The Nicest Rejection Letter I’ve Ever Received

Today, I received a rejection letter for Dead and Dying. It was one of the last two full manuscript requests I had pending and, after a follow-up note about it last week, was full of the agent’s apologies for not getting back to me sooner. No problem there. It doesn’t matter if the publishing industry is down in sales this year, an agent will always have an insurmountable amount of work, much of it with little or no return on the time invested, and I appreciate any time an agent gives me more than they realize.

Also, along with the apologies, were several remarks about the novel that almost made me forget she was saying no. Among them were:

“. . . you’re clearly a talented writer.”

and

“It’s rare that a book can make me tear up at the end, but I felt that
there was a great deal of warmth and skill in how you wrote these
characters, and yet you did so without crossing the line into
oversentimentality–at least in my opinion–and that’s rare to find in a
story about death.”

and

“Also, this is exactly the type of commercial-literary with speculative elements fiction that I love to read.”

and

“I do believe that you have strong storytelling ability and that your writing has commercial potential.”

The one negative she saw, enough to lead her to say no, was that she did not think she could sell it. Basically, if I’m reading correctly, my writing is good enough to be published, but the story just won’t have a place in the market.

Sigh.

There are two basic problems with this situation and, sadly, neither one is really within my means of fixing. First of all, the poor economy has affected everybody, publishing in particular, and this general sense of gloom and doom, accompanied by a plethora of job losses and cutbacks at major publishing houses has made this one of the most difficult times in modern history for new authors to break through the traditional way. Many people are turning to self-publishing, but I’m determined to do it the hard way. If I’m not good enough to get other people to pay me for my fiction, then I just won’t be published. It’s all or nothing.

The second problem is that, as I’ve said on here before, the author doesn’t really control the material–it’s the other way around. The writing is good enough, but the story just isn’t right and that, unfortunately, is the one thing I really don’t have much say in. I could go through the ideas I have backlogged in my head, looking for something I think will be most likely to stand out in the market, but if I don’t feel that spark of inspiration, that sense of urgency to dig the story out of my head and onto my computer, then my established strength–the quality of my writing–will drop and I’ll end up with the same result, but for opposite reasons. Besides, that kind of speculation is a big part of what got us in this economic crisis to begin with, so I’m not going to risk spending most of a year writing a story I can’t love. I guess I could do a Jason Mesnick and write a story, only to dump it before I start submitting . . . never mind.

So, what now? Well, I am still working to perfect my query letter, now even more important in light of the need to promote the novel’s marketability. I’ve received one rejection so far from a long shot who gave me positive feedback with Dead and Dying, but I’m still not ready to begin a full assault on the agenting community. I’ve read numerous posts saying that the number of query letters have, in some cases, doubled over the past few months. I guess that many people, facing job losses or unstable financial futures, are turning to writing as both a means of escapism and, they hope, an economic boon. I’m not worried about this uptick, though. After all, I’m clearly a talented writer with strong storytelling ability and I believe, without doubt, that my time is coming. No arrogance, just the certainty that I will eventually break through. If I was afraid of competition, no matter how fierce or daunting, I would never have tried to get published in the first place. I welcome the competition and look forward, by combining my little bit of talent with a lot of hard work, to winning.

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About Lee Smiley

I write things. Maybe you'll read them.
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