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Ann Herrick

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Rejection--The Good, The Bad, and the Weird
by Ann Herrick   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, September 15, 2011
Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2004

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Believe it or not, you can make those rejection slips work for you!

Let’s face it. Anyone who has ever written (and submitted work) has received the dreaded rejection letter. While it’s never fun, sometimes it can be informative, even encouraging. The briefest note accompanying a reject is a positive sign. Editors don’t take time to write even a few words unless they think your work shows some promise.

So if you receive any sort of positive response, send more of your work right away. When I first started writing, I, like most writers, received reject after reject. Imagine the thrill then when one form letter came back with, “Thanks, nice try” handwritten at the bottom. I pirouetted around the room. Someone saw something in my writing that was worth the time and effort to scrawl three words of encouragement! Talk about inspiration. That was all I needed to keep me going through the next round of rejects. Then one day I opened a SASE to find not only my manuscript, but a complete letter describing many good points in my story-- -and the reasons why the story still wasn’t good enough for publication. Of course, I sent to that magazine again. Again I received a detailed, personal reject letter, a bit more positive than the last. Unfortunately, the magazine stopped publishing fiction, so I never did sell to that particular market. But the encouragement I got was enough to inspire me until my writing did start to sell. So, sometimes, rejection letters can be good.

On the other hand, they can occasionally be downright nasty. You have to figure the editor was having a super bad day, and not let it discourage you. Once I submitted some greeting card ideas to a company that sounded as if it would be a match for my style. I received the following reject: "This (an arrow pointing to the printed form reject) is a reject for your enclosed work. This (a line going down the page) is a reject for anything else you might ever submit!" I took the attitude, Okay, they don’t like my stuff, but I’ll show them. I guess it worked, because since then I’ve sold over 200 greeting card ideas. Another time I received a batch of rejected greeting cards with a sticky note (that I can only hope was left on by mistake) attached to one. The note made fun of the idea in a rather obscene fashion. Talk about rude! I got my revenge, however, when the card later sold to a better-paying market. So while nasty rejections are not fun, they can inspire you to work harder.

Another positive is that at least you get your work back. There have been times when I’ve received a reject letter in my SASE, but no sign of my manuscript. To add insult to injury, one editor even jotted a note on a form reject letter that arrived in my SASE saying that my work was not being returned because I hadn’t included an SASE. Huh? But at least I got a response. Not so for one of my worst experiences, which was with a book publishing company. I sent off my manuscript with the cover letter and SASE, everything conforming to the company’s guidelines. After four months I’d heard nothing, so I sent a polite follow-up letter asking about the status of my manuscript. Two months later, still having heard nothing, I sent another (very polite) follow-up letter. Nothing. Six weeks later I sent an (extremely polite) e-mail. Nothing! Three weeks later I sent another (polite beyond belief!) e-mail. No response. Finally, a month after that I sent a certified letter asking for the return of my manuscript. I received the receipt indicating that my letter had been delivered, but I never heard from anyone at the company and never did get my manuscript back.

This inspired me to do multiple submissions whenever possible, so months are not wasted while a manuscript languishes as a door-holder (or whatever its fate was). Another time I received a letter from a publishing company saying it was interested in my book, but I would need to make an "investment" to "make it happen." I hadn’t realized that this was a subsidy publisher, so I declined and asked for the return of my manuscript. They wrote back and said they’d spent time reading it, so I’d have to pay them $50.00 for its return. My manuscript was being held hostage! I’m a member of The Society For Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, so I wrote to them about this. The next thing I knew my manuscript was returned to me with a note saying I was "lucky" that they’d kept it on file and returned it because I hadn’t included an SASE. (My manuscript was returned in my original SASE.) Lesson learned: always send for and read carefully even the fine print of the writers guidelines to make certain you’re not dealing with a subsidy publisher. The wording can be tricky, so a second, or even a third, reading might be necessary. Well, so much for the good and the bad.

The definitely weird occurred after I submitted a book manuscript to a major publisher who’d always been prompt (with their rejects!) and always included a polite, if standard, reject letter. This time when my work was returned, I noticed that the envelope was positively bulging. What, I wondered hopefully, could that mean? A big, fat contract, perhaps? I carefully opened the envelope, pulled out my manuscript and...a wooden plaque in the shape of an ashtray with Thank You For Not Smoking printed inside a red circle with a slash through it. ??? I have never figured it out. I have, however, figured out a cure for rejects. Send the work out again as soon as possible. Once it’s on it’s way, it’s no longer rejected. It’s “with a publisher.”

I'm the author of several books for children and teens, many short stories that have appeared in magazines such as 'Teen, Listen, A Single Parent, Children's Digest, and Turtle, and over 200 greeting card ideas. Approximately 10 of my words were published in (ahem) The New Yorker, when the magazine published two fillers with my tag lines.  For more information about me and her books, or to contact me, visit:  


Web Site: Books for Kids and Teens

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Reviewed by Rob Preece (Reader)
Good article, Ann. Rejection is a fact of life in every author's career. Both J.R. Rowling and Tom Clancy were rejected by just about every publisher out there--before finding someone to take Harry Potter and the Search for Red October, respectively. As a publisher, I hate sending rejections, but I always try to point out at least one area where I felt the rejected manuscript could be improved. After all, getting better submissions helps us publishers as much as it does we authors.
--Rob Preece
Reviewed by Debra Conklin
I once received a rejection letter that actually made me want to send the editor a thank you note. Sounds strange, but tis true. I had sent a poetry piece to a Maine magazine and when it was sent back, the editor had taken the time to tell me how much he enjoyed the poem, except for some phrasings and overused words. His criticism was insightful and right on the mark. I rewrote the poem, using his critique and changing the things that he said were causing the poem to be just good, instead of great. After the rewrite, I submitted it to another magazine and it was accepted for publication. Take the critiques,if you're lucky enough to get them, and actually incorporate them into your work, you'll be surprised at the results. I was!
Thanks for this timely article, Ann.
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