It’s Rejection Week!

Next week might just be the biggest, most exciting week on my blog. Ever.

On Monday, I’ll feature a conversation with Yuvi Zalkow, whose debut novel A Brilliant Novel in the Works will be released on Tuesday. You may know him as the hilarious purveyor of the Failed Writer series of presentations. He’s a longtime friend and important member of my personal writing community.

Then on Thursday, bestselling author Selden Edwards will join the Seven Questions interview series. His answers are truly inspiring, and I’m so honored to have him participate.

His debut novel, The Little Book, earned acclaim when it was published in 2008, and Thursday marks the launch of his second book, The Lost Prince. You can read more about this prequel/sequel here, and then stay tuned for Thursday’s interview.

But for now, as we wait for these two special book launches, I’ve cooked up a fun event. There are prizes involved, so keep reading.

Are you ready for Rejection Week?

These two authors are very different, and their books may appeal to different kinds of readers, but what they have in common is a message that all of us writers need to hear:

Don’t give up. Keep writing.

Selden started The Little Book in 1974 while at Stanford, and despite rounds of rewrites and rejections every six years or thereabouts, he kept revising until he perfected the story, earned an agent and landed a contract with Dutton. The book is incredibly detailed, layered and structured. It’s the kind of novel that’s chock-full of plot and big ideas but it’s also beautifully written. No wonder it became a bestseller! I just love this book and can’t wait to read The Lost Prince.

Yuvi’s first presentation about the writing life featured rejections and his eventual publication in Glimmer Train. The failed writer theme evolved from there. (If you missed it, here are his thoughts on being a successful failed writer.) His book is a wild romp through a neurotic writer’s mind, and along with laugh-out-loud passages, it offers poignant meditations on family, illness and crippling self-doubt.

In honor of these two persistent, successful writers, who kept working despite rejections, I’m officially declaring this Rejection Week here on my blog and asking you to share a rejection story here in the comments.

Come on–you know you want to dish!

To make the rejection sting a little sweeter, I’m giving away TWO books to two lucky winners, a copy of Yuvi’s A Brilliant Novel in the Works and a flipback book. Everyone who comments will get one chance to win. If you promote this contest on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or your own blog, you will get one extra chance to win per social media outlet, but remember to come back here and tell me where you promoted it so I can add your extra chance into the hat.

I’ll use (instead of a hat) to determine the two winners on Friday, August 10, after closing the giveaway at 5 p.m. West Coast time. Winners will be notified here in the comments. If I don’t hear back from a winner within seven days, I’ll choose a new one. If possible, I will let the winners choose which book they want, but I reserve the right to make the final choice depending on availability.

As a special bonus, if we get more than 20 entries, I’ll give away three books to make your odds of winning better. If we get more than 40 entries, I’ll give away four books.

Ready, set, go! What was your worst rejection? Your best? Your funniest? Your first? Your most recent? How did an acceptance feel after a rejection? Have you ever stopped writing after a rejection? This is just an appetite whetting exercise, as Yuvi’s epic Fear and Failure Experiment will be happening all next week, so pop over and find out how to participate.


About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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28 Responses to It’s Rejection Week!

  1. My most recent rejection came yesterday, at the Willamette Writers Conference. I had done several pitch sessions all weekend, pitching my novel to editors and agents. Two editors had expressed interest in seeing pages, a literary agent had been very enthusiastic about the idea and wanted pages, and a film agent had asked to see pages, although she asked everyone at the group session to submit, so it was hard to gauge how interested she really was in my stuff. But all in all, it was a very encouraging weekend for a first-time conference attendee and pitcher.

    THEN I went to my final pitch session with an editor at a well-known science fiction and fantasy publisher. It was a group session and she told us we each had five minutes. She asked me to go first and I confidently launched my elevator pitch. I was maybe two sentences into the pitch when I knew she was going to reject it. For one thing, she looked vaguely puzzled, as though she couldn’t imagine why I was even talking to her. There was also a faint suggestion that she was thinking, “What’s that smell?”

    As I talked, she punctuated my narrative with “Yeah. Uh huh. Okay. Yeah,” spoken in a tone of voice one generally reserves for that person you knew in high school, the one you never liked, who has buttonholed you in the parking lot at Fred Meyer when you have groceries in the car, including ice cream that is melting as you speak.

    When I finished my pitch, well under my five minutes, she asked a question: “What do these aliens look like?”

    I hesitated; I’d just spent the past three and a half minutes telling her about how my aliens take over the bodies of humans in my story. “They’re incorporeal,” I said. “They don’t look like anything.”

    “Oh,” she said, clearly bored with the whole thing. “Well, I don’t know how we’d even market something like this. The science fiction we publish is generally hard science, and your aliens are the only science thing in the story. Other than that, it’s mostly a thriller. I don’t think it would even sell.”

    Then she smiled (the first time she’d done so since we all sat down) and said, “I’m sorry.” It was clear she was convinced she’d just crushed all my hopes and dreams.

    I simply smiled back and assured her it was okay. Inside, I was trying really hard not to laugh, because when I had pitched this story to two different editors at Tor Books on Friday, I had pitched it as a contemporary fantasy. Each of them had said, independently, that this was clearly not a fantasy but a science fiction story, because it had aliens in it.

    Each of them also wanted to see 50 pages and a synopsis, but they have a policy that only one of them can request material from the same writer, so I’ll submit to the first one I talked to.

    Later in the session, a guy pitched a mainstream thriller – apparently, he had not researched the publishing house before buying the pitch session. He accepted her rejection with the acknowledgment that he was obviously at the wrong table. “Maybe if I’d had aliens in it, it would have worked,” he joked.

    “Apparently not,” I said. Everybody but the editor laughed.

    • Wow, Leanne! That’s quite a story–and perfect timing for this giveaway. I’m so glad you spoke up about the aliens at the end. So often I think of a great zinger too late–usually in the car, driving away from an encounter–but you came up with it and delivered it to great effect. I wish I had been there!

      Congrats on the interest in your novel, too. I love it when rejections, especially ones delivered in a snarky tone (as you so eloquently described), are padded by some good news!

      Your experience also shows how much subjectivity is involved in the publishing industry. Obviously personal taste has a lot to do with what’s published, but even the genre definitions are subjective.

      • Thanks, Laura! I’m trying to be careful and not read too much into the interest in my novel, because so much can happen between someone hearing the pitch and then actually reading the work. But at least I’ve had several industry professionals tell me I have a really good idea and they want to see it.

        And you’re right about the genre definitions being subjective. I think these days, there isn’t as much straight hard science fiction being written as there used to be, and the audience for it is loyal but relatively small. Most people seem to favor a blend of sci fi that includes softer elements (such as social science fiction) or blends of sci fi and fantasy. And the publishing house in question does publish softer stuff; I just think this particular editor’s focus is pretty narrow. This idea is supported by the fact that other people I talked to at the conference said she was rejecting pretty much everyone who pitched to her.

        In fact, those of us who write speculative fiction for adults had pretty slim pickings of people to pitch to. The editors and agents were heavily weighted against sci fi and fantasy, unless you were pitching young adult. I will be so glad when this fad of adults reading stuff aimed at teens finally fades.

    • Yuvi says:

      Wow Leanne… That’s a great story right there in your comment. I wish you the best with finding the right spot for your cool-sounding incorporeal story. I know it took me 30+ agents and 12+ publishers before I could find people willing to champion my not-easy-to-categorize book. I was sure appreciative when I finally found an agent and editor who got what I was doing and helped me make it better…

  2. I’ve only ever had form letter rejections, which is upsetting because then I know that I didn’t even get a chance. They didn’t even read my work.

    • Emily, don’t be discouraged. A form rejection letter doesn’t mean no one read your work. It simply means they didn’t take time to write a personal rejection. This could be for a lot of different reasons.

      I do think there are times when material gets rejected without being read, but that is generally because the writer didn’t follow the publisher’s or agent’s submission guidelines. For example, if they say no unsolicited manuscripts, then don’t send one – send a query instead. If they specify a file type or formatting guidelines, follow them to the letter. It’s usually that sort of thing that gets a rejection without a reading.

      If you have a chance to attend a writers conference, try to get involved in any pitching events they run. If you sit down and pitch your idea to someone and they ask to see some of your work, then you can reference that you met them at the conference in the subject line of your email and they WILL read it, because they know they requested it.

      • Hi, Emily! Thanks for joining the conversation. You make some great points, Leanne. I agree about form letters. It’s great when you get a thoughtful rejection, but I imagine with the shrinking industry and all the writers wanting to get agents’ and editors’ attention, there are a lot of form letters circulating because it’d be impossible to respond otherwise. I have to say I’m really disappointed by the no response means rejection trend. I had a few of those and wished I had been given a form letter as an acknowledgement. No response makes me nervous that the query didn’t even make it there.

  3. Emma Burcart says:

    My only writing rejections have been no response, which is actually worse than rejection in a lot of ways. I think it means I need to actually submit more, because you can’t get a rejection without submitting.

    My best rejection story, though, was in fifth grade. I had been playing Truth or Dare with my friends, like we did most weekends. I forgot the all important “always pick truth” rule and went with dare. My friends dared me to ask out the most popular boy in school, who I may have also had a crush on. It took a ton of courage on my part to even ask him to meet me on the sidewalk. The asking him out part was even harder. Instead of telling me yes or no he said, “Ha ha I just recorded you!” and pulled a little tape recorder out of his pocket. Of course, the next day at school he told everyone and played them the tape for proof that I had asked him out. I almost died from embarrassment. Thinking back on it, it seems pretty obvious that one of my so-called friends must have given him the heads up. There was no way he would have thought to record that conversation if he didn’t know.

    So, as long as an editor or agent doesn’t record my pitch and broadcast it for everyone to hear, really it won’t be as bad.

    • Yuvi says:

      Emma! That’s an incredible story… I think I’m emotionally scarred just imagining that happening to me in the fifth grade…

    • Ouch, Emma! How absolutely awful. Makes a great story now… but I can’t imagine having lived through it. My super embarrassing sixth grade story pales in comparison. Did you ever figure out who told?

  4. I’ve been rejected twice. (Only because I quit sending out stories after that second rejection.) Mostly, they just said my story wasn’t their magazine’s cup of tea. I was a young writer back then, so it stung more than it should have. But now, I have them posted on my walls where I can see them and remind myself where all I’ve come since then. 🙂

  5. I got a rejection from The New Yorker once. My first rejection (and probably my last — I don’t think I submitted again). I knew somebody who knew somebody at the magazine so I had a name to send it to, and he wrote a nice letter back. He was right to reject the story — it wasn’t that good. I don’t even remember which of my early stories he rejected, but none of them were that good. I wasn’t crushed. I think I would have been amazed if The New Yorker had published my first effort. From my perspective now, of course, I’m relieved. I don’t want anybody to read those early stories. 🙂

    • That’s the best kind of rejection you can get! I actually once received a personal rejection from The New Yorker, too. It’s probably my favorite rejection ever. I still have it somewhere. That was back in the day when I was sending stories out. I don’t even remember what story it was.

  6. Pingback: Reminder: Book Giveaway Ends Tomorrow | Laura Stanfill

  7. 4amWriter says:

    Okay, rejection stories. Well, mostly I have had form letters and brief emails that state, “Sorry, not for me.” But I did have a ‘helpful’ rejection.

    I submitted to a small publishing house back in January that was *just* opening its doors. They were taking any and all full submissions. (They’re closed to submissions now.) One month later I received a rejection that really made me feel like I was right in pursuing the path of being a novelist, that this wasn’t some fanciful whim of mine. She wrote, “My favorite thing is probably your writing style. There were liners that you used throughout the story that I actually made a point to pull out because I enjoyed your “turning of a phrase”.”

    This was an incredible compliment. Writing, to me, is more than telling a good story; I want to tell a good story well. I don’t want to be known as the author who can’t write (no naming names 😉 )

    Beyond that, though, I was given concrete, helpful feedback that truly showed me the problems (as well as the strengths) in my novel. Before this submission, I had queried dozens of literary agents, and not a single one ever bothered to tell me why I was being rejected. I understand how busy everyone is and there aren’t enough hours in the day to help out all of the struggling writers. But, when someone takes the time to point me in the right direction–I am all ears and I do what is necessary to improve my book.

    • Yuvi says:

      I also love thoughtful feedback with a rejection. Feedback isn’t always helpful in this form, but I sure appreciate the ones that really helped me see key problems (or strengths!) in my stories…

    • How wonderful! That kind of rejection is the best. And I agree about the writing being important. I’m starting to put more weight on telling a good story, but I think language will probably always be my top priority.

  8. 4amWriter says:

    Okay, I’m checking back in to let you know I promoted this on Twitter, Google+, my Facebook fan page and my Facebook personal account!

    Great idea, Laura. Thanks for doing this.

    • Awesome! Thanks so much! I’ll give you those four extra entries. (And this is a reminder to myself to count Sarah Cypher, who promoted it on Twitter, and Emma Burcart, who put it out on Google+ and Twitter.)

  9. Mayumi-H says:

    What a great idea! Celebrating the strength of rejection. Don’t we all need some of that in our lives? (By the way, thank 4amWriter for leading me to your blog; I saw her plug about it on Twitter.)

    I’ll definitely be back! 🙂

    • Thanks for visiting, Mayumi! It’s so important to think of rejections as investments in our writing, as things to move past on our way to success. Maybe that’s why I’m such a champion of other people’s writing. If they made it, then the rest of us need to keep working until we do, too!

  10. Thanks, everyone, for participating in Rejection Week! The winners of the books, chosen using, are Emily January and Emma Burcart. Congrats, you two! Pop me a note at laurastanfill at hotmail dot com with your address and whether you prefer Yuvi’s book or a flipback. I’ll get them in the mail next week. Extra special thanks to Yuvi for providing prizes.

  11. Pingback: Fear & Failure Results — yuvi zalkow

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