital information.
7. Add emotion
. Scare me. Shock me. Make me fall on the floor laughing. If there is any dramatic moment, make sure you have made the most of it. If there is any interesting concept, make sure you have explored it. But always do it from the point of view of your characters.
7. When you've done everything you can yourself, pay an editorial critique service
to do a professional job. It may cost £300 or so, but the business that does not invest in itself will lose out to one that does. And you are a business. You are serious about your success. Think you want to spend the money on a nice weekend at a writers' retreat? Or a glitzy conference where you rub shoulders with the famous? Fine, but do this first. You will learn far more from the detailed, specific, personal attention that you will get. Even if you disagree with it. And, you probably won't. Choose the service based on recommendation from other writers.
8. Rewrite the beginning, then the end
, then the beginning again, then the end again. Make sure that you match up the themes that you establish at the beginning at the end. Use similar imagery, for example. Make sure the opening is as arresting, direct, and suspenseful as possible.
I have learnt a lot by reading the opening three pages of bestsellers, and analysing how they achieve their effects.
9. Print it out. Read it out loud.
Reading it out loud will show up things you won't notice otherwise. Apply the spelling filter
and the grammar filter
at the same time. Don't rely on spell checks, do it properly yourself.
10. Give it to someone else again
to read. One more eye never hurts.
This is just my top 10. This list is by no means exhaustive although it might be exhausting. The perfect manuscript is an elusive creature that requires much patient nurturing to tame and train.
Of course, you will always think you did all of these things before you sent it away in the first place. The fact that you found loads of things to change means, quite simply, that you were wrong. And the reason is: you needed some time to get a fresh perspective.
Conspicuous in its absence on my list is:
11. Take seriously any hints or advice contained in the rejection letter
(if you were lucky enough not to get a standard letter).
This kind of goes without saying. But then again, I find that these letters are often written in haste, or perhaps not by someone who is particularly qualified, or contain only a general impression, not anything that is necessarily useful. Sometimes the reason given for the rejection is just an excuse thrown in and the real reason is totally different. In other words, it's not a technical response.
If, after all the above, your next draft is still rejected, then at least you will know that it's simply because the agent or editor concerned does not go for this particular type of work, or their list is already full for this category. It's not that it's not perfect!
Here is an extract from one rejection letter I had recently which illustrates just this approach:
“Should you write a comedy or another piece that has a little more light in the darkness, we'd be happy to consider it. You can clearly write."
Good luck. And by the way, if you want to compare the edited with the original version of 1984 have a look here
May Big Brother always ignore you and your manuscript avoid Room 101.www.davidthorpe.info
After reading about so many rejected famous authors, I thought you might draw enough inspiration to keep writing and illustrating and continue to submit after reading this post.
Author Dick Wimmer passed away on May 18, 2011, at 74 years old. He received 160+ rejections over 25 years! He spent a quarter of a century being told “no.”
He could have quit after 20 years, or 150 rejections, and no one would have blamed him. But he kept submitting. Maybe he had his own list of famous author rejection letters to keep him going!
Finally, his novel Irish Wine (Mercury House, 1989) was published to positive reviews. The New York Times called it a “taut, finely written, exhaustingly exuberant first novel.”
Dr. Seuss got rejection letters, too. Here is one:
“too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
Here’s a rejection letter for THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK:
“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”
Madeleine L”Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME was turned down 29 times.
Jerry Spinelli was rejected for 15 years, before getting his first book contract for SPACE STATION SEVENTH GRADE.
THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT was turned down so many times, Beatrix Potter initially self-published it.
Rudyard Kipling received this: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Editor of the San Francisco Examiner.
H.G. Wells had to endure the indignity of a rejection when he submitted his manuscript, “The War of the Worlds” that said, “An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would “take”…I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book’.”
And when he tried to market “The Time Machine,” it was said, “It is not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader.”
Here is a rejection letter for Harry Potter:
30 June 1997
Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss J.K. Rowling:
At this time, we must decline your submission of HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE. Unfortunately, the manuscript reeks of being completed on a manual typewriter. For heaven’s sake, it is 1997. Do you own a computer?
The second major problem with this manuscript is its sheer length. Who do you think you are, Charles Dickens? We don’t pay by the word here. Plus, how do you expect parents to muddle through 309 pages to explain the characters, plot, subplots and themes to their children? What if the child has to do a book report on this thing? Can you imagine how long the CliffsNotes would have to be? Also, if parents and children spent time actually perusing the book together, the hours they would be stuck in the same room would be agonizing. Bringing families together is not something you would like to have on your conscience, I guarantee it.
In addition, the subject matter of HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE leaves a bit to be desired. Why would children want to read about a dorky, bespectacled tween’s experiences with the world of wizards and magic? And what about the lightning bolt on the main character’s forehead? What does it mean? How did
Queen of the Nice Rejection Letter
by Kathryn Schleich
My problem is just the opposite. The rejections I’ve been getting for Hollywood and Catholic Women
have been the nicest rejection letters I’ve ever received. Several editors took the time to pass the proposal along to colleagues or provide information on other university presses for me to contact.
I self-published the original work in 2003 and for the 2nd
edition I decided look for an academic publisher so the work could be used as it was intended – as a textbook. I’ve sent out over 25 book proposals and the results have shocked me. While I haven’t found a publisher yet, I can’t get over the fact of editors taking a few extra minutes to send me another possible lead. One editor sent me a combination of two lists – one for university presses with strong film programs and another covering Catholicism. From those I got another half-dozen presses to contact.
Before long, I realized I had become the “Queen of Nice Rejection Letters.” That, of course, begs the question, Are university presses different? Probably not, as one thing I’ve heard repeatedly is that university presses are very limited in the number of books they publish, even more so than larger publishers.
I’ve kept track of every rejection letter, and I recommend all authors do so as well. Not because you want to see how much pain and rejection you can endure, but because those editors may be worth contacting in the future. For example, every editor that has sent me a positive rejection, in other words did something more than simply say “no” will receive a signed company of the book, no matter who publishes it. I want to accomplish two things – say thank you to the editors nice enough to give me the time of day, and get the completed book into the hands of as many interested people as possible.
Like Ms. Bouchard, I’ve had trouble with rejections in the past, feeling as though my skin was pretty thin – more onion skin than flesh. But I have found a solution, at least for me. Instead of beating myself up, (or having someone else do it for me) I log each letter and then I shred it. There is deeply satisfying feeling at hearing the whir of the shredder blades slice up the rejection letter. It gives me a sense of control in the process and I know that I have the strength to keep writing, rejection letters nice or not-so-nice be damned.
* * * Kathryn Schleich is the author of Hollywood and Catholic Women, published through iUniverse in 2003. She is currently working on a 2nd edition.
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Could You Please Beat Me With This Rejection Letter?by Jackie Bouchard
Have you heard that writers need thick skin to survive in publishing? I certainly have, and it’s bad news for me and my wafer-thin skin—so thin you could read this blog through it.
I’ve signed up for classes, attended conferences, read writers’ magazines, bought books on publishing; but, I’ve never seen instructions on how to thicken one’s hide. Perhaps the experts who tout the skinny-skinned-people-need-not-apply advice believe it can’t be taught. Or maybe they think that any writer with a feeble film of flesh will wither and die at the first sign of rejection, so there’s no need to teach these skills.
But I’m here as proof that thin-skinned writers may indeed wither, but we don’t die. We don’t curl into balls that get batted under the bed by the cat, never to be heard from again. (Luckily, I don’t have a cat.) I’m still here, still writing. As evidenced by these very words. And my nerves and muscles (and yes, OK, my fat too) are still in place, even if barely held together by a diaphanous layer of flesh.
Still . . . I’d like to toughen up a bit, so I’ve developed a three-step plan:
1. I’ll call myself names in the mirror each morning—the opposite of a daily affirmation. “No-talent hack!” outta do. But I won’t believe it! I’ll reply with the age-old rejoinder: “I’m rubber, you’re glue . . .” (This may get confusing since in the mirror both I and you are me. Maybe I’ll shout back “sticks and stones” instead.)
2. I’ll start a group for people with T.S.S.S. (Thin Skin Sufferers Syndrome). We’ll meet weekly (and possibly also weakly) and sit in a circle, each beating the person to the left with rejection letters until we laugh in the face of such abuse.
3. No more drinking anything but alcohol. The severe dehydration will help me literally develop a crusty outer shell. Not to mention, I just won’t give a damn anymore.
Then again, maybe I won’t bother. After all, like I said, I’m still writing. OK, I’m not exactly making a living at it. Maybe I can’t even buy a pint of Cherry Garcia with my earnings, but I’m forming sentences and you’re reading them, and therefore I am a writer—of the thin-skinned variety!
I’m sure those experts are right: it’s better to be thick-skinned, to not care when people reject your work. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to do it my way. I just have to accept that I’ll be a writer who often weeps into my pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
If you’ve thought of giving up because your last rejection letter made you feel kicked in your metaphorical literary gut, you may also suffer from T.S.S.S. Join me in ignoring the experts and shouting, “We don’t need thick skin to be writers after all!”
We may weep. We may whimper. But we write on.
* * *When not working on her novel, Jackie Bouchard loves: reading, taking her dog to the beach, watching professional cycling, drinking margaritas, and hanging out with her hubby. Jackie dislikes: rejection and writing about herself in the third person. Connect with her on Facebook (Jackie Hanten Bouchard) and Twitter (@JackieBouchard).
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Back before he was a famous writer (check out the Travis McGee series), the late John D. MacDonald, like all of us, got tons of rejections letters.
Later, when he was famous, magazines started soliciting him for stories.
And I guess in a little bit of tit for tat, he sent this sarcastic rejection letter.
Which kind of reminds me of this letter to Knopf from Norman Maclean, which includes the memorable sentence: "If the situation ever arose when Alfred A. Knopf was the only publishing house remaining in the world and I was the sole remaining author, that would mark the end of the world of books."
The Letters of Note blog has published a letter from the late hardboiled writer John D. MacDonald.
Later in his career, the novelist referenced his past as an aspiring author and wrote a satirical rejection letter to magazine editors who wanted to publish his work. This one is for all the GalleyCat readers who have a stack of rejection letters at home (just like this editor). Don’t give up hope–someday you could be forced to reject an editor!
Here’s an excerpt from the letter: “We would like to write a personal letter to each and every one of you, but the great mass of stories submitted from this office makes such a procedure impractical. Surely you can understand that! If by any chance we have been unable to use your magazine, don’t be discouraged. It may not be due to any particular deficiency in the magazine, but instead to the fact that we haven’t recently been writing the type of THING that you use. Try again, won’t you?” (Via Reddit)
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
As of this point, every person who has submitted a manuscript to our picture book call should have received some sort of response from us now. If for some reason you didn't, please let us know so we can see what happened.
If I asked to hold onto your manuscript, then I will be contacting you in the next 10 days about editorial ideas I have, things I need from you, etc.
If your manuscript ended up being rejected, do not despair. You were in very good company. I only requested to continue looking at 8 manuscripts. I also would like to thank you for taking the time to send your work to us. Even though I wasn't able to personally respond to all of the submissions, I am still honored that you were willing to let me consider your work.
When he was still in high school, Tim Burton sent a copy of his illustrated children's book - The Giant Zlig - to Walt Disney Productions asking if they would be interested in publishing it. They weren’t - but an editor did send him a letter offering detailed feedback.
Click here to see a sample page - as well as the rejection letter. Looking at the letter made me nostalgic for typewriters!
Although CBAY is still accepting picture book submissions through the end of the month, we will begin contacting the people whose submissions we've already read starting tomorrow.
That means that starting tomorrow, some people will begin to receive rejection letters.
Yes, the dreaded rejection letter.
Unfortunately, the reality is that most submissions will have to be rejected. We're looking for 1, maybe 2, manuscripts at this time, and we've already received 20 or 30 times that. And submissions have only been open for 2 days.
With that having been said, please keep the following in mind. (And this is true of any rejection letter you may ever receive either from me or anyone else):
- Do not take it personal.
Form letters, especially, are the most impersonal thing you can get. However, most of the time what they say on them -- that "Your manuscript does not meet our needs at this time" -- is literally what they mean. I've personally read every submissions so far, and I can tell you that not a single one of them is irredeemable. In fact there are several good stories out there that will still be receiving form rejections simply because they either do not fit in with our list or was a short story manuscript instead of a picture book manuscript. There was nothing wrong with the writing or style. They just literally don't "meet our needs at this time."
- Do not be insulted by a form rejection.
I did the math the other day. A form rejection takes 2-3 minutes to do. A short personal rejection can take 15 minutes or more. So, let's say pick a number and say I (well, Intern) have 100 rejections to do. Even with a form rejection, that's going to take us 300 minutes or 5 hours to get out. Personal rejections would take at a minimum 25 hours. We don't have 3 work days to dedicate to rejection letters. It's just not feasible. So, as depressing and soul-sucking as form rejections are for both us and you, it's a necessary evil. Pretty much all publishing houses eventually have to succumb to them.
- Do not let them deter you from writing.
Like I said above, a rejection letter does not mean you can't write or will never get published. It just means that that particular work is not right for that editor or agent. Keep looking for that perfect match. Do not give up. (Personally, I don't know a single author who has never received a single rejection for something. I know I have.)
I know rejections are a miserable occasion, and although you might not believe it, we dislike them just as much as you. No one likes to disappoint others. However, it's one of the reasons we are going to try to start getting them out so quickly. We don't want you sitting around waiting on us when you could be submitting your work to someone else.
The New York Times reported on a new Kurt Vonnegut library that’s going to open in Indianapolis in the fall, and my favorite part of the article is a quote from his oldest daughter, Edie Vonnegut, who said, “We have boxes of rejection letters, letters saying, ‘You have no talent and we suggest you give up writing.’”
Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t revel in the rejections great writers have suffered through. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But, knowing that if a writer as a great as Vonnegut can get rejections like that, rise above them and continue to pursue writing — and be successful at it — that’s inspirational.
Rejections are difficult to deal with, but it’s part of the business, and not personal — even though it feels personal, it’s not.
Rejections are also nothing that should stop us from writing and pursuing publication. A rejection is simply one person saying no; there will be others, but there also will be plenty of people who will say yes.
Like Edie says in the article: “He did not have an easy time of it, and I think anyone who wants to be a writer, it will be important for them to see how tough it was for him.”
It Vonnegut could do it, we can do it. Thank you, Kurt.
My friend Reiko, knowing that I had lately received what can only be described as the rudest rejection letter ever (a rejection apparently based not on my work but on this editor's estimation of my career), sent along a link entitled "30 famous authors whose works were rejected (repeatedly, and sometimes rudely) by publishers."
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not famous (which was this recent editor's accusation against me). But I do take solace (and shouldn't we all?) from reviewing again (for we've reviewed them in the past) these bits and pieces from the annals of whoops.
"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell."
— from one of many publishers rejecting Stephen King's Carrie
"It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA."
—from the editor dismissing George Orwell's Animal Farm
"There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice."
— a publisher assessing the poetry of Sylvia Plath
And my personal favorite:
"I'm sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."
— a San Francisco Examiner editor rejecting a Kipling short story
Everyone, of course, has his or her right to his or her opinion, and editors can only buy those books with which they are in love. I'm simply not altogether convinced that cruelty need enter the scene.
On The Muffin, we've posted about rejections before. As a writer, you've probably heard all the standard rejection advice: personal rejections are good, a rejection is at least a response, and everybody gets rejected.
That's what I want to focus on today--during Thanksgiving week--
Everybody gets rejected!
I received an e-mail over the weekend, reminding me of this fact, and I thought it would be great to share it with my fellow women writers as a reminder not to give up, not to see one rejection as the end of your career. Look at this list:
Dune by Frank Herbert – 13 rejections
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 14 rejections
Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – 17 rejections
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – 18 rejections
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 29 rejections
Carrie by Stephen King – over 30 rejections
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 38 rejections
A Time to Kill by John Grisham – 45 rejections
Louis L’Amour, author of over 100 western novels – over 300 rejections before publishing his first book
John Creasy, author of 564 mystery novels – 743 rejections before publishing his first book
Ray Bradbury, author of over 100 science fiction novels and stories – around 800 rejections before selling his first story
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – rejected so universally the author decided to self-publish the book
So, when you open your mailbox and see the thin envelope OR open the e-mail and see, "Thank you for your submission but. . .", remember this list, don't give up hope, and be thankful that you can go back to the drawing board.
Read These Books and Use Them
I still keep a big fat pink file labelled “Submission and Rejection.” It’s full of the rejection letters that made up my writing life for years and years. My first book got me nothing but rejection. My second book, after several dozen rejection letters, got me an agent. And then that second book went on to have a new crop of rejection letters, this time from editors. They were full of praise, but there was always a “But.” My third book didn’t even get good rejection letters from editors, just terse acknowledgements. And then my fourth book sold in three days.
And even since I’ve been published, not every book I’ve written has been bought. And there are other kinds of rejection even once you are published, as any author who has subscribed to Google Alerts or looked at Amazon reviews knows.
So if you feel like you're always getting rejected, maybe this will make you feel a little better. It shows a letter from the Museum of Modern Art rejecting a donation from Andy Warhol.
Current word count: 12,201
Words written today: 568
Words to goal: 27,799/ 352 words a day til end of September
Nothing written yesterday, but I got back on track this morning and hope to not miss a day this week. The good news is, when I do write, I’m usually way over the number of words I need a day to have 40K by the end of the September. The bad news is, what I am writing is not making up for my missed days, and I’d secretly love to be finished earlier than the end of September. We’ll see.
Friends and I both have query letters out with agents right now, and we were chatting the other day about gleaning information from rejections. It’s frustrating to receive a form letter that says the manuscript just isn’t right for them. It would be wonderful to get a letter that gives some specific details about what exactly they don’t like about the manuscript, but that doesn’t happen often mainly because agents don’t have time, and I FULLY understand that.
But there’s another reason I think rejections letters are vague, even when they’re not form letters. I received a lovely and very encouraging personalized rejection letter from one agent who had requested the full manuscript. In it, she said there was “much she enjoyed and admired,” but ultimately, she said she didn’t feel she was the right agent for the book and knew “another agent will feel differently.”
There’s still nothing specific in this letter that could guide me on improving my manuscript, but that’s the point. Sometimes a rejection doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with a book. I’ve read agent Kristin Nelson write on her blog about books that she turned down that went on to do well once they’re published. But Kristin pointed out that the book did well thanks to the work of another agent, and if she had picked it up, the book might not have done as well because she didn’t have the passion for it.
Let’s face it, writing is an art and art is subjective. Some people love the Harry Potter books passionately, others enjoy them but didn’t rush to buy the last book when it was released, others might read them in a pinch at the doctor’s office. But for an agent, who’s going to go out and sell a book, there has to be real passion for the writing and subject matter and story and characters. If not, that agent might not be able to sell the book as well as another agent who has that kind of passion for it.
Of course, there are some reasons why queries and/or manuscripts are rejected. The Adventurous Writer blog lists 17 reasons given by agent Janet Reid, editor Julie Scheina and reviewer Haile Ephron. Some are misuse of the English language, boring writing, too complex a plot, too many stock characters…
These are all good things to think about when we’re considering sending out our work. As writers, we should look at our work with an honest eye — a really honest eye, after we haven’t looked at it for a few weeks to a month and the excitement of finishing and revising and revising has worn off — and see whether we can truly say that our manuscript and query letter suffers from NONE of these. If that’s the case, then we could send it out. If not, then we should keep revising.
But if we can say that we truly believe our manuscript or query letter has none of these problems, then we should look at rejections with less frustration. Because, like Kristin Nelson points out, agents do think differently, and it’s out job to keep persevering until we find the RIGHT agent for our work.
How’s your writing coming?
Dear Miss Snark,
After I'd forgotten I'd even queried them, I got a wonderful rejection. It however is rather ambivalent: "This sounds wonderful, but I just can't fit this in my schedule. Please consider us again the the future. Best Wishes!"
I was jubilant. But confused. Does this mean "please consider us again (when we're not so busy?) Or please consider us again with another book?
At any rate, I'd given the rejected book up as a "never sell" because I've worked so long and hard on it that now *I* loathe it. But I do have a new one in the works.
Comments on rejection letters, even when written by Miss Snark, are not edicts from She Who Must Be Obeyed.
If you can't stand Novel Alpo by all means query them about Novel BiteMarks.
The problem of course with "query when we are less busy" is you have no idea when that is. Thus you can't make it a factor in your Grand Query Strategy. Keep this agent on your list but don't read more into that reply than 'you don't suck'.
My friend Genetta from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Midsouth Region recently got a form letter rejection in the mail from a publisher. Like most writers, I can sympathize. But Genetta's included this line:
"It is my sincere hope that use of this form letter will reduce our response time to as short a period as possible."
Which is funny, because she submitted the book one year and three months ago.
I'm still operating on the high I got yesterday from finishing my first novel. When I read it today, I actually kind of enjoyed it. Oh, I'm sure I'll find it dire in a few months, but for now I am just reveling in the bliss of having a complete novel done. I also promise this will be the last time I mention it.
Instead, let's discuss rejection/resubmission ettiquetee. In most cases a rejection is a firm and complete rejection. The house has decided not to pursue your manuscript for some reason, and it is unlikely to change its mind. This is especially true of vague, impersonal rejection letters that may or may not be a form letter. And form letters while regrettable and (I'll be honest) sucky are a neccesity in this business. The GLA blog actually has a nice little article on these kinds of rejections. You have to scroll down to the second post, but you will find a quote from The Boss (my boss, not Springsteen) and a link to one of the bestest small presses on earth.
No, the issue of resubmitting becomes stickier when the editor or agent writes a personal rejection letter. In these types of letters the editor often offers words of encouragement or advice. It's tempting to think that since the editor went to the time and effort to create this dialog with you, they would would want to see the new version of your work. But the truth of the matter is that this isn't always the case. I've written personal rejection letters with advice for authors on how to make the story stronger, but the story itself is inappropriate for our press or not the type of story I'm personally interested. Even if the author takes every comment I made to heart and ends up writing a dynamic new story out of it, the truth is that I still don't want to see it again. I could tell that story had potential, hence the comments in my letter; however, the story isn't a good fit for me.
So in a situation like this, how does an author know whether or not the editor wants them to resubmit? Simple, the editor or agent asks. They will say something similiar to the following phrase: I would be interested in looking at this work again. If that kind of sentence does not appear somewhere in the letter, then assume the editor is not interested in a resubmission. Consider the editor's advice, and then move on to the next potential target.
Now, on a rare occassion you'll come across a time when you are unsure if the editor wants you to resubmit or not. Perhaps they've been unclear in the letter, or one paragraph flatly contradicts another. In this case, be sure to ask before resubmitting. Write or email (but only email if and only if your previous communications with the editor have been through email) the editor thanking them for their advice, and then ask them if you can resubmit. The worst that will happen is they will say no. And if that turns out to be the case, you've saved both yourself and them time. You can move onto the next house. They won't sit down to a manuscript and think, "Haven't I seen this before?"
All of this resubmitting stuff popped into my mind because this morning I emailed a woman some comments on her submission. Since I knew The Boss had already told her she could resubmit, I didn't think to put anything about looking at a resubmission in the email. The author then sent me the nicest email basically thanking me for my suggestions and then asking if she could resubmit to me. I wish I could show it to you since it is an excellent example of how to professionally communicate while still showing enthusiasm. And it's this kind of professionalism that I encourage all of you to aim for. When an editor or agent is unclear, ask questions. And I'll keep trying to post advice here.
Longtime readers will know that I’ve actively been trying to get some of my YA manuscripts published. Right now I have a YA paranormal fantasy out with some literary agents and publishers, and a gritty YA out with some publishers. And meanwhile I’m working on a middle-grade magic fiction manuscript.
Some days it’s so hard to hold on to hope–having been through so many rejection letters (though nice, personalized ones, even asking me to send other work or keep them in mind for the future–but rejection letters, just the same) so every bit of “potentially, maybe yes” leads to a shot of hope. I just had that happen yesterday–an editor from a publishing house requested my complete YA paranormal manuscript.
Now, I know that doesn’t mean anything for sure. I’ve had too many near misses not to know that–and it’s been such a long trek so far. But it was a lovely email to receive, and gives me something to hope for. My manuscript is also out with some literary agents, so I’m hanging on to that, as well. But I wish I could just fast forward to the acceptance.
Hope feels so fragile sometimes, in the publishing world. Whether an editor or agent likes your manuscript is so subjective. They can be having a bad day when your query lands on their desk or in box. Or the subject matter might be something that turns them off or touches something they don’t want to look at. Of course, it also matters that you have quality writing, that the agent or editor think your work is marketable, that your work speaks to them.
Writing is one of the only professions I know of where you can work hard for years without any promise that you’ll get payment or recognition for your work. And then there are rejections to face, the isolation of long hours working alone, and the sliding into self-criticism, temporarily hating your work, or depression that so many writers and creative people seem ato fall into from time to time. So a community of writers–whether in person or online–is really important. Other writers, especially, understand the highs and lows, the isolation of writing, the long years of hoping and losing hope and hoping again before publication. For me, being part of a community of writers is essential to my well being as a writer–as well as furthering my writing craft and technique. I’m thankful for both my online and in-person writing communities. And I’ve been reminded, lately, to keep hold of my hope, but to keep writing and submitting my writing, too. So I duck my head back down, keep writing, and hold onto my fluttering hope.
By: Darcy Pattison
Blog: Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes
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I am woefully behind in sharing some great posts with you! Here’s a ton of links to articles of interest.
- Dori Butler just interviewed me for KidLit Central about my experience of judging the SCBWI Works-In-Progress Grantl
- Meanwhile, check out this podcast: Carla McClafferty is featured on Book Bites for Kids, talking about her new book, In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry. The book has already gotten a Starred Review! Wahoo!
- Suse Haberfeld continues the conversation on the digestive process of writing, taking in words, so you can put words out.
- Janni continues the conversation on Voice. But, Janni, are you talking to your characters lately? I wish you’d put all your conversations together in one place for each book — what a great resource.
- Becky CC summarizes her experiences at the Novel Retreat in Three Acts (I was Act 2). If you want to take a novel from conception, through revision, and present it to an editor and agent – all within a single year! – then you need to check out this series of retreats planned for 2009-10.
- Nancy talking about why she started the Three Act retreats.
- President-Elect Obama is a doodler? Oh, yes.
- Did you know that Bowen Press, the new Harpercollins children’s book imprint headed by Brenda Bowen, now has a blog? Read the Bowen Press Blog.
- What could possibly be good about Rejection Letters?
You didn’t participate in the National Novel Writing Month? Well, here’s the project for you: The National Novel Writing Decade!
- Anne Marie Pace says, “In 40,000 words, my characters shook their heads 30 times and shrugged 18 times.”
My verbal tic is “a bit.” As in, “She shook her head a bit.” What’s YOUR verbal tic?
What have you read lately that is interesting?
Dear Lord, I know I have just posted "RANDOM PANIC - number 3," please don't have this series find me posting "REJECTION - number 89" one day.
SO, for all five of you that read this blog... Just kidding, it's more like 10 ~haha. I finally got the rejection email. However, the dreamy agent gave me such detailed suggestions for improving the story that I feel both grateful and overwhelmed. I was amazed at the care she took to give me such wonderful feedback.
Anyway, that's my news. It's 3:31 a.m and I don't feel that sleep is in the cards for me tonight. I wish I could actually write, but wouldn't you know, I can't. I can only sit here and blog :-) And I wish I could call SF, but she's in NOLA having fun with hubby (For you yankees, that's New Orleans) and it's 3:30 for pete's sake!!!