Friday, May 8, 2009

What Every Author Fears...Rejection Letters

Writers go through their share of rejection responses from either editors or agents. Some are merely form letters or postcards. I've received my query letters back with "Sorry, not for us" written at the top. Others write what appears to be personal letters, softening the blow by giving information as to why a query/partial/full has been rejected.

I have some memorable rejections I'll talk about...without giving names, of course.

FAMOUS QUERY REJECTION: I'd sent a query to a NY publisher after carefully writing a book for one of their lines. I'd read their guidelines and was sure I'd done my research before sending in the query.
I received a rejection...standard form letter...that had some personal sentences written on it. I was told this particular line didn't want children in it (nowhere in the guidelines did it say that!). Not only that, but this editor didn't think the book would fit any of their that was it for me. I couldn't send a query to a different editor in this publishing house for a different line. The book went nowhere.

FAMOUS PARTIAL REJECTION: I'd send a query to a well-known agent and a partial was requested. I sent in the partial and waited. A personal rejection letter, unsigned, was sent to me. I was thanked for sending in a full manuscript but the agent had problems with things in the story. I wrote back and advised the agent I'd only sent in a partial...and wondered if this person was talking about my partial or someone else's full manuscript. I received a very short reply stating that once the agent sends feedback about a submission, no further response would be given. To this day, I don't know what the agent read and was commenting about.

FAMOUS FULL REJECTIONS: I have two here. When I first started writing, I knew nothing about the industry. I sent our queries and had two agents ask to see the entire manuscript. One rejected it without comment, but the other agent was kind enough to give me some feedback. Seems I forgot to put dialogue in the story. Oh, I had some scattered throughout the story, but I'd narrated almost the entire book.

The second rejection for a full submission was very strange. I sent what the agent requested. Months later, she called me on a Saturday and spent thirty minutes telling me she was almost done reading it, liked what she read, asked me what else I was working on, etc. She said she'd get back to me on Monday or the latest, by the following Friday. A month later, I got another call from her. She proceeded to tell me all that was wrong with the book, how I needed to rewrite it, and gave me the names of four books on writing I should buy and read. I politely thanked her for her time and never sent her anything else.

So, do you have any rejection letter stories that make you shake your head and wonder about agents/editors and the sanity/professionalism of the entire publishing industry?



Anny Cook said...

I once had a book rejected because it was too similar to another book. I've been told that this is very common. There are only so many stories out there.

Terry Odell said...

This was by far the "winner" for me:

"We did review your proposal, and for some reason we don't feel we can represent it. Some of them come close, and yours may well be one of those, but we do have our reasons for declining."

jean hart stewart said...

Your post is great, but I think one has to have a certain amount of luck to be published. Of course you have to be a good writer, but it helps to submit to the right editor at the right time. I think being pubbed is part talent, part perseverance, and part luck.

Marianne Stephens said...

Thanks Anny, Terry, and Jean for your comments!
Terry - yep, I agree. Your rejection is a "winner". Good grief...doesn't sound like a profession agent at all!

Anita Birt said...

Thanks for the smile. I have had my share of rejections but the one that truly baffled me came from Harlequin. I had sent in a partial and in fairly short order had a request to send in the complete manuscript!!! Was I thrilled? I was.

Then the complete manuscript was returned. Without a letter. Nothing. So I wrote, politely, to Harlequin asking if this was a practice of theirs. Nothing. Not even the courtesy of a reply. We behave like professionals and are treated like ...

I really enjoyed your blog.

Mona Risk said...

Marianne, your rejection letters cracked me up. I have two folders full of them. Many had good suggestions, some were form letters. Some never answered. I guess they must have misplaced the ms or used it to secure the foot of their desk.

Marianne Stephens said...

Mona and Anita - thanks for commenting. Anita - no response is just rude and unprofessional, especially since they requested it. One of my famous rejections was from Harlequin, too.

Mona - yep - I think lots of agents/editors "misplace" our stuff to keep their desks level!

Sandy said...


I don't know why my first comment didn't make it in here, but here goes again.

I once had an agent who said she liked my story, but with today's market she didn't know how to sell it. That was probably 8 to 10years ago. lol

Anonymous said...

My query letter got a bite from a well-known agent who brags that she normally doesn't accept them. I sent in the requested pages, and I got a rejection e-mail stating that "Carrots" was well-written but not what they were looking for. Since my book was not named "Carrots" nor had anything whatsoever to do with vegetables, I e-mailed back and got another very nice response stating the premise was good but not for them. To this day I don't know if she really read my material, and I haven't submitted anything else to the agency.

Margaret Carter said...

In a query to an agent many years ago I made what I now realize to be a newbie error. I'd sent her the prologue and synopsis of a werewolf novel, and she asked to see the full MS. I got a rejection (in the form of one of those printed checklists, which is a lot better than no personalization at all) on which she'd either checked or handwritten that a novel should start with something "important" happening to the protagonist (or words to that effect). My reaction was along the line of "good grief, it starts with both her siblings being killed by a mysterious animal!" What I had done was to send the rest of the novel, assuming I didn't have to include the prologue because she already had it. Only much later did it dawn on me that she'd probably filed it away and forgotten it by the time she got around to reading the full -- and therefore thought the book started with the heroine getting on a bus to go to work about a year later.

My most exasperating rejection was from an agent I'd met at an RWA pitch session. I described my WIP (fairly clearly, I thought) and stated definitely that the only kind of romance I was interested in writing was paranormal. She asked to see the novel. I sent her the sample material from my vampire romance -- and she rejected it on the grounds that it was too paranormal for her!


Alexis Fleming said...

I think the rejection written by hand on the back of a grocery list and then posted back to me in my SASE was the topper as far as my rejections goes.

Oh and I just received one a couple of months ago. Once again written by hand, but on a two inch wide strip of notepaper. Hey, it was personalized, right? lol

Marianne Stephens said...

Ah, the stories we have to tell! Cheryl (anonymous) - I remember your famous "Carrots" non-book rejection!
Margaret - too funny! Your book was "too paranormal"?? I entered a contest once in the paranormal category and one critique I got back (with a low score) said the reader couldn't suspend disbelief over something I'd written (a time travel). Isn't that what paranormal is? Anything goes because it's paranormal??
Alexis - a rejection on the back of a grocery list? AND, one on a two inch strip of paper?
Makes you wonder more and more about the "professionals" we send our stuff too!
Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

fabian black said...

The trouble with so many editors is that they imagine they know best, in fact eight times out of ten they don't. They're merely opinionated butchers of other people's babies. They take the lifeblood out of your work and give you back a nicely embalmed corpse. Of course there are some editors who can give truly useful and constructive advice without robbing your work of originality and personality, but they're a rarity, at least in my experience. :-)