The Rejection Archives

The other day I was doing some sorting out. I found a file full of old rejection letters.

I was tweeting some quotes from the letters and they seemed to go down well, particularly with other writers. One friend described it as “literary self-harming”, which is maybe what it is, but there is a certain sense of catharsis. Maybe you get that with self-harming too. I wouldn’t know.

Someone else said, “What used to make us weep now makes us laugh”, which I hope is true. That was my main reason for sharing them. To raise a smile.

I’ve decided to pull them all together and post them on my blog. I don’t think it’s an exercise in masochism. My hope is that it will offer some consolation to writers who are going through now what I was going through then. So, here they are. My litany of failure…

“There are enormous problems with this manuscript which would make it unsuitable for publication as it stands.”

“I am so overloaded with material that I won’t have sufficient time to take this further.”

“The plot itself feels a little contrived.”

“It is an extremely impressive novel, and one which I read with great enthusiasm. The scope of imagination involved in the book is startling… However, in the end I’m afraid that I just could not work up quite enough passion for it to want to make an offer.”

“It’s certainly an interesting piece of work, but not for us, I’m afraid.”

“On the whole I found it rather slow moving, and won’t be offering.”

“in the end I just don’t think the whole thing works”

“Unfortunately our publication schedules are currently full so we are not looking for new material.”

“We have studied your work with interest, but regrettably we do not feel that it is appropriate for our list.”

“I didn’t really have any confidence in the direction the story was taking, didn’t particularly care about any of the characters and at the close many of the loose ends are not tied up.”

“I thought it was excellent, but couldn’t quite see it on the Cape list.”

“I can’t be enthusiastic enough to suggest we take it on.”

“I enjoyed it a lot but ultimately not enough to want to offer.”

“The novel doesn’t really go anywhere.”

“I felt the novel rather collapses into melodrama”

“I am sad to say I don’t feel quite enthusiastic enough to offer.”

“I am afraid that despite its merits we do not consider it suitable for our lists at the moment.”

“Sad to say, I’m afraid I don’t feel able to pursue this any further.”

“I do feel that it is far too long, far too discursive.”

“It does take a very long time for the story really to begin.”

“I wish I had some happy news to send you but I am afraid that I haven’t.”

“I enjoyed reading your material, but after consideration I am afraid to say that I cannot make use of it.”

“We do not consider your work to be sufficiently outstanding.”

“It is very well written, original and sustained my interest but in the end I just didn’t feel it was quite substantial enough.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but do persevere as you definitely have a talent.”

“I found Helios a highly original and interesting novel. At best the writing style is excellent and the experimentation successful… I like novels that are highly stylised but at times found Helios just too dense and obscure.”

“This is a good first draft of a novel.”

“I am not convinced that this novel in itself adds up.”

“I must say your description of it as a ‘black comedy’ makes me a little nervous.”

“I found myself thinking ‘So what?'”

“The company has been taken over by new management and as far as I can understand (I have very little contact with them) they are not accepting manuscripts at present.”

“I have to admit I’m slightly wondering where the drama is.”

“I am afraid that our Reader found that there were unresolved problems with the work as it stands particularly in the areas of narrative style, structure and characterisation.”

“lacked the baroque flamboyance we look for in our original fiction.”




16 thoughts on “The Rejection Archives”

  1. Gosh! As a novice writer these fill me with trepidation, but in marketing-speak, each rejection was just one more step towards a yes, so I guess I should take heart.

  2. “It is an extremely impressive novel, and one which I read with great enthusiasm. The scope of imagination involved in the book is startling… However, in the end I’m afraid that I just could not work up quite enough passion for it to want to make an offer.”

    Honestly, I laughed. Some of these quotes make me think a few people were just digging for silly reasons to reject!

  3. Actually, to get personal rejection lettters is a good thing; it shows they actually took you seriously enough to look at the MS. My favourite was always, “I didn’t love it enough!” I always thought at the time that was hysterical; only wanted them to publish a book not exchange rings with it!
    I took a selection of the compliments I got and etched them onto a piece of cherry branch (stripped and polished) so I now have a permanent record of the praise.
    I suspect that they barely look anymore; I’ve been told they now trawl the bestsellers by indie authors on Kindle.
    Thanks for sharing; it’s very revealing what authors get in rejection letters, and I was glad to see you’d had very similar ones to me. Glad in the sense of fellow-feeling anyway!
    best wishes,

  4. I really enjoyed and learned form this post – thank you. It also gave me reason to expand upon my post from yesterday on “Did I make a mistake in self-publishing?” I had not covered the rejection angle which was sitting below the surface for a first-time author such as myself.

    I appreciated your candor and will also check your books out. I like to read them in the order written, so if you can provide that to me, it would be most appreciated.

  5. Thanks Robyn, Shauna, Viv and Blake. The post seems to have struck a chord with people, judging by the number of hits.

    Blake, I’ve written a series of St Petersburg Mysteries. The order for those is A/The Gentle Axe, A Vengeful Longing, A Razor Wrapped in Silk and The Cleansing Flames. I followed those up with the first book of a new series, called Summon Up The Blood. Also, I’ve written a one-off novel called Taking Comfort, which was actually the first book of mine ever published. It was the one that ended the rejection letters, so it has a special place in my affections.

  6. Which one would you choose to read on your tombstone, Roger?
    Hilarious now, but extremely painful at the time. I remember one: “Loved it, but not quite enough.”
    I can think of a couple that I’d love to carve on the headstones of the people who sent them.
    I’d even enjoy digging the grave…

  7. Great post.

    Reminds me of that dreadful agency that could not even bother printing a format letter – they just scribbled on a corner of my cover letter: “Sorry, I could not get into this”.

    I am so glad my agent hunting days are over 🙂

  8. Thanks for sharing, Roger – I’ve had versions of most of those in my time! It doesn’t half hurt, even when you know the mathematics of the slushpile and how agents and editors think, and understand why they respond (or don’t respond) in the ways that they do (or don’t).

    If it’s any comfort to the assembled company, one of my novels was turned down by a publisher on the grounds that “The voices aren’t distinct enough”, but before I could expire with self-doubt, my agent said that was absolute nonsense, the voices were one of its strengths, and showed the editor concerned had very poor judgement. (It’s not that it’s a perfect novel, the lord knows. But that wasn’t what was wrong with it)

    I do think, though, that it’s a HUGE mistake to rush into self-publishing just to protect yourself from this kind of thing. I know I wouldn’t have worked nearly as hard – stretched myself, tried different things – to become a better writer, if I’d been able to get my work out there instantly, instead of needed a commercial publisher to decide enough people would buy it.

    It was startling, at the York Festival, how many much more established authors than me were saying versions of the same thing: that if they were starting out now, as they might well have gone down that road, and ended up as one of the million in the noisy soup of social media, promoting madly to a deaf world, or giving away their work for free just to bob up on Amazon for a bit.

  9. Great post, Roger! Just think – if you’d racked up the ‘baroque flamboyance’ for Agent A, what on earth would Agent B have thought, who said it ‘collapsed into melodrama’? Shows you can’t please all the people all of the time…

    I’ve also kept a file with all my rejection letters, and some of them are great. One publisher described my book as ‘too wordy’ – and of course I understand the criticism but actually, there’s something ironic about the notion of a book that’s too ‘wordy’! But my all time favourite managed to be both encouraging (sort of) and at the same time devastatingly pithy. It simply read:

    “Dear Rosy Thornton,
    One day I think you will write a good, publishable novel. This, however, is not it.
    Yours, etc…”

  10. I think a lot of writers will take heart from this – but it’s interesting how many of them do say something specific about the book (even if negative) rather than the standard/vague rejection of the “doesn’t fit our list” variety.

  11. Thanks for sharing your own examples, Oscar, Emma and Rosy. We’ve all been there, which doesn’t make it any easier to bear when it happens. I think I agree with you, Emma. Even back then, self-publishing – or “vanity publishing” as it used to be called – was an option, though it wouldn’t have been as easy as it is now. I had to make myself resist it, to hold on, and hold out. If I’d been going through this now, I’m pretty sure I would have put something out there myself. That may or may not have been the right thing to do, we’ll never know. But I do think my years (decades!) of rejection have made me a better and stronger writer – and possibly even a stronger person.

  12. All that rejection has certainly put me in a better position to understand and sometimes advise beginner writers, as well as making me (I hope) a nicer person as well as a stronger one…

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