Writing Tips

Rejection Letters–A Little Decoding

Rejected stampIn a perfect world, I wouldn’t need to send a rejection letter. Over the years, I’ve written so many that I’m confident there’s a chair with my name on it in that fiery place below the River Styx. So just to pave the way, I’ll give you some insight into my rejection letters. While I do take notes with each submission, I tend to use the same sentences over and over (not always). 90% of the projects I turn away have the same problems, and there just isn’t time to go into much detail.

Here are my top–but not only–phrases in order of most used:

1. The pacing is inconsistent… So, the first chapter moves quickly. Second and third chapters, not so much. I will then go to the middle of the book and read from there. Every novel has a lull or two (hello, Gone with the Wind), but if your story is mostly lulls, I’m sending it back.

2. The romantic tension isn’t strong enough… Time to add the sizzle and angst for me. The story should make me suffer, wondering if the hero and heroine will wind up together by the end.

3. The hero/heroine is unsympathetic… This is self-explanatory, though not always for reasons one might think. Sure, there’s the irredeemable jerk of a hero or the mean-for-no-reason heroine. There’s also an undefined, almost typical character, who can be just as unsympathetic to me. I can’t relate to this in the romance world. This is subjective, of course. Typical could be awesome to another editor.

4. The premise isn’t what we’re seeking at this time… When I write this, I usually mean that aspects of the story don’t seem “salable” to me. Your plot could be a fascinating one, but I can’t fathom how my readers would need to pick it up over every other offering. That said, your story could sell a bazillion copies elsewhere and you’ll prove me wrong big-time! I’m fine with this.

5. If you receive what seems like a standard rejection (because of the volume of submissions we receive, we can’t comment specifically…), your best bet is to go back to the drawing board and consider a different project. Try to avoid resubmitting the same work. Unless the manuscript is wildly different, chances are it will be re-rejected and that’s just no fun.

6. If I seem heartbroken in the letter you receive and encourage you to keep pursuing this project, this means that, as much as I love your story, it’s just not for us. The devastation I feel is knowing that another place willΒ  snap it up. I send this kind of rejection about once every three years.

7. I would be happy to look at your future projects…This line is always a good thing to read in a rejection letter. Take it at face value and keep sending.

These are my key phrases, and I’m glad when I don’t have to use them. Though rejection is a downer, it is an answer. To move forward, writers need answers and information. I hope this helps–and I’d like to confirm once again that this is a subjective business. Your story may be pure gold. Just because I reject the project, it’s still worth a whole lot (writing a book is very, very hard).


14 thoughts on “Rejection Letters–A Little Decoding”

  1. I really appreciate this, thank-you. I haven’t reached the point where I’m brave enough to send my work in, yet, but when I do I hope to be one of those that you don’t have to send one of these to. πŸ™‚ The more I read, the more I learn, now to apply some of it, lol

  2. I hope you send in your work! One thing to note is that in 16 years, I’ve only met one writer who’d never received a rejection letter–sold on her first try. If you receive that dreaded letter–and I hope you don’t–just remember you’re not alone. πŸ™‚

    1. I have to say, since I’ve begun this dream, that’s been the best thing about it, you people. You are some of the kindest I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something. I owned and operated my own restaurant for thirteen years and interacted with many different personalities but never received as much positive feedback as I have with the whole RWA community. πŸ™‚

  3. I learned a lot from some of the rejection letters I received. (Not all of them, of course. But some.) If I sent out the same novel to a number of agents (or later, editors) and received similar comments, it often pointed out a place where I could improve the story, or my writing in general. [Coff, character depth, coff.] And as I got further and further along the path, I found that I could judge how close I was getting by the amount of detail in the rejections.

    Rejection is a part of being an author, and eventually you learn (hopefully) not to take them personally. And don’t worry. Patience. we love you anyway πŸ™‚

  4. I started writing and sending out fiction short stories at age 13. I kept on writing because I loved telling stories. I got more and more rejects–most of them a “xerox” copy. Every once in a blue moon, I’d actually get a hand written sentence from an editor. I continued to hone my craft and the one and only college course I ever took, the woman teacher (who was well published in fiction with major magazines) ask me what I was doing in her class! She said I had all the skills in place–so keep on writing. That someday, I would get my foot in the door. Back in my day, there were no RWA, no rah-rah clubs, second readers or impassioned fans who adored a writer’s work and wanted to read and critique it, or critique circles (I actually started the first one back in Ohio in the 1970’s and ran it for many years).

    The moral of this story was at some point, 1975, I think, I wrote my first novel. It got 29 rejects from the 29 New York publishers. I put it in a box and took it out in 1985. This time, 6 rejects form the 6 New York Publishers. I put it in a box. In 1998, I took it out, cleaned it up and decided to put it out as an ebook. That book by Hardshell Publishing, one of the early Ebook publishers, was called Valkyrie. I’d finally gotten the book of my heart “out there.” And then, it won Romantic Times Ebook of the Year in 2000. Talk about vindication and not giving up on a book I loved. Right? Right.

    By the time I sold my first book to a major New York Publishing House, Berkeley Publishing, I was 35 years old. I had accrued ONE THOUSAND REJECT SLIPS by that time. I spent 22 years honing my craft, always writing what I would like to read. I never tried to write something else other than what impassioned me. I was wayyyyy a head of my time. Those 22 years served me well. It taught me organization, discipline, focused passion, not letting some one else tell me what I should write vs. what I needed to write. Every reject made me stronger. More determined. No one was going to tell me that what I was writing wasn’t worth publishing. I knew deep down, it was. True grit.

    And once I got my foot in the door, I took off. I’m still flying Mach 3 with my hair on fire. I’ve now got 110 books published, 23 million in sales, in 22 foreign languages, and I’m just starting. I’m happily over at Harlequin who really turned me loose to do “my thing, my way” and they just stayed out of the way and let me fly. A good editor does that. And I’ve had some of the greatest editors in the business, including Patient Bloom.

    Oh, you know that first book I wrote? That earned universal rejection from New York Publishers twice? 35 rejections all told…. Harlequin bought the book two years ago and turned it into an Ebook and renamed it DANGER CLOSE. It became the foundation book to my very successful SHADOW WARRIORS series that is just now, starting to take off. In this case, the book is about women in combat…something I foresaw back in 1975. I had to wait for the world to catch up to the vision I saw. Hence the 35 rejects by New York. Women in combat wasn’t even on their radar. But now, we’re in sync!

    Moral of this story is remember this: a rejection is ONE PERSON’S OPINION. Especially rejects that are copies. If something is hand written on them–pay attention. That editor took a little of his or her precious time to tell you something she/he felt was important about your work. You’ll never last to get published if you let a reject stop you. Are you going to let one person’s opinion stop you? I hope not, but I see it all too often. Writers who make it are built tough. You have to be to make it in this business. It’s not for the faint-of-heart. You have to learn to take constructive criticism (critique) and learn from it. And remember this more than anything else: No one can write like you can. Your voice, your experiences, how you see the world through your particular lens, gives your stories the uniqueness they automatically have. You don’t need to be in competition with anyone else. There is only one of you. Your books are your brain children and you birth them, care for them and then send them out into the world to be judged.

    Books are judged by what readers want to read. Publishers know that. So do editors. If your book is rejected, there’s lots of reasons why as Patience has clearly outlined above. But it doesn’t mean your book is a loser. Or worthless. It means none of these things. You just keep honing your skills, focusing your voice and your passion for what you write and never–ever–look back. Nowadays, there are so many other publishing venues available to unpubbed writers. In my day they didn’t have ebooks. I’m sure if they’d come along in 1975, I’d have been in ebooks in a heart beat. So, don’t give up. If you really love to tell stories, you will tell them, write them and someday, they will find the proper “home.”

    1. That is something I’m coming to learn, slowly. The first few times I sent my work out for a contest or a critique group and it came back with ‘to much ing’s’ or why did you use this word or that phrase I was very disheartened and wondered whether this is for me. I mean, I thought it was about the story, not whether I knew perfect grammar or not? But I’m tougher than that, I’ve picked myself up, started taking some classes and hopefully am learning a little along the way. πŸ™‚ I can’t even imagine what that would feel like, to write 110 books, WOW. Very cool

      1. jbiggar, to run a good critique group is worthy of Patience doing a blog on it. If it’s a good group who recognizes a writer’s voice and doesn’t over lay it with their own judgement, then you have free rein to continue to bloom and find your voice.

        Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. I feel strongly writers need incubation period to develop. If you go to a critique group too soon, you are not confident enough in your own voice, dug deeply and connected to your passion for what you write–then, it can cause lack of confidence in the writer and it tears them apart. Why not spend time alone with yourself? You don’t need anyone to tell you anything. We are all natural born story tellers. We have lived life. We have experienced life. We live through good and bad things. They all shape us. No one knows us like we know ourselves. And it is out of that alchemical magic within us, that the writer’s voice is born and then allowed to grow.

        Sometimes our best teacher is listening our own inner voice. Story telling isn’t about grammar. Story telling is its own essential being. Grammar can be learned at any time. So can spelling. But the passion with which you write–well–that can’t be taught, that can’t be bought and it is unique to you. So, I hope you spend some quiet time with your birthing process–honor the process because it is one–and blossom within your own story telling. At some point in the future, and you will know when that is, you can bring your brain child you birthed out. But I wouldn’t put it in front of a critique group. I would trust myself, trust what I wrote and after you have learned the grammar/spelling, then send it to a publisher who is looking for that kind of story telling. Trust yourself.

      2. That’s the best advice I have ever heard. I think I got so caught up in the well meant critiques given by the judges of contests that I was starting to be scared to write anything. I feel like I have something worthwhile to tell and you’re right, I should take my time with that, savor it and to hell with what others think. At least until I’m ready for it to go out into the world, Thanks πŸ™‚

      3. Jacquie, THAT is the attitude you must always have to not only survive in this business, but to thrive. The old adage, “To thine own self be true,” was never truer (I know this is a made up word….I make up words all the time…). And it becomes VITAL that you find your voice, protect it, nurture it, love it, love yourself for who you are, and then stay focused on that alone. Write only what inspires you. Write only what you are passionate about. Someone, somewhere, will love what you write. Writing is healing for the author as well as the reader ;-).

  5. I’ve received a number of rejection letter, Patience sent me the sweetest one ever…it’s the only one I ever framed…and to this day when I think of her and her letter I can’t help but smile.

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