Friday, October 05, 2007

what to take away from a rejection

I got this question from a reader recently:

Hi Moonrat,

I received this rejection via email this morning (not quite verbatim...I edited it for a few spelling errors):


Thank you for the submission XXXXXX, it is a very well received manuscript, thought provoking and very well written. However, at this time, we will not be accepting this submission. Please do know the submission is excellent. We do not have a suitable place for it at this time.

Thank you whole heartedly,


I am just wondering...aside from "no," what else should I take away from this rejection? Is it something editors just say when they feel like they should say something? Or is this an issue that actually comes up (not having open slots in a particular genre, etc.)?

Anyway, just wondering if I could get your take.

A reader

This is a great question, and I know exactly how frustrating it is to receive rejections in general, never mind vague rejections like this one.

While this letter is not particularly specific and thereby not particularly helpful, whoever wrote it seems to be genuinely fond of your manuscript. There is no need in a rejection letter to say that a book was "thought provoking," "well written," or "excellent." Common wisdom holds that it's a bad idea to puff an author up if you didn't like their submission, because it is crueler in the long run, and my traditional rejection letter for unsolicted manuscripts looks like this:

Dear author, [that's right, I make it as impersonal as possible]

Thank you for your recent submission. Unfortunately we are not going to be making an offer to publish. We wish you the best of luck at another house.

The editorial team

So I think it's safe to say that someone did like your manuscript and was fighting for it at that house. Unfortunately, that someone lost.

There is an indication that you were not responded to by an editor here--it was, in fact, probably an assistant or an unpaid intern who read and evaluated your manuscript. Not only is the rejection letter itself not helpful, but it is poorly written and apparently was plagued with spelling errors. These aren't mistakes editors make (I hope!!!!), especially in official correspondence.

I know it's frustrating to think that only unpaid interns are reading your manuscripts, but I can promise you that is the situation at almost every publishing company. I only have time to read agented submissions (unless I specifically seek an author out)--after all, I work a 60-hr week, if you count the reading, editing, and work I do at home...even if you subtract the time I spend blogging. Sometimes, I have my very capable editorial assistant vet an agented project if it came in without my requesting it from an agent I don't know, and she gives me an idea about whether or not the book fits our publishing scheme here. This means, unfortunately, that the person evaluating your manuscript was not a professional and may or may not have looked at it with the right criteria in mind.

I feel a need now (sorry for the digression, but) to make a blanket statement about selling fiction. It's a tough world for fiction--really, really tough. It gets harder every day as more people take classes, hone their craft, and write fantastic novels. Robert the Publisher asked one of my fellow editors at the ed meeting yesterday, "Can I say no to this just because it's fiction?" He was kind of joking, but not really. All the money in the world is in nonfiction, and yet all the submissions we get are in fiction. Even the books that come from our good friends who are agents are usually rejected. Never mind the novels from agents we don't prioritize. Really, really never mind the unsolicited novels that come in directly to us.

I don't mean this to be demoralizing--you should feel glad that your book got the level of attention it did at this company. Someone there really liked it. But you've done yourself a service by getting interest from this company--you can use that as material to woo an agent who can help get you in the door.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of helpful advice to distill from this particular letter. I do think there is a very generous amount of encouragement, however, as much as there can be in a rejection letter.

Hope this helped.


cyn said...

that was very helpful, moonrat. i had no idea there was so much money to be made in non-fiction! learn something new ... happy weekend! karaoke! =)

ORION said...

moonrat -this is a terrific post. I hear writers agonize over all kinds of rejection letters and internalize what is said- I think most writers (myself included) don't realize the quantity of submissions.
I really feel it DOES take a certain amount of luck and timing -- I feel that's a big part of why my book was published.
much aloha to you

Lisa said...

This is some great insight and it just reinforces my belief that a person has to be crazy to pursue fiction writing in the first place :)