Dealing with Rejections

April 15, 2020

Rejections are part of the publishing process. You have to develop a thick skin to keep going if you want to have a successful career as a writer. Authors have many avenues to pursue along the road to publication these days, but it wasn’t always that way.

As I’ve been cleaning out my files, I came across a pile of rejection letters in one of my folders. This book was an early attempt at a romantic suspense novel. I was agented, so I’d already passed the first gatekeeper. Our only route to publication back then was to submit our work via snail mail to the major NY publishing houses. Here’s what these rejections said for my book titled Summer Storm. The story involved two competing New Orleans chefs who, in the second version, must work together to solve a murder. I liked talking about food and cooking even then!

Harlequin – They sent a long one-page letter detailing problems with the romance and saying the intrigue wasn’t sustained. The intrigue also needed to be more complex and fresh. Aug. 1989

Silhouette Books – “Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s right for us. There was a lack of focus on the actual romance. The emphasis seemed to be on the unraveling of the mystery, instead of on the development of a dramatic and exciting love affair. In addition, the heroine needs more in the way of emotional depth to make her warmer and more sympathetic to the reader. However, I do feel there’s potential here, so if Nancy should wish to revise and resubmit it, please have her do so.” Nov. 1989

Silhouette Books – Resubmitted revised ms. “Unfortunately, although Jill is much warmer now and easier to relate to, the emphasis is still on the mystery and its development. The relationship between the hero and the heroine is also more on the casual, albeit intimate, level than on the emotional and romantic level that would make their affair more compelling.” June 1990

Harlequin – Resubmitted revised ms. They turned it down. “The mystery and romance were not fully integrated in this story.” But…they liked my engaging writing style. Feb. 1991

Meteor Publishing – “I’m afraid I can’t make you an offer for the book because the plot lacks focus, and the story, with its very involved mystery element, moves slowly in spots. The author fails to develop the couple’s relationship (beyond the many sex scenes).” April 1991

Longmeadow Press – “I found the premise of the novel to be quite interesting, but I don’t think the writing is up to par with other hardcover romantic suspense.” Dec. 1991

I changed the title to Murder on the Menu and rewrote the book with a focus on the mystery. Or so I thought.

Berkley – “This one was a near miss. While the writing and pacing were good, and the idea was strong, I felt this fell between being a mystery and a woman-in-jeopardy. For this reason, and because I felt this just wasn’t strong enough to compete in this crowded market, we’ve decided to pass.” Aug. 1992

St. Martin’s Press – Unfortunately, we are going to have to pass; it was just not strong enough for our mystery list. Sorry not to be more enthusiastic.” Sept. 1992

Harlequin – They sent a three page rejection letter with detailed revisions listed by the page number. Problems here seemed to focus on the romance as well as the personal motives to solve the mystery. At this point, I put the book aside as requiring too much work. Dec. 1992

What is the lesson learned? Maybe I should have been writing mysteries instead of romance! Seriously, I had to decide which genre I was actually writing. Obviously I wasn’t getting it right for romantic suspense. The internal conflicts needed work and the mystery needed tightening. The story definitely was not ready for the market.

Is it reworkable now from my current viewpoint? I wouldn’t know until I read it again. But back then, it was a stepping stone toward my writing a successful mystery series, and those efforts are never wasted. Nor did this discourage me from trying again with the next book. And the next. And the next, until I got one that hit the mark.

How should YOU deal with rejections? 

Scream, rant and cry for up to two days. Then stop.

Read the remarks, and see if there’s truth in them. If invited to revise and resubmit, do so.

Look for common elements among the rejections. If two or more comments sound alike, you have some work to do.

Make sure you have a definitive genre so booksellers will know where to place your story.

If you want more feedback, enter unpublished writing contests where you get scores with comments; join a critique group; get a paid manuscript critique at a writers’ conference; or hire a professional freelance editor who specializes in your genre.

Begin revisions or start the next book.

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9 thoughts on “Dealing with Rejections

  1. Loved this!! It’s so true about rejections. Rant, Rave and Revise. LC

  2. Nancy,
    How kind of you to share your rejection letters and how you followed through on them. The word “strong” kept popping out at me. The more I saw it, the less I understood its meaning because it seemed to mean different things to different editors. I’ve written two romantic suspense novels. I think they’re harder to write than mysteries because you’re combining mystery and romance, and certain guidelines said you were to keep the hero and heroine together for a good part of the book. I’m glad you found your true niche.

    1. “Not strong enough” for the market is a common reason for a rejection. It really means your work just didn’t hook that editor. Or the focus of the story wasn’t distinctive enough, like my attempts at romantic suspense. On the other hand, I did well with science fiction romance and have eight of those titles in my backlist. Still have to get six of them back online.

  3. Rejections come in different flavors. Some are addressed,”To Whom It May Concern,” others to “Dear Author.” It’s promising when an editor addresses an author by name, even better when s/he includes the title of the submission. Your rejections, Nancy, are wonderful. Once I tried an agent, who called me sobbing saying the editor wanted me to make the submission “more compelling.” The agent asked if I could make it more compelling? I said, yes, I would be happy to, if she could tell me what that meant. I think acceptance or rejection has something to do with the mood of the evaluating editor or agent. A manuscript rejected a dozen times may be precisely what the 13th editor wants. My advice is, be true to yourself. Love what you write. Appreciate your talent. And keep on keeping on.

    1. You are right in that the editor/agent has to be in a receptive mood. If you hit the right one in the right mood on the right day and she likes your story, bingo. All it takes is one hit.

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