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A personal rejection

When a writer gets a personal rejection letter from a publisher, it’s a good thing—kind of. Many of us spent years working our way to this point: First to submitting at all; then form rejections; then maybe a rejection with a scrawled note.

A science fiction magazine I once submitted to would reply with a list of common story problems: The slush pile reader would underline the particular problem that got me rejected. Over the years I got a lot of underlines. But now that most submissions go e-mail, that kind of personal contact is less common.

So actual written content from an editor shows how far you came, and also shows you came this close to getting in. It’s like getting a silver medal: Yeah, you were a close second, but you’re not going to be on a Wheaties box.

Because it’s still a rejection, dammit.

I got a letter from a major romance publisher, about my submission of Coming Attractions. They really enjoyed my characters and setting. Unfortunately, that one line was followed by a very long paragraph of what they didn’t like. My characters and setting got me there, and everything else got me back.

And then there was that very short sentence at the end: “Should you choose to revise this project, you are welcome to resubmit it for consideration.”


Now, I spent weeks revising Coming Attractions once before, at the request of an even more major romance publisher … in fact, the major romance publisher. Feeling I hadn’t addressed their main problem enough, they ultimately rejected me. And to show the vagaries of the writing industry, this new rejection didn’t even mention what the first publisher objected to. Publisher 2 had a whole new list of problems, some of which made sense and some of which I didn’t really agree with.

In order to make the new publisher happy, I’d have to completely remove most of the last third of the novel, which means writing new material to fill out the word count. My dilemma: Spend at least several weeks tearing the novel completely apart and stitching it back together again (with no guarantee of an acceptance), or send it on to another publisher, or self-publish.
I wrote the first draft of this novel years ago, and I’ve been trying to sell it since 2010. In other words, there aren’t that many traditional publishers who haven’t already seen it. That leaves small publishers or self-publishing, which leads to the next question:

Was the novel not right just for this publisher? Or is it not good enough at all? I have my opinion … but I’m the writer, and this is my baby, and my opinion is suspect.

These are the problems that drive writers to drink, or at least to chocolate. I’m going to go into a little more detail about the book itself, and the latest rejection, in a future post—so you can help me decide.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 3rd, 2016 12:22 am (UTC)
Not having any intention myself of selling anything I write my opinion may not mean too much, as I will never have to put myself through this process, but if you have to take the heart out of the story to sell it; to kill what makes it the story you want to tell, then it may not be worth it.

Obviously self-publishing would not be part of my decision-making process, but I'd rather go that route than turn it into a story I'd not, in my heart, wish to be telling.

I exist as a writer in a safe non-commercial bubble of course; always will, so my motivations would always be different.

Sep. 3rd, 2016 05:44 am (UTC)
Some of the best writers I know don't make money from it, and don't intend to. But considering how unlikely a writer is to ever make a living at the job no matter how much they try, I think the same rule applies to paid or unpaid writers: Write what you want to read. Otherwise, what's the point? Yes, I want to make enough money to quit my day job--so I can spend more time writing!--and that does make a difference in how I proceed, but you still have to write what you like.
Sep. 3rd, 2016 05:37 am (UTC)
I don't know - I'm obviously not a writer but if I self published I'd always have that nagging doubt whether the book was OK after such a detailed critique. Difficult one isn't it.

I suppose you have to go with your gut feeling.

Good luck!
Sep. 3rd, 2016 05:48 am (UTC)
You just hit on my biggest concern. Frankly, there's a whole lot of self-published work out there that just plain stinks, and the traditional gatekeepers might have helped guide those writers to do a better job. I'm confident enough in my writing to think it's pretty good--but there's always that niggling feeling.

Still, at this point half my works are traditionally published and half independent, and I think the quality remains pretty steady. Hopefully it's just my own self-esteem issues.
Sep. 3rd, 2016 09:21 am (UTC)
Why not send the unrevised version from publisher#1 to publisher#2
Sep. 3rd, 2016 10:19 am (UTC)
I like the way you think. Unfortunately, the first round of edits did fix some problems that needed fixing, so that doesn't work ... maybe instead of rejection I should think of it as free editing.

One thing I did do just this morning was add a scene that I'd removed when I submitted to publisher #1 -- just because their line had space requirements, and I'd run a thousand words over their limit. So I've got that back, at least.
Sep. 4th, 2016 03:27 am (UTC)
I am sorry. I know how you feel. I'm right there with the same list of conflicting rejection comments from the editor, some that make sense, some that make none and I have to decide what do with my novel.
Sep. 4th, 2016 05:25 am (UTC)
I have a feeling we're in good company with a lot of writers.
Sep. 4th, 2016 06:00 pm (UTC)
I'm sure.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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