Rejection is a Four Letter Word

Those who read this site and are familiar with the story of my novel know that Opalescence is a self-published, but not yet “officially” published book. This is not for lack of trying. Like countless other authors, I have sent query letters to many literary agencies and publishers via Agent Query and Query Tracker. The usual form reply back, when there’s a reply at all, goes something like this:

After awhile those rejection letters begin to add up.

I know a local author who was also a respected editor and book reviewer for a large city newspaper. He has written several books but anguished to me in a letter one day the fact that so many people are writing books now (well over 2,000,000 a year worldwide!) that it feels like his well crafted stories are slowly sinking to the bottom of the ocean while multitudes of others, many of them hastily (and amateurishly) penned by those simply hoping to make a quick buck, drift down like so much silt upon his, burying them for all time. It is a common complaint.

The infamous Slushpile, via the Steve Laube Agency

The infamous Slushpile, via the Steve Laube Agency

Still, self-published books continue to produce some real gems. There is, though, an in-grained bias against them in the big time publishing world because of the above mentioned dross. One self pubbed author who went on to sell over a million books said: “The phrase ‘vanity publishing’ was almost certainly invented by traditional publishers years ago in order to squash the competition from entrepreneurial authors.”

That got me thinking about this whole rejection business. Initial rejection seems to be an almost automatic reflexive reaction by literary agencies and publishing houses to any new book that is proffered. The ratio of agents/publishers to authors is just too far out of sync. My suspicion is that lots of great writing, perhaps most, never sees the light of day. Even many books that later went on to become best sellers were often rejected numerous times before someone finally decided to give them a fair shake.

Doing a little internet research I found these figures, just a sampling:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Rejected 38 times
Johnathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Rejected 40 times
The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Rejected 60 times
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Rejected 76 times
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Rejected 121 times
Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Rejected 140 times
Roots by Alex Haley. Rejected 200 times

Following are some of the comments that have been used by these rejectors of books (and their authors) which books are now classics.

“You have no business being a writer and should give up.” Said to Zane Grey

“It is so badly written.” The Da Vinci Code

“Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.” Johnathan Livingston Seagull

“An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” The Wind in the Willows

“An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Lord of the Flies

“Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.” The Wizard of Oz

“Frenetic and scrambled prose.” On the Road

“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.” The War of the Worlds

“Stick to teaching.” Little Women

“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” Catch 22

“Older children will not like it because its language is too difficult.” Watership Down

“Hopelessly bogged down and unreadable.” The Left Hand of Darkness

“Good God, I can’t publish this.” Sanctuary

“They all said it was a stupid title, that nobody bought collections of short stories, that there was no edge—no sex, no violence. Why would anyone read it?” Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

The above quotes come from Litrejections.

See the following link for a few equally hilarious rejection letters.

This is not to chastise the industry unduly (or to insinuate my book with those greats above); but just a reminder to those of us still struggling for notice that an auto-rejection does not necessarily mean your work is rubbish.

And Opalescence? How big is my “Rejects” collection so far?

36. :/


32 thoughts on “Rejection is a Four Letter Word

      • Sorry mmleonard. My reply to vuurklip got jostled in the queue somehow and you’re commenting on my reply to him. But yes, I was taken aback a bit by it. And yes, it was from a serious agency. That’s not all it said in that vein but it suffices.

        That was early in the process though, and I’ve improved it quite a bit since.

        Liked by 1 person

      • All of my rejections were form rejections. Mostly don’t even bother to write my name. I think they scan query for accolades and awards rather than bothering to read the chapter 1

        Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe they’ll come out with a computer program that does the initial reading then uses some sophisticated algorithm to see what gets knocked upstairs to a real person. Anything would be an improvement.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think I’ve run the gamut of current agencies and most of the smaller publishers (though there’s so much flux and turnover within these small outfits that one can usually find new places in Writer’s Market annually if one is inclined to self-torture 😟). All that’s left, really, are a few larger ones.

        While, like any writer, I believe I have a story to tell and an audience who would appreciate it, even if that never happens, I’ll never regret having penned this story.

        Best of luck in your writing endeavors too. 😃


      • My advice is what Hugh Howey says, just keep writing the next few books in the series, then publish it with a good cover. I’ve posted on some blogs how easy it is to make something that looks like what the pros make. I think if you believe in the story, put it out there and prove it can get a market.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve read similar on a variety of writer’s websites so your point is understood. I have sort of a different viewpoint though: concentrate on one, likely your best as you will have poured so much of yourself into it before starting another (they say the first is always best). A second could meet the same reception as the first if it wasn’t successful and then where are you? Better to get things figured out at the beginning. What’s that saying – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

        Success, however, would be a great motivator!

        Thanks for your input, mmleonard. 😀


      • To each their own. I think writing gets better over time, and historically, most authors need at least a few novels under their belt to produce their very best, acclaim wise.

        What I was talking about was if you had no agent and was going to self publish, then you are spinning your hamster wheel revising so much, since nobody cares at this point. Make it the best you can within an amount of time, then move on with the sequels because you will likely have to give the first book away for free, then charge 99 cents the next one, before making decent returns on the third one. Self publishing is about production.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks mmleonard. Well, I would care. I revised numerous times because, since my story involves a lot of real science, and since I love that particular, but obscure, period, I wanted it as accurate as I can make it. It was grueling, the research that is (not to mention the editing 😫). So it’s not your typical churn-em-out pulp. To write another would require major commitment.

        After completing Opalescence I thought, that’s it, my Magnum Opus (however deluded I may be), I’ve now done something I always wanted to do, if just for myself, family, friends and any others who might be interested; thus the blog.

        Now that some time has gone by, and I’ve relaxed a bit, I am aware of the occasional stray thought, just tiny urgings really, to write a sequel. If I do though, it’ll have to wait until I get other things done in my life. But I get your points.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think one of the things that annoy many authors is their niggling suspicion that much of the rejection is not necessarily because their work is truly unqualified, but because it either doesn’t fit in with the current monetary model (eg: it’s not yet another vampire, zombie or dragon pulp money maker) or that despite the blurb on their “about” page, the agent actually has very narrow tastes and refuses to venture outside of his/her comfort zone.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah. I still scratch my head at Captain Underpants.

        Maybe the question is, is it the public which has narrow preferences or perhaps the industry that keeps focusing on limited themes? In which case I wonder how much good alternative writing we never see?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think that is true but folk like a good read. My daughter gave me the Tea Planters Wife by Dinah Jeffries. It was an involving read and some insight. It was my husband who remembered she had lived near us in the next village and we had met her! So she made it with good story and characters. It was then marketed and that I think makes the difference.


      • It might be fun to have her over for dinner if she’s still around!

        Yeah, marketing. It’s what makes the difference between the small, individual and generally inexperienced and under-funded do-it-yourselfer and the large well known Agency/Publishing houses which have long established avenues and connections to bring little known titles to light. It’s why we little guys try so hard to get their attention – though these days authors are required to do a lot of their own advertising.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Worse than a rejection is no word at all on a customized proposal and entire manuscript that were requested. It just seems rude. For one page queries who cares, but when you send in requested material only to hear crickets it is annoying as hell.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s better than I’ve gotten so far so you must be onto something! If it’s been an appropriate length of time maybe send a gentle reminder in case they got distracted.

      In my case, judging from my impressions in reading between the lines of the replies I get, my story is simply too long for a debut author. It’s was only after Opalescence was written that I learned that there is an informal rule that first time fiction should be no longer than 100,000 words, whereas mine is 160,000+. But what can I say – that’s how the story played out in my mind. Do we amputate art to meet an arbitrary rule (trying to picture Monet doing that)?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well being in the business world I’ve become accustomed to doing whatever is required. I think see illy for debut we are at agent’s mercy. I was around 90k but though professional coaching am now at 75k (nonfiction). It was painstaking to cut out anything really!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely agree. Sometimes, it’s just the wrong agent, or the wrong editor. Sometimes, it takes until the 6th book. And sometimes, self-publishing can in itself lead to a traditional deal. There’s more than one way to skin a story…

    They were right about Dan Brown though.

    Liked by 1 person

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