19 May How to Handle Rejection Letters
Writers know that rejection letters are part of the business, and we try to brace ourselves for them. The worst kind is the impersonal form letter or card that reads—
Thank you for thinking of Only the Best Publishing, but your manuscript does not fit our needs at this time. We wish you success in placing it elsewhere.
The form rejection letter is discouraging because if offers no suggestions for improvement. Of course, rejections only go to those who submit manuscripts, so you are further along than if you hadn’t submitted at all. That probably doesn’t help, so try this one. Highly successful authors like J. K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss and Madeleine L”Engle got the same treatment. Madeleine L”Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME was turned down 29 times. Rowling first submitted HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE to 12 publishers. All rejected her. It’s rare for writers to sell their first submissions, and even if they do, it’s rare for them to sell all submissions thereafter. Only writers who persevere become successful authors with multiple sales.
How much do you love writing? How much do you want to be published? The trite, but true, answer to how to handle rejections is “Don’t give up.” I submitted 16 manuscripts to Random House before they bought my first book, MAN O’ WAR, BEST RACEHORSE EVER. Rejections taught me a lot about craft and marketability.
“Not right for our list,” that catch-all phrase of rejections, can mean many things. When you receive a standard rejection, check the guidelines for the publishing house. Did you submit something that’s in line with what they want? If not, do better market research immediately and submit to houses that are a better match.
Even if you did thorough market research, you may never know why your manuscript was rejected. The editor may not know. Writing is a subjective business. Like readers, editors have gut reactions to a story. They’re immediately taken with it, or they’re not. They may send a form rejection because they can’t define what they didn’t like. At a conference, an editor said my manuscript was not a book for her house. I asked why it didn’t fit, explaining that understanding the reason would help me learn. She said, “That’s a good question. I can’t describe it exactly. It doesn’t have the feel of our picture books.” So I later spent time in the library reading picture books by that house to discover the “feel.”
Helpful rejection letters are those that define what’s wrong. An editor may criticize your story as being predictable, having a voice that’s too adult, being slow paced and not engaging enough, having a slight story premise and thin characters who aren’t fleshed out, or being too cutesy. Criticisms are gems. Pay attention. Read books that are in the same category as yours—picture books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, nonfiction or readers—to learn how to correct the story fault. Seriously consider criticism and always work on honing your craft. But if you believe the criticism isn’t valid, ignore it and keep submitting. An editor informed Dr. Seuss that one of his books was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” Of course, his “differentness” later brought him great success.
The most encouraging rejection letters define what’s wrong and omit the phrase, “I wish you success in placing it elsewhere.” This is not an outright rejection. It means you can resubmit. Years ago, I received such a rejection. The editor wrote that she almost bought my story, but that the ending was contrived. In my ignorance, I considered the story not sellable to her and did nothing. Later I learned that I should have rewritten the ending and sent it back. When you receive this kind of letter, rewrite and resubmit to the same editor. Send a cover letter with the manuscript, thanking her for the feedback and letting her know you rewrote based on her suggestions. Sometimes editors will invite you to resubmit, but more often they don’t. They don’t want to appear to be promising to buy your rewrite.
Rejection hurts, but learn what you can from it. Most of all—don’t give up. Please take a look at our workbook, WRITE A MARKETABLE CHILDREN’S BOOK IN 7 WEEKS.
We can’t guarantee that you’ll sell, but we can guarantee that you’ll get a quickie education on what makes a book marketable and what makes a book appealing to children and, therefore, appealing to editors.
Perseverance is what separates unsuccessful writers from those who make it. Perseverance results in getting the very best letter of all—an acceptance with a contract offer.