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Learn from your Rejection Letters

June 23, 2010

Let’s face it no one likes rejection and the impersonality of a standard letter or email can only add to the sting. It doesn’t matter how rosy the glasses may be, at some point or level, one of these letters will feel like a personal attack and force the writer to question their abilities. After investing a considerable amount of time and energy into a submission, the last thing a writer wants to read is the a formulated letter stating that the “work wasn’t suited to their needs at this time”, or that “the standard received was extremely high”.

Before the hate comments start, it is understood that an editor’s role – having to choose appropriate work from an enormous selection – is both demanding and time consuming and in no way is this post demeaning the long emotional hours put in by these people; rather it is the purpose of this article to explore how to learn from one of these form letters.

Having just received a rejection letter for a short story; one which I felt had been beta read to bits, edited and slashed, built up and written again – and in short something I was confident with; I’ve spent the week on the emotional rollercoaster of doubt. Intellectually at least I understand my feelings of doubt and rejection are wrapped up in ego and I need to “get over myself.”

So – what does any writer, worth their salt do to “get over themselves”?  Many blog about it or write a short story to explore their turmoil/ pulverise/ terrorise or destroy their literary enemies or on a different tact destroy their work or simmer in a self pitying mess.

Before you burn your drafts and delete all your writing files, determine whether the rejection is based on:

  1. the opinion of the reader
  2. the needs of the market
  3. or your own abilities as a writer

The first is beyond your direct control as a writer. Its important to remember the reader has their own prejudices, perceptions and stylistic preferences, coloured by their experiences; well before your submission lands on their desk.

The second, though not directly under control of the writer, is something that you can be mindful of.  Novels and longer pieces of work have a certain time lag between being written and published. Most writers advice will suggest you steer away from popular styles (i.e currently Vampire Romance) simply to ride the wave of popularity.

Instead, it’s always best to write to your own strengths and genres, rather than to pander to the market. The upshot of this is, your work may become the “next big thing” in the literary world.

  • Accept your submission might have been better directed towards a niche market or specific publisher. This is especially important for writers who are still defining their style and identifying their readership and audience.
  • Be brutally honest. Was this your best work?  Had you gained insights from a number of beta readers, acted upon advice, edited and rewritten your work to tighten it up? Did you have it critically checked to ensure grammatical errors had been minimised? If you can hand on heart say it was the best you could do, then stop beating yourself up. I’ve read somewhere Asimov sent over 100 of his short stories around before one was accepted.
  • Is your work easily categorised? As a general rule, publishers are not keen on work they cannot categorise. As much as this may personally grate, stories which do not fall into a clear enough publishing category may be passed over in favour for a more easily defined premise.
  • What was the purpose of this piece of work? Accept some of your work is never meant to be shared; but rather an introspective dialogue, which in a writers case, comes out in story form.
  • Learn and grow from your mistakes. No one gets it right the first time, even past authors who eventually went on to become famous. What separates those who achieve their literary goals and those who don’t is perseverance and the willingness to follow advice from those who are in the best position to make the dreams a reality.

If it makes it any easer, below are some excerpts of rejection letters received by authors you may have heard of.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence

‘for your own sake do not publish this book.’

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

‘an irresponsible holiday story’

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.’

Carrie by Stephen King

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

Animal Farm by George Orwell

‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.’

Watership Down by Richard Adams

‘older children wouldn’t like it because its language was too difficult.’

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

‘… overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy.  It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’

Imagine our literary world if they had burnt their manuscripts and stopped writing?

You have an important message to share.  Otherwise, that story would never have manifested itself within you. It may well be it needs a little more polishing, tightening up or simply pitching to a different marketplace. Perhaps too, your work is too personal and was never meant to be shared.

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Annie Evett has gotten over herself and her ego (sort of). Thanks to those wonderful guest writers who shared their thoughts while she wrote her submission for Chinese Whisperings new anthology. Follow Annie’s shameless self promotions here on Twitter and start your escape into her world here

2 Comments
  1. June 23, 2010 12:46 am

    Adding my voice into the mix… if you’re wondering why, have a look at the final submission you sent in. Did you have it proof read by SOMEONE ELSE before you sent it? If not – ask yourself why not? If you’ve invested time and effort into having it beta read and rewritten, the final step ALWAYS is a proof read – even if lots of other people have read it. And choose someone who is coming to the story with completely fresh eyes. They will pick up what other people/you have missed.

    If the competition is tight (and let’s face it – it almost always is) the first cull of stories will come from those with spelling and grammatical mistakes… simply because it says to an editor you haven’t had the professional courtesy to ensure your work is as good as it can be. It also means more work for them to ask you to correct spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

    I’ve been around the rejection roundabout this last week also… and I kept coming back, after I’d got angry, upset knowing I’d followed the proces to a T… to what I told myself earlier in the year… this isn’t the right home for this story. But there is a home for it somewhere. And the upside to that is, in looking (and asking people) for a new place for submission, I’ve found several new interesting avenues for other stories I have.

    So always look for the silver lining… even if one doesn’t seem apparent in the beginning. Rejection is a call of arms if you can be magnamious and not let your self doubt eat you alive.

  2. June 27, 2010 4:18 am

    Hi Annie,
    Great BLOG. Think we were on the same Roller-coaster this week.
    Love the “Reject blurbs” for those famous works … Karen :))

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