Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Looking Back On Rejection

A couple of weeks ago I found the file with all my printed rejection letters, from back in the days when I was first querying agents for Keir, then a couple of email ones for Gethyon. Why have I even kept those? Lol. All authors are really masochists. That 'tortured artist' thing has a basis.

I actually smiled at finding them. Four years on, with five titles currently available, another three scheduled, one re-release due, and the possibility of another novella before the end of the year, those rejections don't matter. Or so I thought.

After seeing a friend on Facebook mention her latest rejection, then another asking me for advice on query letters, I decided to pull those old rejections out. My original query letter was among them, and I'd promised to share that to the friend about to query. I started reading through them, and I discovered it still stung. Even now. I spent a year querying agents in the UK, the very few who not only took SF but that I thought might be a good fit for me. Nine in total - not many. Most UK agents specifically WON'T take speculative fiction at all. Few specialize in it. And the response varied, although all were a no.

The worst was probably the one that came back a day after I sent it, so fast that I expected it to have scorch marks. I didn't even think Royal Mail was capable of that kind of speed, lol. And a form rejection? Not even that. Just "no" scribbled over my own query letter. Ouch!

Most were just the usual printed forms - after much consideration, etc. One sent me a request for the full but wanted a reading fee, a real red flag. Also their 'minimal charge' equated to a week's food shopping or school shoes for all three of my monsters. I declined. But two of them were actually what encouraged me to keep trying, though I switched my efforts to querying small presses in the US instead. One was a form rejection from a Dorothy Lumley at Dorian Literary Agency, now sadly deceased as I discovered on Twitter a while back. Though a form, she'd taken the time to handwrite 'Nicely Written' on the slip, which also said her client list was full. So, not my standard rejection. I wish I'd taken the effort to thank her, but it didn't seemed appropriate at the time.

The other had feedback scrawled across my original query letter - clearly a fresh sheet of paper was too precious a commodity to use, lol - mostly illegible. But what I could make out said 'This is really nice writing - it's taking a very long time to get to inception of story - it feels like lots of time spent on set up, and less on actual story - I could be wrong - *unreadable, think it was their name/signature* (main agent passed this to me who reads spec fiction here).'

The fact that two agents had bothered to take the time to give me even a scrap of feedback, and both had complimented my writing (yeah, it would have been great to get 'awesome' rather than just nice, but I am NOT complaining) encouraged me to keep trying.

I have to admit that I think I've been very lucky. Writing is such a subjective area. Not only does your writing have to be good, your story compelling, and your pitch enticing enough to snare an agent or publisher, but it has to be in front of the right person at the right time. While you can improve the odds by researching your target - what genres they like, what other books/authors they've signed, following their guidelines to the letter, honing your skills - you cannot engineer luck. It may even happen that you put the perfect story in front of the perfect person, but they've woken up with a headache, spilt coffee over their desk, and argued with the secretary. Those are things you can't control. You just have to hope that Fate smiles on you.

And while I may not be in the position of doing so well that I can now ner-ner at those agents (not professional, and I wouldn't anyway. Well, except maybe for the scribbled 'no' one), and those rejections still make me wince ever so slightly even now, it's not so bad. If I hadn't kept trying despite those nos, I wouldn't be writing this post now with five titles under my belt and another four to come.



  1. Hear, hear!

    For many authors the rejections aren't an indication that anything is generally wrong with the stories; rather, it's an indication of the extreme limits of the print distribution system.

    I currently have a huge TBR sci-fi romance pile thanks to digital-first publishing, so yay, technology!

    And did you hear about smartphones leading to an increase of consumption of ebooks in India ( The global market for books may open up a lot sooner than we think.

  2. "you cannot engineer luck."

    LOVE that, Pippa. And so true. Getting a manuscript in front of just the right person at just the right time is a big factor, and one you can't control or set up in your favor.

    I think I was beyond lucky to have an agent who is invested in my work. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find an editor yet who feels SFR works for them...but thank goodness there are other options in the current publishing universe.

    I think sometimes rejections can move us in the direction we really need to go. Look how far you've come in a very short time! :)

  3. Heather - digital first has been a wonderful thing (and long may it continue). And I can see why phones could boost sales. The Kindle app on my phone means I have my library with me at all times so I can sneak in some reading anywhere, so I can see where ereaders may not be such a common thing, phones may be the best way for many to access digital titles. I love to prove people wrong, so those rejections spurred me on probably as much as the feedback. :)
    Laurie, sometimes I think sheer pigheadedness got me here.

  4. Thanks for a great post. When I queried and was rejected MANY times I realized it was exactly like entering a juried art show. Your art is lovely, but if the judge is having a bad day, doesn't happen to like mountains scenes or sees submissions from his/her best friends, forget it. Thing is, as you said, you can't give up. True writers never do!!


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