Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What I Learned from a Form Rejection

There is a lot of advice out there for writers, much of it good.  One bit I took firmly to heart was that submissions should be targeted to agents or editors  when seeking publication.  You'll have better luck--they say--if you submit to someone who likes the books you like and works with books in the genre you write.  Makes sense, no?

I only sent a query letter to one agent: Suzie Townsend. Our favorite books were eerily similar (Enders Game, Time Traveler's Wife, etc) and, from her blog, I knew she supported and loved books similar to my own (Lucky, Speak, etc).  Basically, it seemed destined that we should work together (yeah, I'm superstitious that way).  But, apparently, it wasn't.

I got my form rejection a week after I sent the query.  It was crushing, of course, and at first I felt like I'd made a huge mistake even sending it.  I'd been impulsive.  And, worst of all there wasn't even a shred of feedback to know what the problem was as she saw it.  Maybe my book just sucked?  But then I realized something: If Suzie, to whom I'd targeted the submission so carefully, wasn't intrigued enough by my query and first 10 pages to request more, then that by itself told me a lot.   It told me that 1. My query wasn't strong enough--I hadn't managed to show what set my book apart from others. and 2. I'd started my novel in the wrong place. The opening wasn't gripping enough.  

Somehow that knowledge put me into the zone that all writers crave--you know the one, where your brain actually starts working?  Mine was like a laser on my manuscript.  All the separate pieces looked like little glowing nuggets that could be rearranged into a new order, a better order, a more gripping order. I then rewrote them enough that they transitioned smoothly and that seemed to shake loose the understanding of what elements of the story actually really set my book apart.  After that I was able to write a new, much better query letter, and voila!  I had a much, much stronger submission in my hands.  All because of a form rejection.

So, thank you, Suzie!  My editor says he doesn't foresee extensive revisions and I think I know why.

Has anyone else ever learned something by reading between the lines of a rejection?   If so, I'd love to hear about it.


  1. 1st of all I totally love your blog design!!!!

    2nd - I really love this post. I love to hear that you took something that can be hard to see the light from and made it shine. Something as simple as a form letter, which I know a lot of authors don't pay attention to because they are that, a form letter, and learned that something major was wrong. Sounds like it did the trick for you :D

  2. Thanks, Erica! I can't take credit for the design, that was all Lori, but I'm glad you liked the post, too. :)

  3. Great post, Alina! Haven't had that experience yet, but maybe after a few more rejections, I will have to re-think things. I've just changed the genre of my book and made some revisions, so we'll see if that makes a difference!

  4. I hope you never have reason to have that experience, Mel. :) Crossables crossed!

  5. This post really touched a nerve. I'd been riding high lately with a lot of good news and positive feedback and then... a rejection that said, "The writing just wasn't compelling enough.." My first thought was, "How DARE you" but then... I started thinking maybe I'm *not* so great after all! Or, at least, this sub wasn't. It def made me take a second look and see where I might have gone wrong, pull out the red pen and go to town. So... it's nice to be reading I'm not alone out here!!!

  6. Rusty, you are definitely not alone. Good luck! Hope you get that acceptance soon!


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