Everything I Know About Writing I Learned from Rejections III: When Rejection Letters Go Bad

Golda Meir once said, “Don’t be so humble, you are not that great.”

I have been very humble in the previous two posts. But as I’m really not that great, today we chuck all that humility, cuz there are times when there’s frankly nothing you can learn from rejection letters, even if they are personalized.

Both of the two rejection letters below are for SCHEMES OF LOVE, which five different houses wanted, and went to Bantam in a pre-empt (thank you Ms. Nelson and Ms. Alexander). My agent forwarded the two of them to me within minutes of each other on a Friday morning. At that point we already had an offer on the table, but trust me, it still wasn’t easy to take two rejections back-to-back.

Names blacked out to protect my own sweet patootie.

Rejection Letter I

July 14, 2006

Hi, Kristin—

I got your message this morning when I returned to the office. I can absolutely see why you’re so keen on this project (and why you currently have an offer in hand!). Its premise is unusually dark, yet charming at the same time (reminds me a bit of ****** that way), and the prose is well-paced and engaging.

That said, ****** is currently streamlining its list, and I think this book, while excellent, would come too close to the sort of thing ****** is currently doing for us. Given the challenges of breaking a new voice out in the market, I fear that here SCHEMES wouldn’t get the attention it deserves.

So reluctantly, I’m going to let this one go (and kick myself anew when it appears on the shelves, I’m sure). But thanks for thinking of me, and for the pleasure of the read. Enjoy your backcountry trip!

******

This is a sweet, lovely letter. But make no mistake, it is a rejection letter. Editor I didn’t come right out and say it, but the implicit message is nevertheless loud and clear: she didn’t love it. She is an acquiring editor. Had she fallen in love with SCHEMES, she’d have made room on her list and gotten the editorial board behind her to make damn sure that the book got the attention it deserved.

A frustrating letter, at once diplomatic and sincere, yet it ultimately saying little more than “not right for us.” It makes me want to eat a whole pile of something fried and fatty and mumble “Why? Why? Why?” with every stuffed mouthful that hastens my trip to the heart surgeon’s.

That said, I don’t wish the editor to kick herself at all. There are books others love that I don’t. I understand.

The next letter, however, made me lose sleep, the first time that’s ever happened in all my years of writing. And not one night of sleep, either. Every night for four nights running until we finally reached a deal with Bantam, I’d go to sleep okay, and wake up at two in the morning absolutely convinced that all the other houses we hadn’t heard from yet were all going to reject me too.

Rejection Letter II

July 14, 2006

Hi, Kristin

Thank you so much for sharing SCHEMES OF LOVE with me. Regretfully, however, I’m going to decline interest.

The bones of this story is actually very similar to a book ****** published last year – ****** by ******. While Sherry Thomas has a good voice overall, I found it too matter-of-fact and not as emotional as it could be.

Again, I really appreciate your thinking of me. And as you mentioned there is already an offer on the table, I wish both you and Sherry success in this project

Have a good weekend,

******

Nothing terrible, except, omg, OMG, it singled out my greatest strength as an area of weakness. Emotional complexity is my bread and butter, what am I going to do now?

At some point I have to draw the line. Publishing is subjective. Either I believe SCHEMES OF LOVE is one of the most emotionally complex romances to come along in a long time or I don’t. And I believe it, without question.

So off went Rejection Letter II to the bowels of my email archive, with a few teeth marks and a stamp marked “Not right for me”. That opinion wasn’t right for me, that editor wasn’t right for me, and that house wasn’t right for me.

At the RWA national conference in Atlanta this past July. Susan Elizabeth Phillips received a most well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Rita. At the conclusion of a very affable speech. She declared that she was going to do something mean, but not just for herself, for every writer in that banquet room.

What she did was this. She told of how some years back, while her career was at a nadir, she put herself and the first Chicago Stars book up for auction to completely underwhelming results. From there on the podium, in her fabulous jacket-and-skirt ensemble, with two thousand of us waiting breathlessly below for what further pearls of wisdom she was going to dispense, she shouted at the top of her lungs, “BIG MISTAKE!”

Thank you, Ms. Phillips. Now I can be gracious and not say anything of the sort. He he.

Next Tuesday, Why I Don’t Hate Angelina Jolie. And I promise, it’s got something to do with writing.

3 thoughts on “Everything I Know About Writing I Learned from Rejections III: When Rejection Letters Go Bad

  1. Hi. I’m just browsing around and I haven’t even read any of your books, but I think you’re being too hard on yourself. To me emotionally complex means subtle, layered, nuanced. “Not emotional enough” might mean not enough screaming primary colour emotions.

    Hey, if they want to come in below your standards…

  2. Huh. Interesting interpretation, Anonymous. I kinda agree.

    Thanks for sharing these, Sherry. V. interesting, both the letters and your reactions to them.