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Rejection – Part One

By Janice Alonso

Rejection is a concept many of us learned early in life, and it is a word that brings negative thoughts and unhappy feelings. However, if you are a published author, or aspiring to become one, it’s a term that you’ll need to deal with. Stephen King wrote a book titled On Writing in 1999. It is a memoir of his experiences with writing and advice for those wanting to become a writer. I highly recommend the book. While I am not a Stephen King fan, I think he is an excellent writer: I’m just not keen on his genre. On Writing taught me many things. I especially loved an anecdote about rejection he shared.

King began his writing career as a young boy. Over his desk at home, he nailed a long spike. As each rejection streamed in, he would poke the paper through the spike. The day arrived when there was no more room on the spike to add another rejection. So, what did he do? He nailed up another spike. Talk about perseverance! Think what might have happened if he hadn’t added the second “rejection file.”

But Stephen King isn’t the only highly successful writer who gathered a stack of rejections. Over twenty publishing houses rejected Dune by Frank Herbert. Margaret Mitchell received more than forty of these slips before she saw Gone with the Wind in print. Multiple editors told Shel Silverstein that no one would ever accept The Giving Tree. And A Wrinkle in Time? Madeleine L’Engle had to submit her manuscript more than twenty-five times before she received an acceptance. Edgar Allan Poe and Dr. Seuss ran into the same difficulties when they originally sought publication.

Other authors had to go out of their own country to find a publisher. Not finding a London publishing house, Yann Martel (The Life of Pi) found a fit in Canada. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov had to make its debut in the United States. L. Frank Baum received so many no’s for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that he kept a journal named “A Record of Failure.” Oh, and ever heard of a fellow named Harry Potter? Over ten publishers rejected J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. ( )

Why do authors/agents reject manuscripts? There is a long list of reasons, but we can pretty much bundle them into three categories: not following writers’ guidelines, incorrect grammar and syntax, and information not available to the author.

In part one we’ll examine the last category: information not available to the author. Often there are reasons that have nothing to do with the manuscript itself or the submission process. For example, a quarterly anthology may accept all its stories, poems, essays, and photo spreads for the year. The story you sent is a good story, but the magazine may have already accepted a similar one, and they wish to publish a variety of selections. Sometimes editors have accumulated a backlog of submissions and therefore have “closed” temporarily so they can get caught up. This backlog may have occurred because of an unusually large number of submissions, or there may be a shortage of staff to read those manuscripts.

Sometimes editors are looking for something in particular. I once sent in a mystery and it returned with this note attached, “You’re a great writer, but this story doesn’t work for us at this time. Do you have a mystery where the main character is a Mormon?” My friend had his story returned because they were “currently looking for stories about birds.”

Another reason that may not be apparent from studying the website is that your style isn’t what an editor/agent is looking for. Your manuscript presentation may be pristine and the content spot on, but your tone may be too light-hearted. Or, maybe your story is mainstream when the editor wants literary. For this reason, it is important to read a few sample copies of a publication before submitting.

There’s nothing a writer can do to avoid these types of rejections. If it’s your heart’s desire to see your work in a specific market, study the publication to figure out exactly how to tailor your writing to their style. My dream is to have one of my mysteries appear in either Alfred Hitchcock’s or Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I’ve tried many times over the years, even getting a couple of personal comments from an editor, but I’ve still only gotten rejections. All these mysteries went on to be published elsewhere.

In Rejection – Part Two, we will look at reasons one and two: not following writers’ guidelines and using incorrect grammar.


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