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The Personal Rejection: The Backhanded Compliment of Publishing

Sometimes editors love your book but still can’t publish it.

There are two types of rejection letters – the dreaded form letter and the personal rejection letter. The former is just what it sounds like—the one that editors and agents send to dozens, if not hundreds of authors every year that says, with very little subtext, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The personal letter, of course, says, with very little subtext, “We’re sorry, thanks, but no thanks.”

Actually, that’s a bit unfair to the personal rejection letter. Some are effusive in their praise. Gushing even. But for whatever reason, they can’t publish or represent your hard work.

My friends have come to consider me the king of the personal rejection letter. In the past three years I have received exactly one form letter for a half-dozen books I’ve been shopping around.

A List of Rejection Letters

  1. One editor rejected my book by saying, “If this were five or ten years ago, I would have published your book. I had a bigger budget then.”
  2. Another wrote, “This book is imminently publishable, and I am sure that I will one day see it in bookstores. Unfortunately, I must regretfully say that we will not be the ones publishing it.”
  3. Yet another: “This book is very similar to Book X that we have just released. Had you gotten this book to me sooner, I would have strongly considered publishing it. Unfortunately, we feel that it would be too confusing for our readers at this time.”
  4. Three times the frustration… “I found your book refreshing and funny. It is a delightful read. Unfortunately, we don’t publish books about exotic animals here at Publisher X. Do you have another manuscript you could send me?”
    a. After sending a second manuscript: “I thoroughly enjoy your writing, but find that this story is not right for our house. Is there another manuscript you can send me? I’m sure that’s it’s just a matter of finding the right story, because you and I are definitely going to work together.”
    b. After sending a third manuscript: “Editor Y no longer works here and your manuscript is being returned unread.”
  5. “Your book reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Movie X. I brought this book to our board meeting, but the board has rejected it. I’m sorry to say we must pass on this project.”
  6. After sending in two rewrites to an editor: “I love this story, but my line editor does not, and upon further review, I’m inclined to agree with him. I am sure, however, that you will definitely be published.”
  7. And my favorite: “You remind me of Author X (Author X was a client of hers. It’s precisely why I sent her the book). Unfortunately (There’s that word again!), I already have Author X and don’t need another one.

Rejection, whether personal or form-fitting, still hurts. After all, the backhanded compliment is publishing’s version of the backhanded slap – it still stings. That said, it’s good to get such compliments because, at the very least, my work was worth a little extra effort on the editor’s part, even if they are often followed by that unfortunate word, “Unfortunately.” So, do I give up? No, I keep submitting because the one thing failure has taught me is that you can fail at different levels. I’m falling short somewhere near the top, and while that is still falling short, I find the drop is not as far as if I were missing by a mile and a half. It’s much easier to pick myself back up and try again.

**On a positive note, my first middle-grade biography, Mary Dyer: Friend of Freedom, will be released by Atombank Books on September 2nd. Yay! Success!

Pre-order your Kindle copy here!

Richard Bach Quote

What’s your best rejection letter/story?


2 comments on “The Personal Rejection: The Backhanded Compliment of Publishing

  1. Pingback: What Five Years as a Children’s Writer Means | John Briggs Books

  2. theryanlanz
    June 20, 2017

    Hi John! Per your earlier permission, I scheduled this article to be posted tomorrow morning as a guest post on . As usual, it has your credit/bio/credit. Thanks!

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This entry was posted on August 22, 2014 by in Publishing, Writing and tagged , , .


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