Monday, November 19, 2007


My first rejection—hmmm. That brings back painful and embarrassing memories. At that time I was writing historical fiction—about 2500 years ago in the Florida Everglades. (Later, thanks to Jean Auel and CLAN OF THE CAVEBEAR, it got it’s own genre name of pre-historic fiction.) I sent out at least thirty query letters to agents and had already decided that I would send the manuscript on a first come, first serve basis. Whoever responded to me first would be the lucky agent to first get to read (and of course then represent) my gem of a book. To my surprise and dismay, agents were not quick to respond, and it was all I could do to keep from calling and ask if they had received my query. I am so thankful now that I resisted. How bad would that have been? Finally, responses started appearing in my mailbox. Most were in the form of pre-printed cards that all said basically the same thing, no thanks, and then ended with a note wishing me well. After about ten of these notes from the unimaginative, mistaken agents, I had grown some thick skin, even though my ego was in drought mode. I began collecting the rejections in a scrapbook because one day I would have the chance to wave their missed opportunity in their faces. And that would feel so good.

After more rejections my hurt feelings were finally coupled with reality. I think the one rejection that really struck home was the one from an agent who sent the traditional “no thanks” card but felt so strongly against my “jewel” that he scribbled a note about how bad and asinine my idea was. Wow, somebody really hated it that much! Luckily it wasn’t my first rejection or I would have given up.

It wasn’t long after that when the first couple of letters showed up requesting to see the manuscript. A trickle of self-esteem began returning. Then, at last my “baby” found a home.
I still have that scrapbook. It keeps me humble. And when a yet unpublished writer asks my best advice, I tell them to keep sending it out, sending it out, sending it out. So many give up after the first rejection. There is no magic bullet to getting published. It takes hard work and determination. Very rarely is it because you know someone in the business. For most of us it is doing our homework and being persistent. Writing is such a personal thing and rejection does hurt, but it doesn’t stop us. Writers need to write, so we keep on.


Mark Terry said...

Over the years I've received rejection letters from agents and/or editors--even editors who received things via an agent--where they went out of their way to give harmful criticism. I don't mean things like, "Your writing is awkward" or "this story is kind of dull," which, in their own way I suppose would be useful.

The more memorable one was for a novel I wrote called OUT ON A LIMB about a northern Michigan private eye, who had a dog named Elvis. To which some editor said, "I could relate more to the dog than the main character."

It's stuck with me because it's so profoundly useless an observation on the part of the editor. It seems to be more about her than about the work.

Over the years I've decided that most rejections don't mean very much. An editor has a bad day, the editor doesn't like your agent, whatever. Mostly a rejection--especially if you've had some sort of publishing track record--means:

On any given day this given editor/agent did not respond enough to your work to purchase/represent it.

It doesn't necessarily mean your work is bad or unpublishable. It doesn't, really, mean anything.

I recently had an editor turn down a novel I wrote for children after holding it for some time, commenting finally, "I really liked it and I was seriously thinking of publishing it. I really, really gave it a lot of thought. But ultimately I decided there wasn't quite enough there."

"Not quite enough there" just doesn't mean much, does it? What, no story? You didn't like the characters? The location? Description? Dialogue?

No, all it means is she didn't respond to it quite enough to go out on a limb for it. Which I guess says more about her than the work.

Felicia Donovan said...

You're so right, Lynn. Tenacity and persistence are often what make the difference between "writer" and "author."

We all have the Rejection Scrapbook. With scrapbooking so popular these days, maybe we should market one especially for writers with cutouts that say "Keep sending it out!" and "Believe in yourself" emblazoned in raised gold to stick on those rejection notes.

From another viewpoint, I know that many writers think agents are evil beings that derive some sadistic pleasure in sending out those rejection notes. They're not. Agents need clients to stay afloat. They're honest-to-God people, some very nice people (like my agent, Jill Grosjean), who keep their ear to the ground and know far more than I ever will about what the publishing market demands are at that moment. Too bad that a small few give the other really great agents a bad rep.

Keith Raffel said...

I'm too superstitious to comment on rejections while I have a manuscript circulating!

Candy Calvert said...

Keith, me too.

Cross my eyes, spit over my left shoulder, spin my coffee cup counterclockwise . . .

Lynn, did you sell a FIRST manuscript?

(Keith Raffel said: I'm too superstitious to comment on rejections while I have a manuscript circulating!)

Lynn Sholes said...

Yes, Candy I did sell that manuscript. It was historical fiction (later got it's own genre title--prehistoric fiction) set in South florida about 2500 years ago. Luckily it was on an editor's desk when Clan of the Cavebear came out so I was in the right place at the right time. I wrote 4 for Putnam Berkley and then 2 more for Penguin/Putnam Signet and Onyx. I wrote under Lynn Armistead McKee but since then have had what I like to call a "regime change." So when I switched genres I used my new married name of Sholes.