I ran across a blog today that posts rejection letters received by authors over the years. I guarantee it will make you laugh about your own rejections. And make you wonder about the work habits of some literary agents …
One of my favourite rejection letters of all time, the famous Chinese Rejection, is so kind that it probably took a while before the author stopped smiling long enough to realize s/he’d been rejected. As translated:
“We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”
Anecdotal? Maybe, but I sure could have used a few of those.
Most rejections are neutral, but some can be vicious. I always like to hear of great books that were turned down, that went on to become classics. Authors like J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, and Robert J. Sawyer had their books skewered, as described in this link, which reminds us that even famous authors have had to deal with rejection. Peter Cooper has written a very funny knock-off of the rejection letter that one famous author would probably have received:
Thank you for submitting a query for your children’s novel, “The Hobbit.” I regret to inform you that while the proposal shows merit, this agency may not be the best fit for your work.
If I might venture some feedback, your query letter needs to be improved if future submissions are to be met with success. Although well written, with some of the strongest grammar this agency has ever seen, your outline of the dilemma facing the main protagonist failed to engage me on an emotional level. You also spent far too much time talking about your professorship and expertise in Norse mythology and foreign languages. What has that got to do with anything? Tell me about your book!
On to the sample pages you supplied. From what I can see, most of your first chapter is taken up with back-story concerning “hobbits” and their unusual living arrangements. Indeed – by the end of this first chapter, the story still hasn’t started. Might I suggest commencing at a different point in the narrative? Your best bet would be to open with Bilbo in the grip of the Trolls, and gradually, as the tale progresses, present the back-story of how he came to be there. This will grab your young reader’s attention from the start, enticing them to read further while moving the story along at a much quicker pace.
As for the main protagonist – is it likely that children will relate to a fifty-something man with hairy feet who lives in a pit? Might I suggest making Bilbo younger and perhaps a tad less hairy? How about having him as a young tear-away living in his parent’s attic, perhaps escaping one night by tying his bed-sheets together, that sort of thing. This demonstration of a rebellious attitude and a desire for personal empowerment will far better capture the imagination of a young reader than a middle-aged man running off without a pocket-handkerchief. Trust me.
This might be a good place to mention the apparent gender imbalance in the work. There would appear to be just a slight deficiency of female characters in the story. To put this another way, there are none – zilch – zero. There are men with hairy feet, men with long beards, men with pipes, men who can see in the dark – there are even men who can turn into bears. There are men of every size, shape and smoking habit imaginable, but the closest you come to a female character is the inclusion of several slightly effeminate elves. This just won’t cut it in today’s publishing world. If you want to attract a female audience, you must include strong female role-models. My suggestion would be to make the wizard a woman. Gandalina has a nice ring to it. But lose the beard.
A final comment – the conclusion of your story is far from satisfactory. Having brought Bilbo across miles of uncharted wilderness and ever-present danger, someone else kills the dragon! I can already hear the wails of your young readers, devastated at such a radical deviation from accepted norms of children’s literature. I for one will not subject them to such a trial.
I wish you all the very best for your future submissions. Remember, publication is a highly subjective business, and one person’s trash may indeed be another person’s gold.
Herbert T. Agent”
[courtesy of Peter Cooper]
If all else fails, apparently there’s a Rejection Quarterly that will only publish your piece if you can prove it’s been turned down at least five times. For most of us, regrettably, that should be easy.