Monday, May 10, 2010

Rejection Stories

There’s no doubt about it. Rejections suck. Even though we know we shouldn’t take them too personally (this is a business, after all) it’s difficult not to feel like you’ve taken a body blow when you read the words “Your story does not meet our requirements at this time.”

It’s tough enough when the rejection comes in the form of a polite form letter. But what about those not so polite rejections? Toni V. Sweeney ( writes:

"Even now, I still remember my worst rejection. It came from a magazine editor concerning a short story I had submitted. He literally tore it (and me) to pieces, said it was asinine, the characters were a knock-off of two on a current soap opera (of which I was completely unaware since I had a day job and wouldn't watch soap opera anyway) and even ridiculed the clothes they wore. I came very close to crying as I read that letter. I couldn't believe someone could be so vicious. I put that story away for almost 20 years before I submitted it anywhere else. The day Amazon accepted it for their Amazon Shorts section, I wanted to do nothing more than send that editor a note and point out that apparently Amazon had better taste."

Toni indeed had the last laugh. You can read the story in question, entitled “For Love and Adler’s Brain” by clicking here.

Author Sandy Sullivan ( ) was rejected because she had too much of a good thing:

"I think my biggest rejection was for my first novel, Cowboy Love. I was told by one publisher that it "had too many twists and turns. It wouldn't hold a reader’s attention." That novel went on to be my first published piece with Siren and was a top 10 best seller for them last year."

Lilly Gayle ( writes: “I once had an agent tell me in his rejection letter that I should quit writing because no one was publishing silly little romances any more and that’s why he was no longer taking submissions for slush he couldn’t sell. I wondered if he even read the 3 chapters his website said to submit under the category: Romance-actively seeking … Good thing I’m stubborn and not prone to giving up easily.”

And then there are the truly bizarre rejection stories. All Kari Thomas ( )wanted was guidelines:

"Back when Silhouette was about to launch the "Nocturne" Series I sent a short 2 line query (snail mail back then) asking for their guidelines. A month later I received a THREE page Rejection letter ---correctly addressed to ME---telling me ALL the faults of my submissions and that they would politely have to refuse it. Those 3 pages were FULL of details about my manuscript's faults. I just sat there shaking my head and muttering: But I didn’t submit ANYTHING to them! I hadn’t even WRITTEN the book yet!"

And another bizarre story from fellow Prairie Chick Helena. At the last minute, she submitted a short story to a local literary magazine:

"I keep a careful record of my submissions and the results. Well, imagine my chagrin when I opened my file to record the submission (after it was sent) and discovered that I had previously submitted the same story to the same publication and it had not been accepted. I almost emailed them to withdraw it. I decided to let it be and see what would happen.

Well, this time the story was accepted. So I went to the launch of the publication, and discovered that they had printed only the first half of it, and it was not labeled as an excerpt (there was an option given for submitting an excerpt from a longer work, but my story was within the word limit of the category). I was not informed that they would do this, or asked to choose an excerpt which I wouldn't have done. Believe me, this was worse than a rejection!!!"

Occasionally a writer will get a “good” rejection letter, like this one that Stephanie Beck ( received:

"I actually just got a rejection that made me think. The MS is great (I know, I'm slightly biased but I knew it was good) and the editor agreed but questioned the way I had labeled it. I thought it was a contemporary romance, a bit spicy but quite mainstream. She said it was too mystery minded to be romance, pointed out the actual page counts of which parts were romance building compared to which parts were mystery building. It showed me that she read it all and put a lot of thought into the rejection. I appreciated that fact so incredibly much. … If I had to get a rejection, it was a good one."

Most writers agree that a rejection letter that actually tells you (nicely) why you’ve been rejected is preferable to the standard “Your work does not suit us at this time” form letter.

What is the best way for a writer to deal with rejection? Be professional and remember to keep a cool head. It won’t do your writing career any good to go online and slam those who have rejected you.

The best advice for authors receiving rejection: don’t stop writing. Ashley M. Christman ( says “The only tip I would give any up and coming authors is to keep trying. Keep writing and never get discouraged.”

Do you have an unusual or inspirational rejection story? How do rejections affect you? Do they kick the stuffing out of you or do they make you even more determined to succeed?


Danielle Thorne said...

Probably one of my favorite discussions, Jana. Knowing other people go through the same rejections helps, and I know I learn a little bit each time. Well, okay, haha, most of the time. The worse rejection I ever received was from an editor who claimed he read my submission with his staff over and over--and just couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something wrong with my voice. ???

I now take that as a compliment. It's called original!

Silver James said...

I've had a few form-letter rejections. Most of the "real rejections" were quite helpful, but for one. After requesting a full, a well-known romance publisher told me the plot was "too sophisticated for their readers." Uhm...okay?

FAERIE FATE was rejected several times because "time travel isn't hot anymore." Thank goodness, publishing is cyclical!

Great post, Jana!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Great post Jana,
I think rejection is one of those things we can get used to, but never truly feel okay about. But hey - we're writers and if there is one characteristic we all have in common, it's perseverence!

connie said...

Hi Jana

If at first you don't suceed

And you could just submit again, after a goodly time, to the editor who rejected it - just for the halibut.

Janet said...

Hate rejections, but they are part and parcel of being a writer. I combat rejections by opening up my Rejection Kit and having a good day of self-pity and wallowing.

I would love to get a rejection that says more than just "Not right for us, good luck." It really doesn't give you anything to go on. I guess you just keep submitting it (thanks, Connie) and staying determined and persistant (thanks, Joanne).

Great post, Jana - some of those rejections are amazing (Helena - I didn't know that story - yikes).

Karyn Good said...

I haven't been rejected. Yet. But then I haven't submitted anything either. But I'm very close. So, that experience maybe just around the corner :)

I'll be sure to come back here when one of those right-of-passage rejection letters hits my mailbox.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Dani,
Thanks for dropping by. I agree that it helps to know most writers have faced rejection at one time or another, including some very big names like J.K. Rowling. I guess misery really does love company!

As far as something being wrong with your voice? Who knows what that editor was talking about. Good for you for keeping positive and looking on the sunny side!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Silver,
Too sophisticated? I think they were selling romance readers short. Readers will respond to a good story. Period. It doesn't need to be dumbed down for them.

Thank goodness publishing is cyclical! It means some of our favorite stories come back into fashion again.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Joanne,
If you're in this business long enough you develop something of a tough hide. But no matter what, those rejections still sting! You just can't let them defeat you. Like you said, perservence is the key.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Connie,
You're absolutely right. The best cure for the rejection blues is to keep on writing and keep on submitting. But I don't think I'd resubmit to the same editor before doing a major rewrite and probably changing the name of the manuscript!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Rejections suck! I've received enough of them to paper a wall or two so I'm well acquainted.

Most of my rejections have been the polite form letter kind. But I did once receive a fairly lengthy explanation type rejection letter from a Harlequin editor when I first started writing. At the time I didn't know enough to attempt to read between the lines and see if she might look at the manuscript again if I rewrote, using some of her suggestions. I only focused on the "No" and didn't do anything with it. Some time I'm going to have to dig out that letter and see if I can decipher it with the knowledge I have now.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
Here's hoping you bypass the Rejection Club and go straight to the Published Club. But if you should find yourself in the Rejection Club at some point, know that you're in very good company!

Go get 'em!

Celia Yeary said...

One rejection letter said, "We can't accept this because of the possibility of cheating. If you're going to keep doing this, get an agent." Huh? My couple was a smart uptight university professor whose boyfriend/friend was someone just like her, except much more of a nerd (they had no physical relationship). Enter a football coach who bowled my heroine over. The heroine fell for him and had to figure out how to tell this other man. That was "cheating", which wouldn't do for this publisher. The agent remark? Haven't figured that one out yet. Thanks, Jana Celia

Lilly Gayle said...

Great blog. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's gotten vicious and odd rejection letters. My advice to pre-published authors is the same as Tim Allen's character, Captain Peter Quincy Tagart, from the movie Galaxy Quest: Never give up. Never Surrender!

Jan Bowles said...

Hi Jana

It is nice to know that we all at one time or another experience rejection letters. About 15 years ago I wrote 3 stories, and had 3 rejection letters, ranging from you show potential, to you're really not listening to our advice.

I stopped writing for 15 years, until only a year ago when I finally looked back at my manuscripts and revised one of them. Now I have three books published.

My advice. Never give up, and never stop doing something that you enjoy.


CJ Parker said...

Way back when I first started sending out queries I received a rejection that was a one liner on the back of my query. It said, "You got to be kidding me."
I had to laugh to keep from crying.

Mary Ricksen said...

Rejections are a part of writing we'd all like to avoid. But constructive ones can be so helpful. I only got one rejection. He asked me why I would think he wanted to publish my book. It was dribble. I was very upset. But when I submitted to TWRP I got a great letter telling me how to fix the problems. That's the way to go. I went on to publish with them.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Celia,
Good grief, that's a puzzler. Last night I stayed up late to reread Jo Beverly's "Deirdre and Don Juan". In this book Deirdre believes herself in love with another man who has asked her to marry him (for convenience sake) and Don has to persuade her he's the one for her. So I guess you could call that cheating. Yesterday I found this book on the Romantic Times website as one of the favorite books of 1993. It worked for Jo Beverley...


Jana Richards said...

Hey Lilly,
Thanks for letting me talk about your experience! Good thing you're stubborn and persistent. It has paid off for you!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Jan,
Thanks for joining us here on the Prairies!

A writer's confidence is often a very shakey thing. Having someone tell us our writing isn't up to par confirms that little voice in our heads that whispers "What makes you think you can write?" Good for you for having the courage to go back to what you love.


Jana Richards said...

Hi CJ,
"You've got to be kidding me?" Really? All you can do is laugh at that one. Somebody must have been having a really bad day :)

C'est la vie.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Mary,
I totally agree with you. A rejection that points out what can be done to make a novel marketable is incredibly helpful. I've had that experience at TWRP myself. Unfortunately, it seems that editors at many houses, especially big NY publishers, don't have the time to offer feedback. They barely have the time to read the slush pile! So those polite form letter rejections persist. And the occassional not so polite one like you received :(


Mary Marvella said...

I haven't had horrid rejections but some that had a cut and past of the H/S website of possible reasons for rejections. Okay? So what did that have to do with my story?

I love the ones that all are all good until "But I just didn't love it enough to...

I did have an editor say that while she couldn't buy a book of mine, she loved it and believed it deserved to be published, even if I had to self publish it.

Not yet.

Beth Trissel said...

Oh wow, is this the blog for me! Back in the day, I received ooodles of rejections from agents and editors. I had my 'good' ones too that I treasured, but quite a few not so good. A reader for an agent made the comment that my love scene was neither sexy nor sweet and my story unmemorable. One agent stamped Rejected on my original query letter with a red stamp and sent it back with no further explanation. Another included a check list of all the possible reasons I may have been rejected and I was to choose whichever seemed most likely. Talk about needing a second and third skin. Whew. I'm amazed I hung in there all those years.

Collette Thomas said...

Many years ago I submitted at story to the Kismet Line and was given a "definite almost." Of course the rejections was a great disappointment since the manuscript had been with this particular publisher for over a year. Nonetheless, eventually the story was published, received a four star review from Romantic Times Book Club Magazine and is now available at The Wild Rose Press titled No More Secrets, No More Lies. That "definite almost" became a definite plus!

Marie Roy (aka Collette Thomas)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Ooh, love the post. I've only received 2 rejections so far as follows:

1. A form rejection which didn't tell me anything

2. A good rejection which told me why they didn't want it but they were willing to see something else.

I was going to say I had a 3rd rejection but actually, instead of a rejection, it offered revisions and a chance to resubmit it so I guess that doesn't count.

Yes, I've been blessed. No nasty stuff.

Thanks, Jana.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Mary M.,
I'm glad you haven't received any rejections that have left you scarred for life! As far as self-publishing, I'm not sure I'd want to go that route either. You'd have to be skilled at marketing and sales to get the book into readers' hands, and I'd rather spend my time writing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Like critiques, I think rejections need a day in the fridge to let the flavors blend and take the bite off it. My rejections have come from short fiction submissions so far, so nothing I've poured years of blood, sweat, and tears into. They were standard, 'not right for us' one-liners, or the slightly less ambiguous 'thanks but no thanks.' Still, it told me enough.

In the case of Fool's Fire, I knew that the story wasn't violently flawed, just not right for those particular markets. Once I saw the winners of the contest I originally wrote it for, I knew they were looking for something incredibly different from my interpretation.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Beth,
Wow, you've had some traumatic experiences! After all the stories I've heard it's a wonder any of us keep at it. But I'm glad I hung in there and I'm glad you hung in there too.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Collette,
Thanks for stopping by. Sometimes those definite maybes are the most frustrating because you're so close but yet so far. I'm glad you were able to turn your definite maybe into a definite yes.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I'm glad you haven't received any of the nasty stuff. Just keep submitting and I'm sure your "not yet" letters will turn to "yes please" letters.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
I like your analogy. Best to put the rejection away and let it rest for a while. Don't turn to drink immediately or jump off a bridge or anything.

I'm so pleased you found a home for your story. Congratulations! I'm sure your long fiction will be next.


Molli said...

Hi Jana. Enjoyed this one. I don't have a lot of rejections to share (have to submit to collect them, right?), but once I make myself take the leap again I plan to remind myself of Mr. King's experience (King, as in Stephen) -- the one where he went from using a nail in the wall to a spike to hold the rejections because the nail couldn't hold them all.
Thanks for the zany stories.

Janice said...

My last rejection was full of the whys the editor didn't like it. I thank her, and said you've given me a lot to think about.

So I'm fixing the story but sending it some place new.

I'm not letting this or anything else stop me from writing.


Mistress Rae said...

I've heard a little rumor that a lot of so-called 'editors' are 'failed writers' themselves, often taking glee in tearing up someone else's work, which, IMHO, reeks of immaturity, unprofessionalism, spitefulness and unfairness to those trying to make their way in the literary world. I know having manners in this day and age has went down the drain, but geez, they need have compassion, especially for the newbies out there, you know? I haven't really ran into an 'unprofessional' one yet; one anthology publisher simply said they had a tough time picking out the stories they wanted to include in their anthology, and 'had to let mine go'. It only means you can try another place. (^_^)I've had my days of form rejection letters too, and my response to those types are just as cold and emotional as the paper it was sent on, lol. As writers, we write, and passionate writers won't let someone else's opinion stop us! There's an audience out there waiting our stuff. (^_^)
Great stories here, btw! I enjoyed them very much. (^_^)

Destiny Blaine said...

I’ve learned to treasure the helpful and dismiss the snarky rejection letters.

About a year ago, one such letter arrived in my inbox from a fairly well known publisher. The editor wrote, "I know your work is published with several other houses. Congratulations....." from that point, she began to chop, chop, chop.

Like Sandy's book, this story sold very well somewhere else. The manuscript was around 15,000 words and sold over 500 copies within a short period of time. This was a ‘heart piece’ and not something considered as a ‘best selling’ short story.

I resisted the urge to send this particular editor a thank you note. Based on what I’ve heard, the e-book wouldn’t have sold anywhere near 500 copies at the other publisher.

Oh and Jana is right—you develop a tough hide in this business!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Molli,
It's comforting to know that even someone as talented as Stephen King was rejected - a lot. He just kept putting his work out there until someone finally realized how good it was. It pays to be persistent!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janice,
Thanks for joining the discussion. The editor must have seen a lot of merit in your work or she wouldn't have taken the time to give you feedback. Maybe she'd like to see your work again once you've polished it up?

Good luck with your edits and in finding a home for your story.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Mistress Rae,
I've been very lucky in that the editors I've worked with have been very professional and really knew their stuff. I truly believe their input made my stories better. I would think it was in an editor's best interest for her authors to be successful.

Sometimes I wonder where old fashioned courtesy, not to mention compassion has gone. If someone doesn't like your work, they can just say 'no thanks'. They don't have to rip you to pieces as well.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Destiny,
Thanks for stopping at the Prairies!

Rejections are a fact of life for an author, and if you are to survive in this business, you have to learn to roll with the punches, and sift the good from the meanspirted. Easier said than done sometimes however. That's where the tough hide comes in handy!