When I first started writing, not for a letter grade in college, but in hopes of a paycheck — or at least a byline — I solicited you with many articles, devotionals, short stories, and book-length manuscripts. Each was posted with dreams of finding your favor. More often than not, you sliced those dreams with your pens of rejection.
And for that, I want to thank you.
Thank you for declining work that missed the point, meandered before getting to the point, didn’t fit into any reasonable market, could substitute for Sominex, or was proof of my love affair with adverbs. Really. Since then, adverbs and I have parted ways, except for the occasional daring flirtation. I promise.
I also want to thank you for your patience in reviewing my work. For declaring I have talent. For handwritten assurances that you were sorry you couldn’t publish my work. For telling me I had something to say. For constructive criticism that helped me see my mistakes. For notes scribbled on top of my query letters. Those scribbles were among the most honest and helpful tips I received.
As I grew in my writing and rejections turned into acceptances, I know I am indebted to you all. Today, I send my gratitude to every editor I encountered that I now enjoy the privilege of working with Steve Laube and sending you this letter through the well-read blog of this wonderful literary agency.
What is the most helpful advice you have received in a rejection letter?
What do you do when you don’t agree with the advice you receive?
I was told that the stakes weren’t high enough for my protagonist, he didn’t have enough to lose. Now I always ask before I write the first sentence–how much more can I take from this guy if he doesn’t solve the case? Now I enjoy making my protags miserable.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Ron: So glad you got excellent advice. Kudos to you for taking it to heart!
An editor told me my main character was good–too good. He needed to have more shortcomings so readers could relate better.
Although his pub committee decined the book, that editor went out of his way to encourage me, assuring that some other house would publish it. He was right, and I’m still thankful.
(Blush) I have never received a rejection letter. I’ve had conversations with editors and agents at conferences, that have helped me to refine what I’m writing.
But I have never queried cold. That may be why I’m only once published. Hmmmm….
Oh, wait – that’s twice published. I forgot that business article back in the eighties.
I was told I had a strong voice. Too strong. So strong I forgot to tell the story. I have since learned to chain the monster in the corner, letting her out just when she’s needed. At least I hope I have…
Nicole L Rivera
I recently received a rejection from a publisher who enjoyed my work and my attention to detail in my research of another culture, but couldn’t sign the book because a character leaves one faith for another faith (they publish multiple faiths so they stay away from faith-switching stories). Along with this they gave me two helpful hints to spruce up my manuscript: tell less and show more, and make sure I am using the correct words (i.e. wailing v whaling). And they invited my agent to send them my work in the future (so long as there is no faith switching).
It was one of the happiest rejections I’ve ever received. Now I’m pouring over my manuscript and fixing it up to send back to my agent.
This advice actually came, not from an editor, but at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. I was discussing an idea with Jeff Gerke, who continually asked me, “So what?” I’d tell him what the story involved, and he answered, “So what?” At the time, it was frustrating. Since then, it’s been absolute gold. Whatever I write, there’s always got to be a “So what?” involved. Thanks, Jeff. I didn’t get it then. I get it now.
Wow. That just knocked me over.Thank you , Richard.
I sat down with an editor at ACFW in 2011 who gave me suggestions for my character’s motivations. At first, I was like–wait, this is my story and I chose it to be this way–but after processing her suggestions something clicked and I went with it. Wow…my writing has drastically changed since that conference two years ago. I ask the question Why at every point, every twist. Thank you, Editor!!! And thanks for the post, Tamela!
So far? It’s when someone said “your work is not ready for publication…yet”.
And that ain’t Greek for “you tank beyond words”.
When the going gets tough, I remember what a writer (50 books under her belt) who looked at a few of my chapters told me “You’ve got talent. You’re a wonderful writer”.
Patti Jo Moore
Loved this post, Tamela! My most helpful rejection came from a well-respected editor who gave me some specific suggestions for improving my story–including telling me that my story was “very sweet” but needed much more conflict and strife. So now I know specifically some areas I need to work on, and that’s what I’m doing. 🙂
Tamela, love the paragraph listing reasons editors declined your work 🙂 One of the best suggestions I got from an editor was to cut around 250 words from the piece. I did it and it made it much stronger.
Once David Kopp wrote across the top of my manuscript, “I love your writing, Virelle. Keep working on it.” I never forgot it, but was too afraid to submit more. That was over 30 years ago and was some of the best encouragement I’ve ever received. To this day I’m ashamed I didn’t follow up. Shame on me!
Carole Lehr Johnson
Just as Judith mentioned, I too have had conversations with agents at conferences. One told me to change the opening paragraph in my manuscript to make it stronger. I have followed his advice as well as a few other things he mentioned. It may be a crushing blow to be rejected, but it’s all in God’s timing. Thanks, it’s encouraging to read such an uplifting post about a painful subject.
I was repeatedly told that my writing was good but not quite ready for publication. This really pushed me to get busy learning the craft. At least I had some hope and that kept me going. I look back and wonder if I would have given up had they not given me that sliver of encouragement. I don’t think I would have gone on to buy all the how to write books and go to conferences and seminars, or pick other writer’s brains. So grateful for any advice from professionals. There is a season for rejections and a season for acceptance if you keep seeking excellence.
My full ms was requested by Little Brown (Hachette) a number of years ago. Hopes were high. But they turned it down. The editor who reviewed the ms was gracious enough to give feedback I could chew on. Although the plot was stong and compelling, she felt like an outsider. Someone watching things happen to my characters. I failed to bring readers into my characters heads, especially in the most painfully emotional scenes. I’ve spent the past few years working to let readers deep into my characters’ POV. To me, I felt I was letting people in, but in reality I was not. Since then, I’ve learned so much about writing deeper and connecting emotions. It has even changed the story to a much stronger piece. I am grateful for that rejection and feedback. It made me grow.
In 2000, my graduate thesis advisor hammered wordy me repeatedly with the question “What’s your point?” and pushed me towards consistency and clarity, insisting I delete all “purple passages”–not good news to an aspiring fiction writer! But the habits he taught me about writing tight nonfiction have strengthened my storytelling to the point that the editor for my recent (debut) novel insisted I ADD 50% MORE to the manuscript, which went on to win a hefty literary prize in Canada. I love editorial criticism! (But I say this at a moment when nothing I’ve written is under particular scrutiny. My response might change when I have something to submit!)
A wonderful post and healthy take on rejection!
Laurie Alice Eakes
I remember an editor saying they couldn’t sell X genre in the Christian market. It got me to work figuring out what they could sell to readers that I could bear to write.
That led to my first five sales in the Christian market, and now I’ve sold in that X genre I was told I couldn’t. LOL
I had an email from an editor at a major publisher a few months ago. A very nice email as rejections go, but still a rejection. After thinking it through, I’ve revamped the beginnings of two manuscripts based on her comments. We’ll see how they do in Genesis…
To date all the actual rejections I’ve gotten [from editors and agents – as opposed to the ‘if you haven’t heard from us in x days’ rejections] have been kind and encouraging. I think it’s made my writing stronger which is always a good thing :).
Steve Laube gave me excellent advice a few months ago. He gave me the name of two books to read, told me to re-write, and when I finished a thorough (emphasis here!) re-write, I could re-sumbit my story! Almost there! The info in the SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King is priceless and really helped me show my story vs tell it, cut a lot of the -lys, and watch my adverbs. It’s taking me awhile, but I’ve watched my story come alive. Thanks Mr. Laube, and thanks for your blog, Tamela.
Since I haven’t submitted a query letter or my first book to anyone yet, I haven’t received my first rejection. But thank you, Tamela, for letting me know that there’s a very good chance I will. And if/when I do, I now know that I am in very good company.
The most helpful response came from an agent who told me that my book sounded very interesting, but she thought my “cloning topic” would be a tough sell in the Christian market. She added that she would be interested in future projects. I thanked her for taking the time to personalize a response rather than sending a standard rejection letter.