In my writing career, I have been rejected numerous times. I don't have an exact count, but I figure it numbers somewhere in the thousands. Seriously. I have novels, novellas, short stories, children's books, and nonfiction. Trust me, they went through a lot before finally finding a home. Normally, rejection doesn't bother me. It's part of the game. It wears on me after a while, makes me wonder why I'm writing, but it's obviously never bothered me enough to make me quit. Well, it did once for several months, but I broke out of that shell.
In my writing career, I have also dealt with a nefarious publisher who plagiarized work and stole art for the covers of his books. I've been the target of scams that I almost fell for. I'm still trying to make a name for myself. In all of the trials, as if they weren't enough to shake a writer's confidence, I have also been rejected for the most bizarre reasons. This is actually quite rare, but when it does happen, it leaves you feeling dizzy and wondering what the hell just happened.
My first experience with a WTF rejection was with my nonfiction project. This happened in March 2011. You can read the entire blog post here. In summary, here was what the editor said:
"Thanks for letting me see this. I regret to say that it wouldn't be
appropriate for us. (You're still working on this at a student level: no film
scholar needs to be told that movies are more than "mere entertainment.") Good
luck with this. You might find a publisher, but you need to polish the work and
identify the right audience for it."
And here was my reaction:
What this person is
referring to is the first paragraph of chapter 1. A paragraph. It's not
written in stone. I can delete it. There are 220 pages and this is what this
person focuses on. Whatever.
It amazes me sometimes what people focus on when looking at a piece of work. This story, of course, has a happy ending, and the book was picked up by Scarecrow Press and has been published.
Yesterday I received another one of those WTF-type rejections. I was sending out queries for my YA book, The Appeal of Evil, and actually got a bite from an agent. This person asked a few questions, including what types of reviews I've received for my work, and I responded with answers and links. This is the response I got back:
"If you haven't yet taken the advice that the Kids Lit reviewer gave you to heart, there's no way for me to present this new book of yours to publishers. A key component of the successful horror/thriller--especially for young readers--is to show, show, show rather than tell. You must have great dialogue so that the voice or voices of the protagonists is ringing like a bell in the ear of the reader. Try reading your novel out loud and if you don't find yourself changing your voice often to simulate the change in speaker, then you're still telling too often and showing too little. It really sounds as if you've cracked the code on plotting but haven't yet discovered how to make a story come fully to life."
My first reaction was confusion. What in the world does my middle grade book have to do with my YA novel? And for someone who hasn't read either story, how can judgement be passed? The review that this agent is referring to can be found here.
After confusion came anger. Like I said, I don't mind being rejected. It's part of the game. But to be rejected for something like this, I don't understand. I've received other reviews for the book and they've been positive. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and not everyone is going to like what I write. That's fine. I'm not going to censor you or tell you you were wrong. I appreciated the reviewer taking the time to read my book and comment on it, but I didn't run out and rewrite the entire thing like she suggested. I can't. For one person who had some issues with it, several others really enjoyed it. I can't make everyone happy, and I wouldn't try.
And how can this review give the agent insight into how I write or how open I am to editing and suggestions? Again, it was for the MIDDLE GRADE, not the YA NOVEL I was querying. It boggled the mind.
The last sentence of the email was this:
"So, at this point, without having established your platform and haven't yet brought the story to life, I am going to have to pass. But keep letting me know how you're doing and being reviewed and I'll keep an eye on how you're progressing."
It says a lot that this agent wants to know how I'm progressing. That doesn't happen very often. I am thankful I at least have that opportunity.
Agents are just like us, they are subject to their likes and dislikes and are full of faults. This one didn't like my work, along with so many others. Yes, I was incredibly angry at first for this response, and I wanted to defend myself at what I perceived was an attack. Instead, I sent a reply and told this agent I was confused by the response and asked for clarification. I never got it. Honestly, I didn't really expect to.
After taking a few deep breaths and focusing on some other things, I got over it. This agent is definitely entitled to their opinion, just like everyone is. Now, I laugh at this. I'll never understand why this is what the agent decided to focus on. I'll never understand why this particular review was my downfall. I mean, the reviewer still gave me 4 stars, for crying out loud! The best I can do is learn from it and move on.