Amusing Rejection — for Wannabe Writers

“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?”

Hello there,

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.

16 thoughts on “Amusing Rejection — for Wannabe Writers

  1. That is the LONGEST automated rejected letter I’ve ever seen. It still leaves me with the question “Yes, but did you READ my entry?” Oh well. Never say die, right?

    As for your magic wand, bring it on. Considering how far I’ve gone with traditional medicine … and how much seems to be beyond its ken … your wand will work at least as well and probably far better!

    • It was a rejection letter from a contest so… I wish I had the wand. The other evening after walking Bear I felt so bad that I’m so old and don’t walk very well that I can’t take her for a long hike or a run. I cried and apologized to her. Then, later on that evening, she climbed up on the sofa and actually made it into my lap as if she were saying, “It’s OK. I just love you. However you are is OK with me.” The fact is, she’s a very low energy puppy and two long leash walks a day seem perfect for her. AND she hasn’t known anything different so… I guess we don’t have much choice in the matter — but I hope my new knee improves our lives a little bit. As for traditional medicine — I think it’s pretty good, especially compared to even fifty years ago, but there are incompetent doctors, overworked doctors, and insurance companies mixed in with it. My primary care physician (a new one; the old one, a good one, went back up to Denver) is arrogant, young, easily fluster, lacks humility and doesn’t prepare for appointments. I’m looking for a new doc…

  2. It reminds me of the the Reference letters that were handed out when you quit a job. There are all sorts of hidden meanings which only the bosses can translate. It is really one of the reasons I never bothered with writing something and submitting it, I am too lazy.

    • This “letter” didn’t come from the Antioch Review. I just used that as a typical old-school rejection slip. This was for a contest for women writers. I think acceptances are logically longer — when someone says “yes” there is usually some other stuff they have to say. Congratulations! That’s a very prestigious place to have a story published. 🙂 But, I’m not surprised.

      • I was totally surprised. I had to take a couple of long hikes to get my head around it. It’s nothing short of a miracle.

        • I hear you — that long hike solution always worked for me, too, but now I need a couple of long hikes to adjust to the idea of knee surgery to repair the damage from all those long hikes… 😉 Two days ago I apologized to my puppy for my being so gimped up.

          I haven’t had a lot of success as a writer — in total, I’ve made $160 but that was at 1970s values so about $50,000 today. But right now my newest novel has been reviewed and accepted by one publisher and is currently in the hands of another publisher. I never imagined being in a position like this one. They are both small, independent presses but that sort of describes me, too. Small, independent… I think back in the 90s I’d have been over the moon about this, but now I’m just “OK. That’s cool.” In the meantime I’ve come to understand why I write and it doesn’t have much to do with being published. That is a surprise to me. Back in 1999, I thought that was everything. BUT I’m very happy about the “dilemma” I’m in and I hope it pans out.

          Let me know when your story comes out!

          • I think it will be out in December. Congrats on your success. That’s wonderful. I’m putting together a collection of essays that I’ll self-publish in march. I still get excited when a fishing rag picks up one of my essays, but not as much as I used to. With a few exceptions, I’ve been decidedly unimpressed with magazine editors–having to remind them that I haven’t been paid yet and putting up with guys who want to co-author the piece instead of edit it. Oh well.

  3. Wow, that’s quite the rejection letter. I’ve never read a “sort-of feel-good” rejection letter before. And even if your submission wasn’t ever read, it sure beats the slip of paper, don’t you think?

    • Actually, I think this is absurd. I don’t mind the slip of paper. I’m past the point where these things have much effect on me. For me the change happened at a conference where I had paid to pitch to three agents. When I saw the actual PEOPLE to whom I was writing careful query letters, I understood the problem. It’s all about the market. It has very little — if anything — to do with the quality of someone’s writing. I was convinced of this when I had to review (a best seller) as a possible book for people at my college to read. It’s terribly written. I do think they should not get by with NO response, though. That’s just cowardly and passive aggressive.

  4. Well for what it’s worth or not, I like your writing style and I’m glad that you were “picked up” by a small press. That should make you feel good. While I am not interested in historical novels (wish I were) I very much enjoy reading just about everything that you write about each day.

    • I really appreciate that and you actually inspired me to go out to the garage and find the boxes with my journals (there are like 50 books) and I’m thinking of finding all the dog and nature things I’ve written and see if I can make something beautiful out of all those wonderful times. 🙂

      • Martha, I hope that you do use those journals and I just know that you’ll have many beautiful and wonderful stories in those journals. You write so well about the environment and the wild things you and your dogs encountered on your hikes. Surely those stories can be turned into a book. I love good true dog and cat stories. Give it a whirl. You might be surprised.

        • That’s what I was thinking last night. I felt so bad the other day that I can’t run with my puppy in the mountains and even with a new knee I won’t be able to do that. I just fell apart. But she doesn’t care — she’s not a very active breed and she seemed to know how I felt. She climbed up on the sofa and curled up as much in my lap as she could for such a big puppy. That’s not usual behavior for her. She’s an affectionate but independent creature. Then I thought in the night that OK, I can’t do that now but I did do it, almost every single day for 20 years. I saw a lot of things close up and experienced some wondrous moments — with my dogs. Now I have dogs that fit this time of my life, especially this precious puppy. I’ll do the best I can and she will be — as she is — happy with that. 🙂 ❤

          • Martha, I hope for you that a new knee will give you back a lot of what you miss. But if you can’t run, you can walk in that lovely valley where you live. Bear reads you very well. She is a true guardian and I think you and Bear go together like hand and glove Nothing is better than a good dog.

            • I know the new knee will not hurt. That’s already a plus, and my leg will be straight. Now it’s very crooked. And I’ll be able to hike as long as the trail’s not too steep and Bear is, you’re right. Bear fits me and I feel sometimes like she’s my guardian angel. There isn’t anything better than a good dog! 🙂

Comments are closed.