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Question of the Week: Rejection

by Susan Henderson on February 25, 2008

Let’s hear one of your rejection letters – not one of those flattering close-calls, but a real doozy, like the kind you might get from C. Michael Curtis.

Come on. They don’t hurt so bad when you see we’ve all got ’em!

*

Wednesday, Jessica Keener will be here to talk about being on both sides of the rejection slip – as a writer who receives them and as an editor who sends them out. See you Wednesday!

*

Oh, woops, before I leave you, huge congratulations to Enrico Casarosa and Buck Lewis for Ratatouille‘s Oscar win!

And it’s been far too long since I’ve linked the fabulous Tommy Kane. Love this drawing he did on cardboard. And coming soon are the drawings he did on his trip to Morocco. Go check him out and tell him what a hotshot he is.

{ 97 comments… read them below or add one }

SusanHenderson February 25, 2008 at 7:55 am

What, you all need me to kick things off? Here’s one from Bayard at Happy:

Clever Girl – Saying I’m your favorite rejection writer knowing I’ll look extra hard at your work and give good advice. Sorry no card had it’s stops and starts and I kept reorganizing the thoughts. Keep working on this and make it shine. B

I know I have a doozy from C. Mike but can’t find it. I’m not one of those organized types who keeps everything in one place, all categorized.

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robinslick February 25, 2008 at 8:47 am

Oh, I had a killer one several years ago from a now defunct New York City mag when I was just starting out. I was such a rookie I didn’t know the rules — i.e., that if an editor rejects you, no matter how nastily, you don’t write back with a response of your own. But I was so shocked by his response…he said “Sigh…another weekend writer wannabe hobbyist, obviously. Please stop the suffering and direct your attention to something more worthy of your talents — basket weaving or ceramics, perhaps?” So I fired back an email on the order of “That’s the meanest rejection I’ve ever received, and look at you, who do you think you are – you are an editor at some little pissy magazine no one ever heard of — you might think you are working for the New Yorker…etc. etc.” And thus began an exchange of about 10 emails, each one more vile than the next. I made a promise to myself that when (not if) I published my first novel, I would thank him personally in the acknowledgments but talk about sweet revenge, one day later the very same story was accepted by In Posse Review and I forgot this very insignificant editor ever existed.

Okay, the real reason is I had a computer crash and lost his letters and his name or damn straight I would have mailed him every single one of my books over the years.

But, um, the paranoia is there sometimes that he’s still among us and one day I may unknowingly submit to him again and he remembers me….arghhh….

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Oronte_Churm February 25, 2008 at 8:49 am

Um, was I supposed to keep those things? If I’d known they had literary value, I wouldn’t have used them as papier-mache for my Churm mask…. Sorry!

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robinslick February 25, 2008 at 8:55 am

Whoops – congrats to the Ratatouille team and can’t wait to read your interview with Jessica – she is an awesome writer and quickly becoming a good friend.

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amy February 25, 2008 at 8:58 am

I’ve long since thrown out this letter, but a certain phrase remains indelibly etched on my soul: “way, way too overwritten.”

(That was a reaction to my first chapter, which I’ve since rewritten, and now gets much kinder reviews.)

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maria February 25, 2008 at 9:04 am

I’ve had a few, but as soon as I receive a really killer rejection I throw it away–I don’t even read it twice–so that I don’t have the option of poring over my failures when I’m feeling lousy. (I do keep the good ones, though, and I re-read them when I need a little boost.)

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Betsy February 25, 2008 at 9:18 am

That’s awesome!

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Betsy February 25, 2008 at 9:20 am

I forgot where I put them now but I used to carry this one around – it was actually a form rejection, but it was a poem, that essentially said, “Sometimes we open our mailbox and find a beautiful bunch of grapes, other times we open it to find a pile of rotting fruit.”
Or, um, you know, “No thank you?”

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Xujun February 25, 2008 at 9:24 am

LOL

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Kimberly February 25, 2008 at 9:30 am

Oh dear.

Film festivals send out rejections along the lines of:

Dear Filmmaker,

At which point I stop reading.

It’s all form letters and they usually go on far too long with lots of flowery language encouraging you to submit future work (at ~$40/pop) and don’t give up the dream, art is subjective, programming constraints, overwhelming number of submissions, etc etc etc.

I’d relish a personalized rejection letter, even if harsh, only because I would know you were actually thinking about ME and MY WORK when crafting it.

But even form letters suck and as hard as I try not to, I do take them personally.

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Kimberly February 25, 2008 at 9:33 am

ps – Shout out to Diablo Cody and her amazing script, JUNO. Talk about spectacular screenwriting…

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Ronlyn Domingue February 25, 2008 at 9:44 am

In Spring 2004, a top agent with a stellar list asked to read my manuscript. The joyous buzz zapped short. This is most of the reply–which I sent me to a deep dark place from which I did not emerge for weeks. (I’ve edited to keep names private.)

“I can clearly see the talent at work in thse pages of your novel. Alas, I am not a fan of those novels in which the narrator is dead and still following the lives of people who have survived her. THE LOVELY BONES was a rare exception, and that one had the element of a thriller. Would her murderer be caught? Would she be avenged? It also had a strong element of young adult love. Both of these elements are missing from your own novel.

“The pity is that you are obviously the better writer and this is a more intelligently written work of fiction. But, it failed to engage me, and that is critical. More and more, I am finding that among editors, story is everything.”

That e-mail came after months of searching and months of rejection. This one stung more than any other. I pulled myself together though. Got an agent in August of that year. Got a book deal that November. My debut novel was released in September 2005 in the U.S., and a few other countries, too.

To those still searching for an agent: HAVE FAITH IN YOURSELF and of course BE PERSISTENT. It’s hard to remember how subjective this business is when you’re in passionate pursuit of your dream. Only time has made it possible for me to even look at that letter again.

Thanks, Susan, for encouraging a moment to reflect.

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Xujun February 25, 2008 at 9:47 am

The rejections I received are either form or with encouraging ink. I don’t know what you do but I keep those personal notes and throw away the forms. I am yet to see a “real doozy,” however every so often an empty SASE comes back, with no content or sender address or whatsoever. A few times a rejection came saying I submitted outside of their reading period, which I did not. When this happens I cross the magazine off my list.

Ah, yes, I once got a personal note from C. Michael Curtis saying, “Maybe next time.” But the next time he sent me a form. LOL.

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Aurelio February 25, 2008 at 10:02 am

I haven’t done much in the way of subbing yet, so I don’t really have a deusey. I did get in a flame war with an agency assistant who I felt was unduly snotty in her rejection note. I told her so, she shot back even more rudely, so I went over her head, copied the head of the agency with her rude notes and then received an apology from the head of the agency and (reluctantly) from the woman in question.

And now they’ll NEVER rep me, but I can’t abide rudeness from petty tyrants.

I only subbed EVE once, on a friend’s insistence who knew the editor personally, and was quickly rejected. This one made me laugh. The note was terse. The editor said she didn’t feel EVE was, “…fresh or new enough…” to warrant publication. Now, EVE can be criticized for a lot of things, but it is definitively off the beaten path. It made me wonder if any editors actually read their submissions.

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Aurelio February 25, 2008 at 10:07 am

I like you.

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Nathalie February 25, 2008 at 10:24 am

I have got anything really nasty. They mostly are in the area of “we’ll pass on this one”.

The one that puzzled me most was one from New Myths that went:
“I have decided to pass on this story. I loved the idea of the shape shifters and the rules they have to abide by. It reminds me a little of the rules guiding characters in “Spirited Away.” However, I didn’t get passionate about the characters or the story. It may be because it is so hard to create interest about a “bored” protagonist. In any case, good luck placing this elsewhere. The ideas here have loads of potential for future stories.”

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 25, 2008 at 10:29 am

Thanks Ronlyn. My first agent and I broke up last summer and after polishing my new novel, I’ve just jumped on the query-go-round. I really needed to read this today.

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 25, 2008 at 10:57 am

Today I’m not sure whether I’m happy or sad to have never received any of those doozies. Most of my rejections are either form letters or almost-made it passes.

There is such risk every time you send out a piece of yourself in prose, asking for someone to buy it. I recently finished my second novel, broke up with my first agent, and am now looking for a new agent. So far, I’ve only had the guts to send it to two agents. After watching my first baby die in the hands of editors, I am very timid this time around. Got to thicken my skin, I suppose.

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Erin February 25, 2008 at 11:06 am

Love her.

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lance_reynald February 25, 2008 at 11:10 am

at the risk of having rotten fruit thrown at me.

I’ve been ignored or left to rest in the inbox…

but, no rejections to report.

*ducking*

I’m certain I would have a great one if I’d known the rules and enclosed a SASE with those few dreadful poems I sent the NYer when I was 14…

I tend to look back at that one and chuckle at the thought of some receptionist opening an envelope of crap poetry scrawled on looseleaf notebook paper and sighing into her coffee at the childish ignorance of the submission…

but, no rejections.

The closest I’ve come is when the wondertwin asks me to tighten up a line here or there for the Park.

I know; always been a bit of a freak.

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Kimberly February 25, 2008 at 11:52 am

pps – for those of you in the Chicagoland area this weekend, our little film makes its festival premiere at the Lake County Film Festival this weekend! Free merkins for all LitParkers!!

(no rejections, there!) 🙂

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Anon! February 25, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Okay, you asked. I had to pull it out to get the wording exactly right-but believe me, I remember it pretty clearly:

“Although I actually read this entire manuscript, I’m not sure why…it totally hit free fall for me with the later scenes, which I found not only unbelieveable, but pointless and boring. Do you disagree?…”

It goes on–( a 2 page letter) but the thing is, this agent was right–and I knew that even back then. I sent her a thank you note. I have since revised the thing totally.

Because I know you want more……..”I’m sure this letter will feel harsh and perhaps you may wish that I’d simply sent the manuscript back with a “not for me”, but I hope you will recognize the inteneded gift. You have a talent for writing but this does not feel respectful of your readers or your characters. I’m sure you can do better.”

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EkEkEkEk07 February 25, 2008 at 1:30 pm

No submissions.

I have received emails from play directors. . .

“Thank you for auditioning! We were unable to cast you because you don’t look the part, but you’d be perfect as the TELEPHONE REPAIRMAN in our Spring production of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. Would you like to help paint sets or… “

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dennis mahagin February 25, 2008 at 1:39 pm

One time, I got a rejection letter–from the Mississippi Review–which hurt kinda bad because it came upon the heels of an acceptance letter!

This letter was in effect designed to explicate how the editors had changed their minds, about publishing that particular piece.

However, the editor who wrote the letter–Gary Percesepe–was not unkind at all. On the contrary, this man really knew how to break bad news gently, with a kind and effusively comforting language, which actually garnered much respect from me.

Now, I mostly remember my over-reaction to the news which that letter brought, and what a colossal histrionic geek I was about it!

Ahhh, sweet retrospection.

😉

–DM

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SusanHenderson February 25, 2008 at 2:19 pm

I’m trying to stay disciplined with my book edits and not respond to comments about failure and glory and free merkins until tonight, after I’ve met my goal. But it’s great to read your notes.

My friend, John Warner, who is also the nut over at McSweeneys.net, passes this along….

My apologies for the virtual pestering, but I think it’s important that you
all are alerted to the fact that mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging
television/radio personality, Glenn Beck, has the number one selling
political humor book on Amazon.com. (AN INCONVENIENT BOOK. Genius!)

For obvious reasons, this is a travesty, and I aim to do something about it
by putting my new book, SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT?, in its place. I don’t
like to toot my own horn, but I can tell you this: it’s funnier than Glenn
Beck, and marginally less hateful to women and minorities to boot.

In order to spike my Amazon ranking I need to coordinate my army of
supporters. (That’s you.) Here’s the details:

When: Wed, February 27th (two days from now)

Where: Amazon page for SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT?
http://www.amazon.com/So-You-Want-Be-President/dp/1582975191/ref=sr_1_11/102
-9867796-5607338?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1192197855&sr=1-11

How: Order. (It’s only $9.99, the price of an exceedingly expensive latte.)

I’ll be posting updates on my ranking as it makes its climb all day at the
TOW Books homepage: http://www.towbooks.com.

I also have a full description of the plan and rationale for taking on Glenn
Beck at this post: http://www.towbooks.com/NewsItems.aspx?r=88

If you have a means of passing the word on (website, blog, signal flares,
carrier pigeon), I’d be more than grateful. I’m happy to answer any and all
questions if you need or desire clarification.

(If you’d rather I never contact you gain, I’m begging you, mom, to
reconsider. I am your son after all.)

Thank you for your support and let’s go knock that Glenn Beck from his
pedestal.

Best,

John Warner

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Aurelio February 25, 2008 at 2:28 pm

Nice. It’s reassuring to know there are people like this out there who take the time to give such a full and thoughtful response. You are very fortunate, Exclamatory Anonymous Person.

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aimeepalooza February 25, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Everything I’ve submitted has been to online places. I’ve had quite a few form rejections that way. And those form rejections don’t hurt really.
The one thing I did receive was from McSweeney’s. It was a form rejection, on a small crooked rectangle of paper.
On the back, in pencil, it said.
Aimee,
In writing, we really like you. Send more.
Wouldn’t you know I hung that rejection on my wall? McSweeney’s likes me! They really like me!!! It was and is the best rejection I’ve ever had. But I never had the guts to send more. I need to learn to navigate this writing world so I can have some stinging rejections that send me on a vodka bender.

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Kimberly February 25, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Vodka benders are the best! Make mine Stoli, dirty and plenty of olives!

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ErikaRae February 25, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Wow – and on a day when I just received word of a few of them. i believe I’ve heard it all. Mostly form letters, but I’ve gotten some real doozies, too. In all, I have received something in the ballpark of 350+ rejection letters over the course of 7 books in my writer’s life. (And still, I keep going back for more…)

In the early days of my writing: “I think you need to look up the word novel.”

I got one query letter back, which had been edited – I had written the word “fiction novel.” This was actually supposed to have read, “mainstream fiction novel” – but I had somehow overlooked it. Whatever the case, the word fiction had been circled in red with the notation “red” for redundant penned in the margin.

Once on a children’s book on which I had done extensive research, some editor in “the final round” took it upon herself to tell me that I had my historical facts wrong (which, by the way, I didn’t, but didn’t feel that it was good form to send her a list of references.)

Once I sent a query to an editor I found in the Writers Market. Apparently, she sent me back a form letter that stated that she was no longer accepting unsolicited queries (which, of course, I don’t remember receiving). Two years later, I submitted a different novel to her, having found her name wide open in the Writers Market. She wrote me back a handwritten letter telling me that she had my name on file from before and to stop sending her queries since she has clearly already let me know that she is not accepting unsolicited queries.

Of course, the most aggravating are, “It pains me to have to pass on this, but…”

I think I will find all of these much funnier once I actually get published!

Thanks for this, Susan. Today was a particularly aggravating day on this front – an hour ago, you would have found me in tears. I feel much better now. *sniff*

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ErikaRae February 25, 2008 at 6:34 pm

Oh Lance, if I didn’t love you so much, I’d be throwing. Haha. Instead, SO proud.

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ErikaRae February 25, 2008 at 6:38 pm

Thanks for this – am soaking up all words of encouragement I can find right now like a sponge. Well, maybe more like a big, jaded adult diaper.

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ErikaRae February 25, 2008 at 6:39 pm

amen, sistah

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ErikaRae February 25, 2008 at 6:43 pm

You are an inspiration to us all.

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RobinGrantham February 25, 2008 at 9:04 pm

A magazine inflicted the worst rejection I ever had. I subscribed to them and they accepted only snail mail, but I wanted them so I printed, licked, stamped . . . and they responded — not at all. Five months (I know) without a word. Finally I dug through their site and found a note . . . “Oh, sorry — it seems we’ve lost everything. AGAIN. Feel free to resend.”

Okay, then.

I must admit I wrote a colorful nasty letter which, to my credit (I think), I did not send.

I hope I still have the letter somewhere, though. I think it was pretty funny.

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Sbain February 25, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Wow, what a question. My life is one big rejection letter. No, it’s not THAT bad. In fact, today apparently unbeknownst to me, I was published in our highly-esteemed (snark, snark) Spokesman-Review on Eco-Moms. Who knew when I posted to their blog last week that they’d publish it in the paper.

Anyway, yes, I still have some rejections but they are hidden deep within my drawers. I should really burn them before I die and my children discover them. Now, I just post to my blog about all things uninteresting and common. Cheers…

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Lee February 25, 2008 at 9:54 pm

My worst rejection letter was preceded by hearing the rejection that was coming.
I was a “contributing editor” for a school lit zine and decided to volunteer, if for no other reason to hear why I was actually being rejected.
(Three years with the same response to different submissions, I was curious.)
At the meeting that my stories were addressed, one girl stood up and said, “These stories read too much like Poetry, and I f$%@ing HATE Poetry. Besides, whoever wrote this story (referencing one of my favorite stories) is just a bitter little boy who hates girls, and writes bad stories about them.”
I could only defend myself by admitting that I had written the story, and that wasn’t necessary for me.
I offered a slight rebuttal but to no avail.
I let it go and read my standard rejection letter:
“Thank you for your submission. We regret that we did not have room to publish your fine story in our yearly publication. Please submit again as we really enjoyed your submission.”
Four years in a row I received this letter . . .

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mark February 25, 2008 at 11:14 pm

Great post!! I gazed around my room, which is lovingly papered with the rejection of various pubs and although I couldn’t find a really snooty one a recent no thank you came to mind that was actually kind of funny!!

January 2008

Dear Scrivener:

Thank you for subjecting yourself to the Corpse. We will not use your offering, but we are 99.9% certain that the rejection is not personal. If you fall in the 0.1% of submissioners against whom we have vendettas or grudges, we will notify you by means of individualized sirventes. In any case, being rejected by the Corpse puts you in very distinguished company: since January 1983 when we were born, we have savaged, mocked, and rejected many members of the current Pantheon. In fact, come to think of it, being rejected by us gets you that much closer to bellettristic glory, whereas had we accepted your work, you might have become an instant pariah to the literary world! Congratulations!

Andrei Codrescu

for the Corpse & Corpse Staff

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amy February 26, 2008 at 8:30 am

I too submitted a poem to the NYer when I was fourteen! It was my very first submission of anything to anyone — hey, why not start at the top? Got a very polite rejection a month later.

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Heather_Fowler February 26, 2008 at 9:29 am

I am blessed with a terrible memory for slights. This is a good thing. I was referred to an agent by an acclaimed novelist friend, when I idiotically thought I could just write and sell my novel (two seconds after the writing was done)–after all, all novelist friends I knew were doing these lousy rounds of edits that dragged on and on. I’ll have the lousy rounds of edits time, I thought. No problem. But this was my first novel submission. I didn’t format it right. I just sent her 100 (!) single spaced (!, doubly stupid since I double-space story subs all the time) pages and waited. Ach! It looked so amateurish. Anyway, her reply note was nasty. If I remembered it better, I’d say it was something to the effect of “very uninterested–needs work”–but I don’t.

My happy memory for slights is almost on par with the telephone game distortion where six days later, I’ve rephrased it in my mind until it is hardly recognizable and six months later I don’t even remember who said it. Though the day after her rejection, I must say, I had several vivid fantasies (between bouts of self-flagellation–Oh, why did I do that? Oh, dear! I look like an idiot! Of course she rejected that–and bouts of self-validation: Well, if she was too dumb to see my potential, that’s not my problem! A little gentle nurturing and guidance is all I need. Oh, blast it!)–and these fantasies were very helpful. I imagined standing on some little stage somewhere, winning something big like a Nobel or a Pulitzer, and I had a very planned speech I would give, starting with: “I’d like to thank all of my amazing reader fans. I’d also like to thank Ms. __________ from the ____________ agency for cruelly rejecting my first novel and exposing me to the interesting world of agents. My interaction with her, actually empowers my life because I see now just how wonderful my current agent __________ is and that not everyone can recognize a true talent, but then not everyone is a pro player in athletics either. This is to say to all those out there with painful rejection letters, keep going and find what you most desire with a compatible industry professional, preferably of couth and grace. I wrote this Pulitzer (insert whatever prize) while spending time in Vienna…” etc.

Anyway, I throw away rejection letters. My biggest rejection right now is my own rejection. I need time to do a comprehensive edit on my novel to feel excited about it before I send it out again–because I want “my agent” (when I get one) to see fine work from the go. Alas, the novel is shelved. Kids, work, prepping booklenghs of stories…

I am looking forward to getting past that time shortage and going to town. By then, however, I will be glad to have the subs database I built in Access so that I know where I have already queried.

I love this terrible memory for slights. It may not be good if I’ve ever accidentally made someone jealous or angry at me in terms of them possibly being aghast that I bear no trace of recollection of their nastiness–but it’s great for me personally. Writers get enough rejection–and we, masochistic bunch we are, even pay for it.
But I’d rather spend my time creating new work and dreaming of success–subbing things in a calm frame, and moving forward. The revenge fantasies help, too. I think they make surreal what is painful and then I can laugh and let it go. Much love to all, xo, H

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Heather_Fowler February 26, 2008 at 9:37 am

P.S. That would be “Pulitzer/X prize winning novel” above. Oh, and there is one agent who sent me a lovely, thoughtful rejection and highlighted what she thought I should do. The one that stung was short and nasty… But this other agent, the one with the nice note and good taste, I do regret having been early on my learning curve for novel subs when I submitted to her. I still think she is my perfect agent. Alas! I’ll find another.

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EkEkEkEk07 February 26, 2008 at 9:43 am

Wait a second, I remember! I submitted a poem to my high school’s literary magazine. O, HABIT OF MINE. I also read it at an open mic night. I was fifteen. I didn’t get a letter, but the creative writing teacher said, “It just…we couldn’t fit it in. It wasn’t appropriate.” I was crushed.

They published my haiku about a moth.

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Heather_Fowler February 26, 2008 at 11:19 am

I love the Corpse’s rejections. 🙂 I find them funny. Mark!!!! So glad to see you here, my dear friend! xoxoxo, H

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aimeepalooza February 26, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Now I’m totally sending something to this guy everyone gets nasty rejections from. You will be notified when his letter arrives. There will be dirty vodka martini’s, there will be gimlets, and there will be hysterics. Or just lots of vodka and perhaps some falling down and laughing.

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Jordan Rosenfeld February 26, 2008 at 12:34 pm

I JUST finally threw the last of them away. They took up so much space, and since I don’t believe form letters work well as thematic decoration, I was happy to part with them. But I remember shades and sentences of many of them. One of my favorites was a rejection from a sci-fi publication (though I don’t write a lot of sci-fi, you know, I had this BRILLIANT story, right??) where the editor wrote some notes about what he liked and didn’t like on it, and then at the bottom of the letter, in a sloppy, angry kind of scrawl he wrote: “If I had seen that this was a simultaneous submission, which is explicitly against our policies, I would never have bothered to write those comments!”

But you did, man. You did.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 1:58 pm

I threw mine away about a year ago – best thing I ever did, and I got the idea right here, from you guys.

(Nice to see you, Jordan!)

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 2:00 pm

You should try “revenge fantasies” as a writing topic over on your blog, Heather. Bet you’ll light a fire (says the former fire-starter).

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I have always admired the in-your-face rejections of the Exquisite Corpse. The only thing that kept me from submitting was that they posted all the rejections for everyone to see.

(Nice to have you here, Mark.)

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Aww! I would love to read a story from you that zeroes in on that emotion, that moment you described (but outside of the realm of writers and rejection letters). Dare you! I think you’ll strike gold.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Sarah Bain now has a blog, folks: http://geographyofgrief.blogspot.com/

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 2:09 pm

I would love to see a Post Secret type collection of letters never sent!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 2:12 pm

What a snot-nosed comment from that person who told you to look up the word “novel.” I think the title “editor” sometimes gives people unnecessary stature. If you could see behind their rejection slips, you’d see what untalented, bitter little dweebs many of them are!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Yeah, post it! Isn’t it better to air these things here? It’s funny how seriously we take these little slips when we’re on our own.

Okay, I thought I had more time to comment but I have to go meet the school bus. I’ll check back in tonight…

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kategray February 26, 2008 at 4:34 pm

I think that the worst rejection I had was from the Connecticut Culture & Tourism Artists’ grant. The thing was that they didn’t even bother sending out rejection forms. They just let it lie with announcing the winners.
The most I have gotten so far is the form letter, which I abhor, and I guess tells me that I need to fix my query. I just have no idea where to start, and nobody to help me, even when I’ve asked for help. My husband, the technical writer, thought I was kidding.
When I need a boost, though, I talk to the family I used to nanny for. Working for them was a time when I wrote poems at a terrific clip, and, as they are happy to tell me, they have kept every letter I ever wrote to them, because of how “great” they are. If nothing else, it means that I need to have letters written to my own children to let them read when they’re older!

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Heather_Fowler February 26, 2008 at 4:43 pm

Ha! I will put that on as a writing challenge–but first we do “flow like Kerouac on the road, drugs optional” –and next I’d like to intertext with Garcia-Marquez’s “The Old Man With Very Enormous Wings”–AND you know I’m going to bring a magical woman to the text. That is a given. But for you, Susan, a Revenge Fantasies challenge will follow! It’s on the list. LOL! xo! H

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Greg February 26, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Funny that this is the conversation topic this week. I was JUST going through my little “Submissions” tablet to see who I’m still waiting to hear back from, and I was shaking my head at all the Xs I’ve stabbed in there over the past couple years.

And I started thinking about a short story that I haven’t messed with in a while called “All For One Second.” Remembering that it’s on my other computer, I made a mental note to start working on it again this week. And in looking for a rejection letter to post in this forum, I found this rejection letter from Barrelhouse in regards to this exact story I sent them last year:

“Greg,

Thanks for sending us your work. Unfortunately, we’ve decided this story doesn’t
quite work for us. Personally, I found it hard to track the various characters (aside from the protagonist) as they tended to blend together. Even the main character, actually, is drawn a bit shallowly, so that by the end of the story I don’t necessarily feel as if he’s been brought to life as a real person.

Just my two cents, though, which you’re of course free to disregard. Thanks
again for submitting to us, and best of luck in your continued writing.”

That one stung.

I get about one rejection letter/email every couple weeks. Enough to make me tired. Enough to slap down my laptop screen and mutter about my abilities. And then, out of nowhere, someone will accept something submitted months ago, allowing me to keep writing.

In addition: It’s always nerve-wracking to know when is the right time to follow up with someone. The Chicago Reader asked for 1,200-word review on a book I told them I had an advanced copy of, so I flew through it and spent a week perfecting the review, but it’s been a week since submitting it and haven’t heard anything… I hate this waiting game.

Thanks, Susan.

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Greg February 26, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Just realized that you are that Robin Slick. I’m totally excited to be included in the next 39 and Still Holding collection…

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ErikaRae February 26, 2008 at 5:26 pm

oh wow – that was harsh

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Ric February 26, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Best rejection I ever got – from a top notch agent. Typed on his letterhead.

If everyone in this novel weren’t so thoroughly unpleasant, starting with the hero, so unsympathetic, and if the Shyna (a bear and the title) were not such a read herring, and if the solution were not so obvious, this would be not a bad novel, I suspect. As it is, I don’t think it works. But I would be willing to look at your next if you care to send it to me.

You gotta love a rejection like this one. The agent is very well regarded. Gee, do you think he helped me as a writer? You bet.

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Kimberly February 26, 2008 at 6:18 pm

HA! Just got another today. Talk about WORDY… (what, do they think we’re all fragile bridge-jumpers???)

Dear _________: (they did actually use my name this time – must have been a mail-merge program)

We know how much time and energy you put into your film. We know
because we’ve seen it. We appreciate, admire, and love that; each film
is the final result of an incredible, personal creative process.

This year we’ve seen the results of more than 2,000 creative
processes. We’ve witnessed indelible images, contemplated human
truths, laughed, sobbed, and scratched our heads more than once. And
we appreciate your patience as we’ve taken as much time as we can to
select our final films for this year’s festival.

Your film “Why We Wax” was not selected to screen at this year’s Ann
Arbor Film Festival. Please know that our decision does not mean that
we did not like your film, or that you do not have an audience for
your work, or that it’s any less of a meaningful piece of art. As
you’re well aware, it’s a tremendously competitive landscape for
independent filmmakers and this year we only had space for
approximately 6% of the submissions we received.

As a filmmaker we hope you recognize this as part of a process.
Receiving a “no” is part of the filmmaking experience for everyone, no
matter how accomplished or talented. For those who love this art form,
these are minor detours in the course of their filmmaking pursuits.

We sincerely wish you the best in finding audiences for your current
film and welcome the opportunity to see the results of your next
creative process. Thank you for being an active part of the
independent filmmaking community.

Sincerely,

The Ann Arbor Film Festival

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Lee February 26, 2008 at 6:56 pm

I should come to you more often for ideas on which to focus.
I’ve no shortage of writing ideas, but that’s the problem sometimes— too many ideas and not spending time on any one of them!
I’ve actually started on this.
Thanks Susan!

~Lee

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:12 pm

To cheer you up and give some perspective:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14453550

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:14 pm

I’m glad it helped you, Ric. Give that exact same note to me and I won’t write again for at least a decade.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:15 pm

Ooh, good luck with The Chicago Reader – and definitely post here when your review goes up!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:20 pm

What’s the query for? Agent query? Book summary? Article pitch? You know you guys are absolutely welcome to post queries you’re having trouble with and see if anyone can help. I think query writing, pitching, and summaries are a completely different kind of skill than writing good stories and novels. You won’t get help from me because I absolutely suck at these things, but I would love to watch and learn!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Love that Marquez story! My favorite is The Most Handsome Drowned Man.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Ha! I’m sorry you were crushed but your little post here has great comedic timing!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Ducking won’t save you when I dive off the bed and clobber you with a pillow!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:26 pm

My first submission was to the NYer, too!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:27 pm

It’s going to happen for you, Carolyn.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Sounds like a story that will stick somewhere, so keep sending it out.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:32 pm

I’ve mentioned this before here, but the best way to get perspective on these notes is to go over to Amazon and look up your favorite book in the world. Then read what people say about it.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:34 pm

Hey, Xujun!

C. Mike did the same to me. You get one of those, maybe we’ll connect on a story soon type notes, and then a form letter. I read a magazine the other day and was thinking, This would be a perfect fit for Xujun. When I remember the name of it, I’ll let you know.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:36 pm

Ronlyn, I’ve missed seeing you around here! Thank you for this, and for being able to see that note in the context of the larger story.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:38 pm

All I can say about their rejection letter is that it’s their loss. Your film is the funniest, best-edited short I have seen in a long, long time. When it hits, I think it’s going to go cult classic.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Oh no, that’s awful!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:44 pm

I used to do the other option. For the past ten years, I’d say that I only submit if I’m solicited. Not that a solicited story can’t get rejected, too, but at least they don’t dare send a crushing letter.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:45 pm

I’m impressed by those of you who can take a tough letter and become a better writer for it.

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:45 pm

All riiiight!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:46 pm

I think you should name names. 😀

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Ooh, that’s rough when a story is yanked. And to be thisclose to getting into The Mississippi Review!

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SusanHenderson February 26, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Where are you submitting? I kind of like the wit and bite of these rejections.

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Laurawllner February 26, 2008 at 9:09 pm

How funny you are discussing this…I’ve had my share of rejection letters, in fact, I got one tonight, but they’re no big deal any more (I’m such a little writer trooper now)…I’ll just be in a bad mood for a day or two and not remember why I’m in a bad mood, then say “Oh, yeah, that’s right, well, fuck it” and that’s that, time to move on…I always hate form letters because they don’t tell me anything I want to know, but I do understand they serve a purpose, and I have received some mighty nice ones that look like some real thought went into softening the blow…I think my favorite of the worst rejections was a photo copy of a standard form letter that was slightly askew on the page, and the glass on the copier bed was apparently dirty (or was that white-out?) cuz there was a giant bit of black schmutz on it (oh, yesh, it was a very attractive, memorable rejection from way back during those first tender years of being a writer)…and in the body of this prime example of “publishing world professionalism” it also included an advertisement for the agents how-to books…I really thought that was a nice touch (thanks for using my SASE for your crappy cheap ass ghetto advertisement!) It made me glad that I was rejected by this character! Even though I know that photocopy was done by some poor overworked intern or assistant, every time I see this agents name (I’m sure this person is really “swell” and knows the business), I think about that shitty rejection letter, and I know I can do better than that…I deserve better than that!

Oh, yeah…I always love the ones that tell me they “love it” BUT lop off about 20,000 words and resubmit it…yeah, great, thanks, but no thanks, I’ll go bark up another tree…meanwhile, I’ll ask Max to pee on yours…

[giggles n’ winks]

Now I’m going to hold my nose and dive into the next slushpile!

WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Laura

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 26, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Yay, I’m glad to finally see a photo of beautiful Sarah. That blue question-head doesn’t do you justice.

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Heather_Fowler February 26, 2008 at 9:38 pm

Yes, that’s a lovely piece–one of my faves! I enjoy, especially, how that story plays with the idea of desire and monstrosity…

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Ric February 26, 2008 at 11:25 pm

It was a bit over the top – but it was the way he phrased it that was so perfect.
The whole concept of his seeing the seed of a salable novel in there was ever so much better than a form rejection. And pointing out – in a few short words – all the things we continually hear from agents, Miss Snark, and other gurus. Likable sympathetic main character, true story line, and don’t forget a great twist at the end.

Wish I could get his talent at putting so much into so few words.

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Heather_Fowler February 27, 2008 at 1:04 am

I am with you! Vodka is the new aspirin. LOL!

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Laura_Benedict February 27, 2008 at 2:22 am

I confess that my rejection letters are fairly tame. But I really must share this with you, Susan. It’s a response to an essay I did for WVTF, our regional NPR station out of Virginia Tech. It is as clear a rejection of my work as any I can imagine (I wish the piece had actually been this exciting!)

“Dear Laura,

I am seated at my word processor, still nauseous from listening to your essay on public radio.

You make it clear that although you married a Pinkney [sic}, which you pointedly mention, and live in an idyllic, pastoral situation , you are too intellectually aloof to assimilate the most simple of the facts of life. I, too, spent my early years in a cosmopolitan situation, but I managed to pick up, from the science curriculum in sixth grade, the notion of how mammalian life propagates itself: when I moved to this farm, I transferred this knowledge to the cows. I seem to have a leg up on you.

It is obvious that you have taken text from an x-rated adult movie, though I am quite sure that you are much too well bred to have ever seen one, and therefore have not the vaguest idea of what it all means. Your line of getting out of the tub to answer the door, finding a Nordic man, stripped to the waist and fresh from sweat, gives you away. We must assume that, given the ideas that build up to this one, the man is a young Viking, and not a Garrison Keiller [sic].

Of course, you continue your ego-massaging essay, never considering that your audience may be able [to] ascertain that sexual fantasy is not only the domain of junior-high school girls, or that your transparent whiter-than white exterior sugar coat of social elite is cracked; your ridiculous fantasy of self-aggrandizement shows, and while it may be the stuff of lady-like wet dreams, it is not entertaining or enriching to your listeners.

I object that public radio airs such cleaned-up trash, even from the pen of a Pinkney [sic].

I am sure that Freud, wherever he is, is stroking his beard and smiling.

Sincerely,

[Name Deleted Because I Am Too Well-Bred to Expose This Crazy Woman]”

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kategray February 27, 2008 at 7:00 am

Agent query. I know I’m supposed to be “selling” myself in that moment, but sometimes I feel like writers are the last people who should be describing themselves.

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kategray February 27, 2008 at 7:47 am

Oh, I should say that I already have my query letter posted in my blog on myspace…myspace.com/kategrayauthor
It’s all the way in the earliest blogs.

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Betsy February 27, 2008 at 8:04 am

Good god!

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Aurelio February 27, 2008 at 10:34 am

You naughty thing, you made Freud smile.

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A.S. King February 27, 2008 at 11:15 am

Seriously – between the novels and stories and poems, I’ve got about 500 rejection letters in a file. Those were from back before email. I have no idea why I save them. Maybe one day I will paper a room with them like others have done. (If I do, I will have to do something first to make the old-smoker on paper smell go away.)

One that stung quite a bit told me that “Real writers do not start sentences with the word And.”
And another one told me, “Poetry is hard work, not just jotting some words onto paper.”

But really, really truly, the worst ones for me are the recent ones from editors who love my writing and my novels, who send ‘compliments to the talented author’ but have to decline because they can’t figure out what shelf to put me on.

I want to scream, “The shelf in the front of the bookstore! DUH! ” (Of course – the K shelf will do.) (Right next to Jessica Keener, thank you very much.)

Amy

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maria February 28, 2008 at 7:54 am

Yeah, if I had them here to look it, you can believe that’s where you’d find me at 3 o’clock in the morning.

I’ve only been solicited once (and I didn’t have anything to send!)… that’s something to look forward to for next time 🙂

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jessicaK February 28, 2008 at 9:15 pm

Good idea, Amy. The K shelf. The Killer Writers shelf, right?

I sort of remember a form rejection for a short story I submitted to a lit mag. It was the size of 1/16th of a page. I don’t remember what it said. Nothing, obviously.

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A.S King February 29, 2008 at 12:49 pm

I’m glad you think so, Jessica!

I really hate those tiny paper slips, too. I got one last year that was cut oddly, so it was only a few of the last words from the letter cut in half. No letterhead. I had to go into my records to find out who it was from.

I hope I didn’t come off wrong saying that the worst rejections for me are these recent ones, but it’s the truth. I wouldn’t go back in time for the world, but there’s nothing more depressing than knowing that the people who KNOW think the work is good enough, but still have to say no.

I’ll see you on the K shelf, one day, anyway, J.
(And one day, we’ll do our Motherlessness Tour. I’m telling ya.)

Amy

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Nathalie April 29, 2008 at 11:41 am

I did and you were right. Finally someone did accept to publish the story of an alien which was a science fiction story (and despite the fact that although recording his adventure as a shape shifter, the story is not a fantasy story either).
You can read it if you like (more more to the point if you have the time – I hope the edits are almost finished and we can get you again to come out and play) at Membra Disjecta.

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SusanHenderson May 1, 2008 at 8:35 am

Fantastic, Nathalie! I’ll check it out right now.

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