Rejection Contest

My daughter worked at Putnam going through the slush pile a few summers back. She told people her official job title was: Dream Crusher.

A lot of agents could also put this on their business cards.

During my recent agent-quest, I only got one form rejection–which would seem pretty good until you realize that I had a manuscript an editor wanted (The sequel for My Fair Godmother) which was in need of a contract. In my query letters, I mentioned this fact. It’s the equivalent of telling agents: Hey, you get guaranteed payment for signing me as a client.

I still got rejected. Heck, I still got agents that didn’t even bother to reply with a polite, “No Thanks.”

But due to the last post, I’ve heard a lot from other writers about their rejections. My favorite is from a very talented author who had an agent email her a form rejection while he was simultaneously watching Avatar. (She knew because she was following him on twitter.) That’s got to make you feel special. The agent considered your life work during the slow parts of a movie. (If only the author had thrown in a kick-butt, anorexic looking, blue alien, she might have gotten farther with her manuscript.)

In my book, How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-boyfriend, rejection letters play a pivotal part in the plot. (This is why authors are sick; we take our traumatic moments and put them in books to make money off of them.) So leave a comment telling me your worst rejection moment and the random number generator will choose who gets a free copy of the book.

See, sometimes rejection pays off.


  1. Sarah M Eden
    February 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Okay, okay, okay. I have a doooozy!

    A manuscript of mine was rejected in 2007, which wasn’t a huge deal because it was only one in an ever-growing line of rejections I had received over the course of about 10 months. I had some ice cream, dreamed up unique methods of torture I would use on said rejectors and got over it.

    Last month I got a letter from the same person who had rejected that manuscript saying that they had come across my query letter and sample chapters (Why did they even still have it? I’m wondering that–aren’t you?). The letter I received from them last month rejected my manuscript. Again.

    So I received 2 rejections for a single submission. Just when you think the industry couldn’t get more merciless, they start rejecting writers over and over again. With any luck this will become a yearly ritual and I will get a rejection letter from them every January. Talk about a new years tradition to look forward to!

  2. C. K. Bryant
    February 15, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    I think I’ve got them all beat. I actually got accepted by a publisher, signed a contract, went through weeks and weeks of rewrites, including changing it from 1st to 3rd person and tweaking the plot of books 3 and 4 in the series. I was in the middle of my FINAL edits, with my release date in sight, when the publisher released me from my contract. Talk about the ultimate rejection. Since then, I’ve been playing the agent query game and have been collecting rejection slips, one after another. I’m determined to get back in the game and get this book published.

  3. Taffy
    February 15, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    That is funny, Sarah! I don’t have a rejection letter…yet.

  4. Amie B
    February 15, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Seeing as my MS is still on submission and in the hands of some agents that I admire greatly, I’m not sure I really want to admit to my latest rejection. But…
    I had submitted to one of those agents that does trashy romances with the Fabio covers. WHY? You ask. Well, I’m still asking myself that. Anyway, the rejection was my original query letter mailed back to me with one of those cheesy 4 x 8 rest-stop quality brochures about the agency. That was it. Whaa??

  5. Janette Rallison
    February 15, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    What a class act! And Sarah, I think you should email the agency a couple of more times and ask them if they’re still considering your manuscript.

  6. Melanie J
    February 15, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Sarah’s is my favorite. The only rejection I’ve gotten is from my second choice publisher. It came in after I got an acceptance from my first choice publisher, so I’m not going to complain. But I’m going to bookmark this post for future reference in case I move into a different market and need to be reminded I’m not the only getting my ego body-slammed.

  7. Kristi Stevens
    February 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    I had to laugh when I read your post. Thanks Janette. I needed that today. 🙂

  8. Sara
    February 15, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Well, I’m not an author, but I’ve still been rejected in some form or another. For example…

    When I moved away from home to go to college, I was jobless. I applied like crazy to all types of places, but I couldn’t seem to get an interview. Finally I had one at Kohls. I was really pumped… getting feedback of any kind was good at that point, I was pretty broke… but it was a group interview. Those are never comfortable or fun. I could tell throughout the whole interview that I was not the favorite… it was a horrible feeling. At the end of the interview, they persuaded me to sign up for a Kohls credit card… A week later I got two letters in the mail… one was my new Kohls card, the other was a short letter saying that they hired someone else.

    I guess I should give them points for at least TELLING me I wasn’t going to be hired. Otherwise I might have waited even longer…

    Sara @ The Hiding Spot

  9. Jackee
    February 15, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    We ARE sick… and twisted.

    My “best” rejection was from a full that said something about how the subcharacter’s actions weren’t crazy enough to make the story exciting. I believe that was also the same rejection that spelled the titular chacter’s name wrong. I still wonder if she actually read the ms…

  10. Jennifer
    February 15, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    I am not an author so haven’t received rejection letters. But I am a foster parent and have kids yell at me that I am not there parent and can not tell them what to do.

  11. Janette Rallison
    February 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Hey, my kids yell the same thing at me. I have often told one of my sons that when he finds his real mom to let us know, so we can send her the bill for his gymnastics lessons. I’d also like to give her my stretch marks. So far no takers.

  12. Matthew Buckley
    February 15, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Most of my rejections start out with “Dear Ms. Jensen…” So not only are they rejecting me, they are challenging my manhood. And people wonder why I wear a beard.

  13. Julie
    February 15, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    I have two great stories about communication problems.

    One: I sent a manuscript to an agency via email, and a couple of months later I received an email in reply. Only, there was no message in the email. It was just my email sent back to me. So I emailed them and asked them what that meant. They wrote back and said, “We don’t know what happened. Sorry about that. And then they pasted in their form rejection letter.

    Two: I submitted a couple of stories to a magazine that has published my stuff before. I got an email back that said, “We are sorry to inform you that your story does meet our editorial requirements.” DOES? And sorry? In the same sentence? So I emailed them back and asked what that meant, and added, “Can you tell me which editorial requirements it doesn’t meet? If it’s length, I can change that. Their response: (no dear__, no sincerely__) We’re sorry for the confusion. We meant to say that we don’t want your stories.

    Great. Glad to have those clarifications.

  14. Noble M Standing
    February 16, 2010 at 7:28 am

    My worst rejection was in the form of an edit I paid for. I had such high hopes for this edit, and the editor didn’t even finish the MS. They ripped the first 100 pages to shreds and sent it beck to me. My characters were carboard and the story had no plot. The whole thing, according to them, was unbelievable. Worse, they patronized me by telling me that it was a really good thing that I had actually finished writing a book as if I was a grade schooler instead of a writer that has been working at thier craft for years. Ouch!

  15. Amber Lynae
    February 16, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Man reading all these rejections makes me really excited to submit my work. Okay maybe I meant it makes me deathly afraid.

    My manuscript is not yet ready for submission. I have some nice rejections from junior high that I guess I kinda laugh at now. Like when my crush of two years kissed my best friend as well as informed her I was at the bottom of the pretty list (therefore not worth his time). I guess I should be glad I made the list…..

    Another rejection was when I wanted to give up basketball and try out for the open call tryouts in cheerleading. They had less girls try out than they needed. I still didn’t make the team. So I was bad enough that they didn’t care they wouldn’t have enough girls to complete the team.

  16. Janette Rallison
    February 16, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Ooh, ouch! Don’t worry, after those rejections, getting a form letter from an agent will seem like nothing!

  17. Sarah
    February 16, 2010 at 9:35 am

    My manuscript was rejected by a poorly photocopied letter that was very hard to read AND crooked on the paper.

    To start with, they couldn’t even address the letter with “Dear Author.”

    “Your work ____________ (they wrote in the name of my manuscript) blah, blah, blah” (in this part they had one run on sentence and two typos– inspires confidence, eh?)

    “was rejected for one of the following reasons:”

    After this was actually 6 bullet points and they CHECK MARKED which one qualified!

    And no one bothered to to sign it. All I got that was personal was: the title of my manuscript and a small check.

    I thought the letter was such a great example of a horrible rejection letter that I’ve kept it all these years.

  18. Janice
    February 16, 2010 at 10:41 am

    My favorite rejection was from an LDS publisher for a childrens book on modesty called Princesses Don’t Show Their Panties. In the rejection they called it Princesses Don’t Wear Panties.

  19. Tiffany Dominguez
    February 16, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Here’s my story: Simon & Schuster Pulse is considering my manuscript. If they don’t sign, then another publishing company also has the manuscript under consideration. I mentioned that in the 30+ queries I sent out in the last month. Like you, Janette, this seems like a pretty good bet to take on, right? Still, I’ve gotten multiple rejections and if I hear the phrase “we lack the enthusiasm for your work” ONE. MORE. TIME! Honestly. You don’t need that much enthusiasm, since a sale is a pretty good bet. I even had an agent review the full MS and “wish me the best of luck in finding an agent who is confident and excited about your work.” Stats: 72 Queries, 42 Rejections, 4 Requests for Fulls, 3 Partials.

  20. Heather B. Moore
    February 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I’m not fully recovered to completely share my best/worst rejection story. But just as a prequel, I had an agent who was “in love” with my book, but didn’t like the way it ended. This was an agent that I had met in person and traded many emails. She said she’d be happy to take another look at it if I decided to rewrite, so I believed her. I spent weeks rewriting the end then resubmitted. Never heard from her again.

  21. Janette Rallison
    February 16, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    Oh ouch! Really, I feel all of your pain! I think I may need chocolate just in order to recover some happiness . . .

  22. Kathi Oram Peterson
    February 16, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I have a huge file of rejections. Had one from an editor who sat on the manuscript for years!!! So that was partly my fault. I’d met her at a conference. She picked my book as the winner of a contest. I became busy with other projects and actually forgot about it.

  23. Tina Lynn
    February 17, 2010 at 2:22 am

    Sadly, I have only received boring form rejections. No requests for pages, so…yeah!

  24. Laura Lofgreen
    February 17, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I contacted an agent (on 8-08-2008, I saw it as a good sign) who used to work with scientist and authorRachel Carson, a leading character in my eco-young adult novel Colors of the Sea. I thought she’d be thrilled to read a young adult manuscript that introduces the life of Rachel Carson to young readers. She referred me to her assistant who eventually passed on it. The most difficult thing is when you’re willing to make changes to make it better, but they don’t even want it. Onward and forward, I’m onto a new pile of rejections, but still loving the writing game.

  25. Lori Nawyn
    February 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I was once rejected by a publisher who said she loved my story, however there was a problem. She noted in my rejection letter that she believed they could make a great success of the book–if only I was already a well-known author or a man. Since I wasn’t famous or male, sorry no contract.

  26. Lydie13
    February 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I love How to take the Ex out of Ex Boyfriend! I read it just last week! Just keep trying. all your writing is fabulous even if it takes a few pulishers to realize it.

  27. Janette Rallison
    February 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I’m glad you liked Ex-boyfriend! I realize I’ve been very lucky and fortunate that all of my books have eventually found homes. (Although they are cut, lengthened, changed, and basically bruised and bleeding by the time they make it through revisions.)

  28. Susan
    February 17, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    Hi Janette,

    My worst rejection was for the first manuscript I ever completed. Why was it the worst? Because it started on such a high note!

    Ms. Agent asked for the partial within an hour of receiving my e-query. I sent it. Then, a week later, she called me and spent fifteen minutes on the phone telling me how much she love, love, LOVED the story, and to send the full. I did. A week passed. Then two. Then three.

    The letter came in my self-addressed enveloped, with the manuscript inside.


    The letter said: “The first three chapters were great. By chapter four, the manuscript lost its spark.”

    I looked at the manuscript. It hadn’t even been leafed through.

    This was five years and two published books ago, and I still hate that word “spark.”


  29. brenda
    February 18, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    In life we all have so many to choose from 🙂 One of mine involves candles, chocolate covered strawberries, and a husband who suddenly had a “headache”….talk about the shoe being on the other foot!!!!

  30. chelly
    February 18, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Hi Janette!
    My worst rejection moment has to be continuous rejection for my novel Her Beauty Dazes Me. I’ve been rejected for six months now and still no take. This is my first submission to an agent but I already have two novels published but most of them say I’m too young to be an author. Yet, I know that this is what I am meant to do and I don’t feel like sitting and waiting till I’m 30 to do this.

  31. Tolley Family
    February 19, 2010 at 9:24 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. Ness101
    February 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I’m not a writer either, but all this talk of rejection reminds me of a time I got rejected for a job.

    I’m a substitute teacher (still looking for that elusive full-time job). One year I applied for a job in the district I was subbing for. I got an interview (one of the most stressful interviews ever – but that’s another story). They told me they’d let me know what they decided by the end of next week.

    That very next week I happened to be subbing in the same school for the day. When I came back in after taking the class out to the bus I saw the entire interview panel gathered around one of the other applicants (who I knew) clearly congratulating her – despite the fact they knew I was in the building. I couldn’t believe how rude it was!

    Never got a phone call. About two weeks later I got a form letter in the mail saying they’d hired someone else.

    Yeah….I moved to a new town mostly because I didn’t want to sub for them anymore!

    Good luck to all the authors out there! Hope I’m reading your stuff someday! 🙂

  33. Danyelle Ferguson
    February 19, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    My worst rejection story – I had a publisher (who will remain nameless) offer to publish my manuscript. Only they wanted to publish it as an e-book first to establish if the market for the book & see how it would sell. If it sold well, then they would print the book for stores.

    When I sent them a return email asking them for more details – such as time frame to establish if it was successful, how many copies would need to sell before it would be printed, etc – the publisher emailed back and withdrew their offer. They said they had never done an e-book before and didn’t have answers for my questions. They were just willing to give me a chance because they liked the book.

    Not three weeks later, I was at a writers conference where this SAME publisher sat on a publisher’s panel. He specifically said his company was ahead of the market from other LDS publishers, that all their books were available as e-books, and all these other things. I wanted to put my hand up and ask if they were lying to me or to the audience. It’s a rejection that still annoys me to bits.

  34. Anonymous
    February 20, 2010 at 2:20 am

    Cool article you got here. I’d like to read something more about that matter. Thnx for giving that information.
    Joan Stepsen
    Indian escort in London

  35. Kaferine
    February 20, 2010 at 10:32 am

    I remember my biggest rejection was entering a kids sidewalk chalk drawing contest. The age range for kids was something like 0-12 and I was at the high end. I considered myself an artist and did a huge elaborate drawing, filling in all the space. I figured all the other drawings were pretty good, but I KNEW I was going to win.

    I didn’t even place. Thank you city of Milton, Washington! 😛

  36. Kaferine
    February 20, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Oh, by the way, isn’t there some way we could buy your books and have you send us the original unedited version? Lol- I know that’s probably illegal or something, but I’d much rather read what you came up with by yourself!

  37. Janette Rallison
    February 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Interesting thought. I’ve given hard copies of original drafts to the Kerlan Institute. They collect early drafts from writers so that people can see the writing process and how things changed. Since my next book, My Double Life, was edited electronically, people will not only get to see my editor’s comments, they’ll get to see me arguing with some of my editors comments.

    I’m hoping that no one actually ever looks at those.

  38. Liesl
    February 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Seeing as I’m not an author, I don’t have experience with rejection letters. Although being a blogger, the worst type of rejection is when a post I really liked writing gets zero comments.

    But my worst rejection? I was walking with my brother who I love dearly, and I was cold. I took his arm for warmth, and he shoved me off. Ouch. I haven’t tried to touch him since.

  39. Julie Wright
    February 22, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    my favorite worst rejection was the two page letter that began with the words, “I hate your main character and hope she dies of a drug overdose.”

    That was so much fun . . . or not, to receive.

  40. Janette Rallison
    February 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Brutal! Be glad you didn’t have to work with that person as your editor. Can you imagine the revision letter? It would be nothing but death threats . . .

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