Beginning today, I will be posting rejection letters past and present, some personal and some from writers who care/dare to share because they are as much a part of the experience of people who write as the hours we put in to sharpen our craft, develop a story or character, and promote our work. If you have a rejection letter you want to share, email it to email@example.com. All identifying info will be redacted.
Every writer gets rejected at one point or another, and though we accept rejection letters as part of the process, on our worst days they trigger not-so-latent insecurities, plunge us to the depths of a well of despair, and inspire petty and valid evaluations of the writers who do have agents, those who are published, and the fewer still who are hailed. On our best days, they sting like a colony of hornets.
This said, and personally experienced, what I’ve come to learn about rejections, is they are not only necessary to sharpening your work–if multiple agents/editors share the same opinion about a narrative choice, you might want to reexamine and decide whether it is as vital to your story as you originally believed–but they also reveal a lot about the rejector. Sometimes, the agent is saying ‘no’ because s/he doesn’t have the relationships or know-how to sell your work. Sometimes, the editor passes because s/he knows, for a host of professional and personal reasons, s/he won’t be able to gain the necessary consensus from her/his colleagues and superiors. Sometimes, the agent/editor is unable to “connect” with the story because it is alien from his/her own.
Regarding the connection issue, Lauren A. Rivera’s recent New York Times op-ed unpacks why people may not relate to each other using the lens of “cultural fit” in hiring scenarios. Rivera explains, “To judge fit, interviewers commonly relied on chemistry. …Discovering shared experiences was one of the most powerful sources of chemistry, but interviewers were primarily interested in new hires whose hobbies, hometowns and biographies matched their own.” As a result, of course, “Selection based on personal fit can keep demographic and cultural diversity low.” I believe, to a large extent, the same thing is going on, in addition to a litany of factors, when a cultural gatekeeper makes the call to acquire or pass on a manuscript.
Here’s a rejection I received several years ago, when I was first pitching my first novel Powder Necklace to agents.
If you have a rejection letter you want to share, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. All identifying info will be redacted.