Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Rules of Rejection

Today I bring you some seriously tongue- in-cheek and provocative new ways to consider rejection as you pull out the chocolate for your next pity party. I've also thrown in a dose of reality for those of you who are ready for it.

1. To Disclose or Not To Disclose: Certainly the complaint of every writer is the ambiguous or non existent comments that accompany a rejection. Should the FULL DISCLOSURE apply to editors and agents, and can writers handle the truth?

Ace Literary Agency Submission Guidelines:

We do accept unsolicited manuscripts and seriously consider all submissions, including first time writers. Your submission should include a synopsis, the first 50 pages of your manuscript and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

If you are requesting full-disclosure, we suggest you return a cashier's check in the amount $25.00 to cover processing, as our agency receives more than 2,000 unsolicited queries a month. Please sign the six page liability waiver to allow us to provide you with the requested full-disclosure and information on the status and quality of your submission. Expect a response within eight to ten weeks of our receipt of the requested items.

Do not send a complete manuscript.

2. Sol Stein. If you haven't read Stein on Writing you are missing something. I also read an article by Mr. Stein, where he shared that he saved his rejection letters and finally sold after collecting 99. He inspired me to document mine, which I found personally satisfying. After all, I now have something in common with Sol Stein. I have submitted 390 times since 1995, which isn't particularly impressive, and only amounts to about 30 submissions a year. I stopped counting the rejections long ago. It no longer matters. I am a writer.

3. Several years ago on an group there was an enlightening discussion on the words rejection and pass.

Think about it.

Editor ABC dislikes peas. You can prepare the peas in a variety of ways but they are still peas. She is going to pass on your peas.

Agent Z has a stellar author who writes anchovies. You submit your novel of anchovies. Frankly, one anchovy is really all she can handle right now. She is going to pass.

Editor Q just bought a series on sweet potatoes. Your sweet potatoes are actually just as good, (possibly better), but there isn't room for another sweet potato in this year's line-up. Yes, dear,he's going to pass.

So don't think of it as rejection..

Peas anyone?

4. A Word on Contests. We could talk for hours about contests, and in fact we usually do. May I suggest the following Seekerville articles?

Exploring Contest Mood-Disorder

Contests: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Savy Diva's Guide to Contests

Obsessive Contest Disorder: OCD

Contests are the single most subjective mode of exposure and potential for rejection available for a writer with reviews coming in second. Despite the contest coordinator's assurances, there really is no guarantee that the judge is qualified, knows the location of their reading glasses, or has taken their medication. Enough said.

5. If you'd like an outlet for your rejection consider the following options:

Your novel might never get published, but your rejection letters could make it big!

Bill Shapiro (editor of Other People's Love Letters) is looking for your literary rejection letters, planning to publish them in a 2010 collection entitled, Other People's Rejection Letters.

From the release: "Whether typed form letters or handwritten in a fit of rage, whether sent by text message, email, or scrawled in crayon, any kind of rejection is fair game ... If you have a letter, you can either send it to me or scan it (600 dpi, por favor) and then email it."

or check out a great rejection blog:Literary Rejections on Display: A vast public collection of real-life rejection

7. Here's a secret: I'm actually a pretty upbeat person with a slightly inappropriate sense of humor. I have a 24 hour rule about rejection and whining in general. During that 24 hours it's extremely satisfying to visit the following websites: (Hey, it works for me. )

And finally, before you toss those manuscript pages into the circular file:

Last Words on Rejection...

"Jack Kerouac, George Orwell and Sylvia Plath are just a few of the authors whose books were turned down by the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house. Researchers going through the Knopf archives have come across their rejection letters, as well as a few others." Check out this NPR audio program.

Rotten Rejections: The Letters That Publishers Wish They'd Never Sent written by Andre Bernard

Carrie by Stephen King

'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.'

Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller

‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’

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.’

From Ursula K Le Guin's web site: A rejection letter

Dear Miss Kidd,

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


  1. Tina,

    Thanks for a thought-provoking read on rejection. The bottom line is if you have rejections, it's evidence you are submitting. I collected more rejections last year than I ever have, which wasn't that many. My goal is to get more this year.

    Of course the best evidence of submitting is a contract.

    I'm on a new eating plan. Anyone care to join me for a Veggie Scramble?


  2. Are we up too late? Or did we get up too early?

    You bring the veggies and I'll bring the eggs.

    I hope this article isn't some kind of prediction! I'm trying to submit regularly this year. I already got one rejection but the editor said to keep them in mind. So I guess I was let down easy.

    I think the 24-hour rule is a good one.

  3. I love this! Thanks, Tina for the creative post on rejection. Even already-pubbed authors face "passing" aka rejection on a regular basis.

    Some of the best advice I heard on rejection was to think of it as "Redirection" rather than rejection.


  4. You guys are up way too early.

    But hey, if you're bringing food, we have trained you well.

    Rejection IS simply evidence we are writers. None of this aspiring stuff.


  5. Hi Tina,
    I brought cheese grits and biscuits this morning.

    Love your reflectons. My peas have been passed on as well.

    One unique rejection letter I received had a portion of the agent's dinner stuck to the page ...looked like perhaps KY Fried Chicken. A few grease spots too. She'd written a note to someone--probably her assistant--on the margin of my cover letter and that's what arrived in my mail along with the chicken. Interesting to say the least.

  6. Fun post, Tina! Rejection never goes away so learning to deal with it is important. We can take pride in those rejections. They're evidence we're forging ahead toward success!

    Thanks Cathy and Ann for the veggie scramble. What a great way to start my day here in Seekerville sharing breakfast with you all!


  7. Ann,

    To the up too late or up too early question, I say, what's the difference? I should have been in bed :)

    I wasn't posting at 1:50 a.m. here as the Seekerville clock shows. It was about 4:50 a.m. My daughter woke me from a deep sleep at 3:45 a.m. and I gave up getting back to sleep at 4:30 a.m..

    The upside? I'm on a trek for word count and have already written 500 words.

    We've gone from the deep freeze to flooding in Indiana. I hope plagues aren't next. :(

    Cathy, holed up and writing today

  8. INDIANA!!! Home of Janet Dean's Steeple Hill series. That info will come in handy on Friday..oops can't give away secrets just yet.

    Stay safe Cathy. Congrats on the word count!!!

  9. Ewwwwwwwwww, fried chicken rejection letter. That is what you call, paying your dues, Debby.

  10. Cathy, I've got an extra sump pump here, in case you need it. Just call me if the flooding gets too bad. Around here melt-off means mud.

    Lots of mud. Dogs and mud. Kids and mud.


    I love this, how rational rejection looks through this perspective. And I love Steven King's well-known opinions on rejection and the fear/risk of contracting new writers.

    Smart dude.

    Thank you for taking the time to put together a wonderful post on something near and dear to an author's heart. Tina's rule on whining has become a Seekerville bylaw, and I particularly loved her take on contest judges.

    Since I've skated both sides of that rink, I recognize the accuracy. But I don't need reading glasses, so at least I can SEE the manuscript I'm ripping to shreds.

    Which is how Mary and I came to love one another.

    Great post. Love the food. Cheese grits????


    Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!

    I've got a Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" cake with "Perfectly Chocolate Frosting" from the Hershey's cookbook Sarah gifted me with. Amazing recipes in there. My little friends McKenna and Nathan helped measure and stir, but I made sure tissues were handy. You know little kids.


    Dig in.


  11. Ah, Tina, rejections ... a favorite subject of mine. After all, I won the award for the most rejections in a year (19) at an ACFW Conference and up until then, I never had a prouder moment.

    Cathy S., you are dead on with your statement that "The bottom line is if you have rejections, it's evidence you are submitting." That in and of itself is praiseworthy.

    And Debbie -- a rejection letter with a side of chicken -- very novel, no pun intended! My worst rejection was actually scrawled across my own query letter, I suppose because the publisher didn't think it even warranted a piece of their own letterhead. It said -- in very fine script, I might add -- "no enthusiasm for this project."

    The bottom line is that rejection letters are a rite of passage for all writers and something to be proud. Not only because of the work, time and initiative it took to receive one, but the guts to put yourself out there. I know that I myself am quite proud of my total of 45 rejections on A Passion Most Pure (3 received AFTER I'd sold). Only seven more than Gone With the Wind. Mmm ... a proud moment for sure!

    Great post, Tina!


  12. tina, you always write blogs that are so interesting.

    (Yes, I know that's nice, I'll do it this once and then quit before you think I don't love you anymore)

    I'm going to be reading the links for hours. I love it.

    Stein on Writing, huh? I think I threw my file of rejection letters away a few years ago. I can't remember for sure, but I seem to remember this huge bonfire and what else could have fueled it for all those hours?

  13. I suppose my most interesting rejection letter was one from my own agent...who'd asked me to send her a proposal...then rejected it thinking I was someone subbing to her hoping for representation.

    I think we can all assume she didn't give it a very FAIR read.

  14. Another interesting one was one I got rejected because 'I didn't have a good historical voice.'

    Only trouble??? It was a contemporary...and they were driving a PICK-UP TRUCK on page three. So, that tells you how much of a chance they give you before they decide to reject. Hook them from the first sentence folks.

  15. Another superb post, Tina! You are the Queen of Fun (and Always Helpful) Information!

    One of my most, um, memorable rejections was a manuscript that came back tattered and stained with a big red REJECTED stamped on the cover page ... and nothing else!

  16. It's always so inspiring to hear that you are NOT the only one being rejected -- though sometimes it feels like the powers that be are gunning for you : )

    Great work, Tina. Made my day : )

  17. I have gotten email requests with the wrong manuscript title in the subject line. But it was to me and I had subbed. So I am no dummy. I sent my full by snail mail.

    And yes, there is the lovely rejection where they asked for a full and rejected you based on stuff that was in the partial and you wonder why because they did get a chance to see I was a moron in the first three why were they surprised?

  18. Mary, do you like um, hold that baby 24 / 7?

  19. Myra, I've gotten the STAMP OF DEATH before.

    Oh yeah, baby. I've also gotten a sticky note rejection, saving paper there.

  20. I've gotten floral stationary with rolling scrawl:

    "Did I request this? Don't know why I would have. Got anything else?*

    Man, I rushed out to send something else. . .NOT!

  21. How about:

    I write AND I SUBMIT MY WRITING, therefore I am a writer.

  22. Once I got an email from my agent saying "[Big Name Publisher] passed." Okay, does that mean they DIED!??!!? I hate that word "pass." If they're rejecting my book, then why don't they just say so, (although I'm not disparaging my agent. She's lovely and I love her.) But if someone dies, say they died, not that they passed. Anyway, that's just a weird pet peeve of mine.

    My first rejection from an agent was an email that said simply, "I'm going to pass." Which makes me crack up now. Yes, you're going to die. We all are. But she gave no reason at all. "I'm going to pass."

    And then, brilliant Tina, you said something that I've been wanting to say for a long time, but you put it so much better than I could have: "Despite the contest coordinator's assurances, there really is no guarantee that the judge is qualified, knows the location of their reading glasses, or has taken their medication."


  23. Oh, and another thing, how do you possibly keep up with how many rejections you've gotten? Some are emails. Do you print them all out and file them? Or do you have a separate email rejection folder? I bet Pam does!!!

  24. I got one from an agent (I say that loosely) with a scrawled message that said, "This manuscript needs work. May I assist?"

    The agency's rate sheet was attached.

  25. Separate email folder.

    A folder for hard copies. It's blue, so that I can find it easily. Well, it's so thick now that THAT'S an oxymoron! excel spreadsheet for tracking.

  26. Thank you Tina and Seekers. Loved the subject and happy to know I'm in such good company. I've been there many times but continue to press on. You provide encoragement. I love hearing also about your success stories, too. My friends and hubby still encourage me with "someday it will sell."

  27. First Melanie must be a Southern thing. I had never heard the term "passed" as related to death before. We Yankees say DEAD. When I was a nurse we said, EXPIRED. Which of course is like produce.

  28. Melanie dear, sorry to pick on you but we covered ORGANIZATION FOR THE ORGANIZATIONALLY IMPAIRED last year (April) in Seekerville. Dear me, were you absent for that class?

    You have one file, for all submissions. Then you pull it up and add your rejection or your sale. This enables you to at any time find out where any msc, short story, article has been.

  29. More on filing systems...I have expandable folders for each of my book mss. Anything related to that book (correspondence, research notes, etc.) all goes into the file. Before I got computerized, I kept a large ruled notecard with each ms. and recorded the submission data chronologically on the card. Now I use one Excel spreadsheet for all mss.

  30. To paraphrase Mary, I'm just too much of an artiste, darling, for all that organization.

    And I have to say, I'm happy not everyone in the country says PASSED for DIED. It grates on me.

    I do think the book I've submitted the most has gotten around 30 rejections now. But that doesn't include all the contest judges who hated it and weren't afraid to say so.

  31. Well, Melly, at least people have strong opinions. You don't want to be milktoast.

  32. Loved the post Tina, especially since I'm an expert on rejection letters. What a kick that someone is publishing a book of them. Ought to be a kick.

    Thanks for the veggie eggs, unfortunately its late for me and I'm ready for dinner. Guess I better go figure out something.

    Thanks again Tina.

  33. Oh yes, forgot to mention that I'm doing some rejecting of my own. I'm not doing chores this evening. I'm in the middle of Mary Connealy's Gingham Mountain and must put all aside and finish it.

  34. Okay, guys and gals, I brought homemade fudge for a late night snack.

    And I'm quaking at the thought of how organized some of my Seeker sisters are. I'm happy if I can find two socks and that my pants are long enough so no one knows they don't match.

    Or that they've got Santa Claus splayed all over them, with little Christmas trees scattered randomly.

    Very cute, especially when seasonally correct!

    Try some of the fudge. There's standard chocolate, Mamie Eisenhower style and a peanut butter/chocolate layered fudge that makes my family forget all the crazy things I do.

    Or at least overlook them!