#ROW80 8/10 & Advice from The Help

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity. ~Rejection Slip from a Chinese Economic Journal, Quoted in The Financial Times

Frank and Ravetch adapted many of the novels b...
William Faulkner ("Good God, I can't publish this!")--Image via Wikipedia

A writer friend e-mailed that her novel has been rejected for publication.

The editor declining the manuscript wrote a personal letter explaining the reason for rejection. The editor also encouraged the writer to query again when her next manuscript is complete.

That’s a good rejection. Not so good as the one quoted above, but better than a standard form letter—”Your manuscript does not suit our needs at this time”—which leaves the writer without a clue.

Is it the quality of the writing? The subject? A poorly developed plot? Too much graphic violence? Not enough graphic violence? Overuse of dialect? A boring first line? A typo on page 3?

Or that the manuscript really didn’t suit the publisher’s needs at that time?

The truth may hurt, but it at least leaves you knowing where you stand. And possibly the direction in which you should go.

I’ve heard that in the context of submission and publication, rejection isn’t an appropriate term. Editors who reject manuscripts are really bowing out and allowing other editors the opportunity to accept.

To me, that’s a bit like calling a scheduled test date Opportunity Day. But whatever works…

I haven’t received many rejections, not because my submissions for publication are universally accepted, but because I haven’t done much submitting. There are several reasons for that, among them that I haven’t written much short fiction and I haven’t completed a novel, so I’ve had little to submit. I’m working to rectify that.

If I’m successful, by this time next year, I’ll have rejection slips all over the place.

Every writer—and that includes all of us, not just those who’ve been published—has read about authors who have received negative word from editors before finally reaching print. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was turned down by twenty-six publishers. J. K. Rowling received a dozen rejections for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected twenty times.

Sometimes, editors’ comments stray into the personal.

On Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

On William Faulkner’s Sanctuary: “Good God, I can’t publish this.”

The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, was rejected sixty times before a publisher picked it up. Acceptance came after five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection. The movie adaptation of the book is slated for release this week.

“…I can’t tell you how to succeed,” says Stockett to others aspiring to see their works in print. “But,” she continues,

I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.

Stockett racked up rejections because she was industrious enough, and brave enough, to put her work out there.

Instead of invoking the Muse, I’m going to start invoking Stockett. First thing tomorrow, I’ll print out her picture, clip it, and tape it to my monitor. When I’m working–or not–hers is the face I need to see; hers is the voice I need to hear.

14 thoughts on “#ROW80 8/10 & Advice from The Help

  1. A stirring battle cry from someone who unquestionably has what it takes. Get out that chariot and ride bellowing through that literary world! (you’ll find that strange wild-haired woman on the chariot about three quarters of a mile behind is me)


  2. One can also self-publish, despite the fact that it’s still sort of a bad word, and hope for minor success or being picked up by a publish on the next round. It’s not uncommon to see publishers demanding a proven author. If you manage to reach some success on your own, you are proven and you have a mailing list!

    I, however, wrote a cookbook rather than anything literary, so take it with a grain of salt.


  3. Very wise words. If only they would provide details on the WHY. Every rejection letter I have received thus far has been a form letter – no detail other my name kindly inserted at the top! I recently read somewhere that a women after 30 years of trying finally managed to get her manuscript published (now that is dedication).


  4. “Give in to your obsession…”

    I like that!

    My own novel manuscript reject letters ranged from form letters to one lovely, personal, handwritten note that left the door wide open for future submissions. If I ever complete another novel, that agent will be the first person to whom I send it.


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