“Listen here, doll. When you’re in the writing game, see, you get rejected.”
No no no YOU don’t get rejected. Your work gets rejected. In these days of electronic submissions, many — most — agents and contests state explicitly “We respond only if interested.” Gone are the days of small pieces of paper in the mail box with the words, “We regret that your novel does not fit our needs at this time.”
I entered a contest and got the MOTHER (in terms of length) of rejection messages this morning. I will share it now. It cracked me up BUT it offers some good advice for writers and shows someone truly and sincerely trying to be kind. I somehow imagine someone saying, “OMG, I have to REJECT people?”
Thank you so much for letting us see the beginning of your novel. Unfortunately it has not been longlisted on this occasion.
But please don’t give up! Our judges told us that it was exceptionally difficult to select a longlist from such a strong field of contenders, and they remarked that XXX seems to attract an especially creative and engaging type of writer, compared with other competitions. ‘The quality of the writing was pretty astonishing,’ one told us. ‘And I was surprised by how varied the submissions were.’ <== rather patronizing?
Some genres were especially well represented. In previous years crime and romance were the favourites. This year, by contrast, an unusually large number of historical novels were submitted – mainly Medieval and early 20th Century – perhaps resulting from an upsurge of interest in the genre following the success of authors like X and Y. But this meant that it was harder for a historical novel to stand out, and some otherwise powerful extracts were regretfully set aside because a vivid historical setting rather dwarfed the characters in the story, who were rather two-dimensional in comparison. The judges also noted that dialogue can be especially challenging in a historical novel – speech needs to sound natural as well as ‘historical’, a balance that is very hard to achieve.
‘Travelogue’ novels were another big category of entrants, with the Middle East, Africa and India the most popular destinations. With these books, too, there was a tendency for the setting to dominate, and the judges asked me to say that although an exotic setting does grab the reader’s attention, their interest will be short-lived if they can’t engage with the people in it.
Another major trend in this year’s submissions was YA novels – inspired we assume by the huge popularity of Hunger Games and Divergent. The judges commented that the YA submissions were particularly impressive, with writers well versed in the conventions of the genre – in a good way! Where some fell down was explaining too much about the fantasy world they had created, rather than showing characters grappling with it directly. The best entries in this genre opened with the protagonist right in the midst of the action – it may be that simply discarding the first three chapters and starting later in the plot is all that’s needed to bring these novels to life.
I am so sorry not to be able to give you specific feedback on your entry, but I hope that these comments, general as they are, will be of some help if you decide to redraft your novel – which I hope you will. I’m sure you’re aware that the vast majority of published novels are the result of a huge amount of rewriting – changes to the order, the tense, the narrative voice, the main protagonist… What feels like a finished draft is often just the beginning. <== This is true and I’ve experienced it.
That’s not to underestimate what a huge achievement it is to complete an entire manuscript – a survey we conducted a few years ago found that only 24 per cent of women who start a novel have managed to finish it. So we salute you for getting this far.
We also found out recently, in another survey, that many women – many more than men – give up submitting their writing after just one rejection. I do hope that this letter won’t have that effect on you, and that you will see it as an almost inevitable part of the writer’s life. <== ALMOST?? And that, when the dust has settled, you will let us see some more of your work.
Our mission at XXX is to help women get into print, and everything in the magazine XXS and in our monthly newsletter little ms is geared towards that, with 13 free submission slots as well as information on publishing trends, job opportunities, writing exercises and competition deadlines. In the next few days I’ll be sending you some more information about the magazine, and I really hope you’ll want to climb aboard.
Thank you again for letting us see your work. Do let us know if and when your novel finds a home.
As for today’s daily prompt “Do You Believe in Magic” (You have been transformed into a mystical being who has the ability to do magic. Describe your new abilities in detail. How will you use your new skills?) I wrote it before, but it was under my old blog url which is dead. I posted the following video and, interestingly, it was my first impulse when I read the (now forgotten) prompt this morning. It’s Monday and a little Olivia Neutron-Bomb can’t make it worse. But I REALLY like her haircut… 🙂 If I could work magic, I’d wave my magic wand over my body and all the arthritis would be gone and I’d take my puppy for a run in the mountains. Then I’d use my magic wand on all my friends who need it. It would take all their physical problems away. Since I don’t have such a wand, I’ll clean up the house a bit and take the puppy for a walk up to the high school parking lot and I will put a good face on it.