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To aspiring writers part 3: Rejection bites.

This is the long overdue part three in my posts “to aspiring writers”. Here are links to part one and part two.


Rejection is never fun, let alone form letter rejections. And while the this letter is harsher than most rejections, face it–that’s what it feels like. I learned the lesson “rejection bites” in the fifth grade when my geeky self was rejected by the majority of my peers. Over the years it’s never gotten easier.

But in the publishing world rejection serves a purpose (aside from making you feel like a talentless void). Contrary to popular belief, that purpose is not necessarily to sift the good writers from the bad. No, no, no. Plenty of good writers are rejected every single day! Rejection does serve to sift the persistent writers from the timid. If you are so fearful of rejection that you quit, you will never be published…period.

I get emails from aspiring writers who are dealing with rejection blues. My advice reads like a shampoo bottle: Read, (re)write and resend.

When you get a rejection immediately reread your manuscript. Hopefully you haven’t read it in awhile and can now look at it with fresh eyes. At this point you have a decision, and it’s not “how many pounds of chocolate should I eat?”. You need to decide if your manuscript is indeed publishable. I have decided more than once that a manuscript I felt destined to be published just wasn’t publishable. In that case, I start from scratch on a new story. But if I really believe my manuscript is publishable I simply revise it (there is almost always something to fix) and resend it to a new publisher. The one thing I never did (although I came close) was give up. I’m quite certain there are hundreds of writers far more worthy than me who will never find a publisher for their genius because they quit. Rejection is not easy. Rejection bites.

You need to learn to laugh at rejection, yourself, and this fickle business. Writers often take EVERYTHING too seriously. For instance, I remember lengthy conversations among an online writing group over stamps on submissions. The group of us actually wasted time debating whether crooked stamps on a submission envelope would earn a writer instant rejection. At the time I wasn’t published, and I really wanted to know if editors would reject me because my stamps were askew. I guess I wanted to believe that the rejections were about ANYTHING other than my writing. How much time did I waste worried about silly trivialities like that? Too much. I should have laughed at the thought and moved on to more important things…like writing something publishable.

All rejections aren’t created equal. We do have the oxymoron-ish rejection known as the “Personal Rejection”. If an editor takes time to make specific comments about your writing you can rejoice (chocolate anyone?). It means that against all odds your manuscript climbed to the top of Mount Slush and reached the pinnacle–an editor’s hands. It means that your story was actually read by somebody who has the power to buy it. It means you wrote something worthy of attention. It’s not a sale, but it’s better than a spit in the eye. Take note of the editor’s comments and carefully heed any advice.

Of course, aspiring writers are often so caught up in the rejection game that sometimes an acceptance tip-toes up behind them and taps them on the shoulder. Imagine it, you’re sitting in front of the computer, pecking away at what you hope will be the next Olivia, and the phone rings. You look at the caller ID, expecting your daughter’s cell (how exactly does she forget her basketball uniform every other practice?) but wait…is that a 212 area code? Your heart races…you tell yourself it’s a telemarketer, or a bill collector, or a wrong number.


“Can I speak to (insert your name)?


“I’m Gloria Day, editor of (insert publisher here) calling in regards to the manuscript you submitted, (insert title here).”

You try to breath, you try to control the quiver in your voice.

“Yes?” (OHMYLORD–they don’t call to reject you, do they? No, they don’t.)

“I love your book and I’d like to make an offer!”

Ack! What do you do now? This is the moment you’ve coveted for your entire writing career. What could be better than this? Here’s what could be better–not being so delirious with joy that you sell your soul. You really want to watch that you don’t negotiate away your rights. I had an agent for all of my sales, but many writers don’t have an agent at the time of their first sale.

At this point I would search out a reputable agent or a literary attorney to help you negotiate the contract. Their fee will be worth it. Unless you’re very versed in literary contract terminology you could sign away rights that may be very important someday. (There is a rumor that a popular children’s book writing couple sold one of their best selling books for a small flat fee and no royalties. EEE!) Book contracts can be up to twenty pages long, and they contain a lot of confusing terminology like abridgement, condensation rights and amusement park rights (oooo, I’d love to need those rights). My agent has patiently tried to explain to me what some of these terms mean (much the way my husband tries to tell me how a diesel engine runs) and I simply do. not. get. it.

I hope you all need to worry about how to negotiate that first book sale!

Good luck,


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