The Great and Powerful Oz Has Spoken

So, you know I’m not the Wizard of Oz, right? And I’m not God?

Okay, good, just checking.

Because sometimes I get these letters from people that seem to imbue me with powers that I just don’t have. Like this one I received in response to a very kind rejection letter I’d sent (this is paraphrased to protect the writer’s identity):

I guess my book isn’t right for you. Thanks for suggesting I continue pursuing publication but I don’t think I’m going to do that. You see, sending you my proposal was like a test of whether or not I should be a writer. When you answered “no” I took it as a sign. I’m glad I wrote this story—it has been an amazing experience. But now I see I’m not meant to be a writer and this book is not meant to be published. I will not send it anywhere else. I will put it away, be thankful for the experience, and go on with my life.

Wow. It definitely can feel scary that some people ascribe unrealistic powers to literary agents (and other people in positions of influence). I know this person is doing what they need to do. Perhaps they really wanted to give up writing and needed a good outside excuse (permission) to do so, and I conveniently provided it. But I would hate to think that a writer with potential would give up after only one agent submission. That would be sad.

So in case you’re wondering… I just wanted to confirm that I don’t speak for God. I don’t have all the answers. All I have are my opinions, subjective ones at that, and what I say should never be taken for more than what it is: the fallible words of a lone literary agent.

Not a sign from the universe. Not the gospel.

(Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. David A. Todd on December 29, 2008 at 1:22 PM

    >Many people believe in putting out fleeces to determine God’s will. I don’t, but I can’t fault that writer for doing so if he/she was taught that putting out a fleece is a valid practice.

  2. Alison on December 22, 2008 at 3:43 PM

    >That reminds me very much of the story of the master violinist (also paraphrased here, here, and various other places online if the first link doesn’t work). If one rejection can make someone quit, this probably wasn’t the business for them, anyway.

  3. Heather B. Moore on December 19, 2008 at 12:22 AM

    >This is crazy. But it happened to me. I do some freelance editing, and I read a friend of a friend’s excerpt. It was only a few pages long, and I did my normal edit, giving quite helpful advice I thought. Well, I received a reply in return very similar to this. I was shocked. I responded explaining what an edit is meant to do–and said that every writer starts at some point (and to get some chocolate). Well, I’m happy to say that the person finished the book, went through rounds of editing, and is now submitting to agents. But to think that I single-handedly almost threw a writer off the wagon is disheartening.

  4. Nancy D'Inzillo on December 18, 2008 at 8:49 PM

    >As another commenter said, some people just can’t take rejection. I’m sure you know that’s not your fault. And, honestly, it surprises me that any writer would go so far as to take ONE rejection as their sign they should never write again, especially a nice one. They’d have to be either ignorant of the business (we all get rejected a lot) or full of themselves to think they could get a rep in one try.
    Another note that authors shouldn’t forget: just because one agent doesn’t want to represent the work doesn’t mean another won’t. Agents are people too, and while they may like your work and it could fit into their submission guidelines, if they aren’t confident they can sell it, but encourage you to submit elsewhere, then you’re in better shape than many others, because it means that agent still believes the book is worthy of representation.

  5. Lady Glamis on December 18, 2008 at 12:38 PM

    >In my writer’s group, we like to grow what we call thick skins.

    Mine is still thin, but I think the thick skin helps in a lot of ways. Editing and rejection. I’ve been rejected once so far in my efforts to get published. I’ve also only submitted to two agents. It is definitely a scary process!

    Good luck to the person who wrote that letter. I hope you find something you love pursuing!

  6. Kat Harris on December 18, 2008 at 12:22 PM

    >Maybe the person who sent you that e-mail had received a boatload of rejections already. Maybe not.

    I have a hunch that a lot of writers rush to submit material that might not be ready yet.

    *forces away guilty grin*

    I’d like that writer to know that rejections can be like unanswered prayers for someone who truly wants to be published. Writing a story is one thing. Telling it in an interesting way is another.

    If you aren’t involved in a crit group, then start making contacts. If you don’t know about scene goals/chapter goals/writer voice/characterization/building suspense/plot points/etc., get some books and start working on your craft.

    If you’ve done all that stuff, then grow some thick skin and get ready to persevere. This writing gig is tough. There’s a million voices out here screaming to be heard.

    Rachelle’s ears aren’t the only ones listening. Don’t give up. Just make sure what you’re saying is something worth being heard.

    I don’t mean to sound heartless, but that’s the reality. Publishing is the dream…keep reaching for it.

  7. Julie on December 18, 2008 at 12:05 PM

    >As a young aspiring author who’s a little intimidated by the entire publishing process, this post was sort of scary and comforting all at once. I have put my work online for people to critique so I sort of understand how it feels to get burned a little, but I can’t imagine what the first rejection is like. I guess that’s what makes a true writer: perseverance. If that person really loves what they do, I’m sure they’ll try to get over the rejection and keep going.

  8. Rachel on December 18, 2008 at 12:04 PM

    >Wait wait wait, Rachelle. You mean you had nothing to do with helping me find my keys this morning? Nothing?

  9. Lea Ann McCombs on December 18, 2008 at 11:38 AM

    >Wow, Rashelle, what a fun time you must have getting those kinds of emails! I could see where it might make you recoil a moment, but I agree with whoever said it was a bunch of smoke. People who are hurt sometimes want to let you know how deeply they’re hurt, but I think this writer was correct in saying that he/she’s not cut out for writing. If ONE rejection from ONE agent could vanquish her drive to write, then it is most likely NOT her calling.

    It sounds like she had only one story to tell, and sometimes it’s the story that needed an outlet, not the writer inside.

    Haven’t we Munchkins all written those little gems that will never see print? Most people probably have one or two of those, but not necessarily the skill or determination to make them publishable.

    If you’re called to write, you will keep writing, no matter what one Wizard tells you! (However, I prefer to think of you as Glinda, the Good Witch!)

  10. Courtney Walsh on December 18, 2008 at 11:37 AM

    >I am sooo glad for my theatre experience because it is SO similar in so many ways. Having to cast shows is a hard gig–and it made me realize sometimes people with HUGE talent just don’t FIT in the big picture. It’s not because they aren’t good, it’s just that for this show they aren’t RIGHT. (Big difference)

    I view writing SO much the same. Sometimes we fit with a certain agent/editor and sometimes we just aren’t right for their mix. It’s a lot easier to not take things personally or get completely discouraged when you realize this I think.

    :)Good post today, Rachelle!

    –Courtney (who likes to emphasize her words by spelling them in all caps.)

  11. Rachelle on December 18, 2008 at 10:49 AM

    >And as a published author, editor for many years, and literary agent… I still get rejected a lot too!

  12. Mary DeMuth on December 18, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    >I’m so glad I didn’t quit after my first rejection. Or I wouldn’t have five books on the shelf today with four more coming in the next year.

    Rejection by one is not proof that you’re not called. But it is a test. How you weather one rejection will prove if you’ve really got the thick skin you need to persevere in this biz.

    Because the first rejection will not be the last. Even as a published author, I get rejected a lot. It does not end!

  13. Janny on December 18, 2008 at 9:44 AM

    >Don’t feel too bad, Rachelle. In my experience, people who write letters like this to people who critique/mentor/act as agents/edit, etc., are–many times–blowing smoke. They’re not going to quit any more than you are, and even if they do, YOU’re not the catalyst that would make that happen.

    I actually had a mentoree write to me and say something very similar to this–that after 30+ written books (none published, and none close!), etc., I had done to her what no one had been able to do: I had convinced her she had no talent. How had I done this? By telling her she needed to cut several pages of backstory in her work and focus on the central story question involved. Sound advice of the kind most of us get every day…sound advice I had given her before on other work…sound advice which she had “taken” and then sailed on her way, completely disregarding. From latest scuttlebutt, she’s far from quit; she’s still actively talking about her writing on boards, in chats, etc., and she apparently isn’t above subjecting others to critiquing it for her. They all give her the same advice I gave her, or a variation on it. She disregards every one of them and continues to write the same way–and then blames her lack of publication or lack of interest from major houses on anything but the fact that she’s consistently disregarding good advice from good writers who are sincerely trying to help.

    People like this are game-players. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the person they see when they look in the mirror. So not to fret. This person’s probably submitted to seventeen other agents and has told them exactly the same thing. 🙂

    As for you, relax…and keep those special effects coming!


  14. Jeanie W on December 18, 2008 at 9:29 AM

    >Maybe the writer was really testing himself/herself. To become a published writer, one must be able to weather a great deal of rejection. This person does not seem ready to handle that. I hope he/she keeps writing. Life can toughen a person. Maybe a few years down the road he/she will feel strong enough to take the inevitable blows and will also have more developed skills and material for agents and editors to consider.

  15. lynnrush on December 18, 2008 at 9:29 AM

    >Hi, Rachelle. Wow, that must have been a hard letter for you to receive. I bet you get a lot of those.

    I hope that writer doesn’t quit, unless that’s what God is calling him/her to do.

    Like Yvonne said, I don’t know if I COULD quit at this point. Even after receiving some rejection letters.

    I will write as long as God allows the stories to flow from my brain into my fingertips.

    Merry Christmas!

  16. Pmel on December 18, 2008 at 9:17 AM

    >That person must have had an ego as big as my foot; trying to be strong and in all attempts, fails. Instead of pulling himself together, he hides his own weaknesses by admitting defeat and blames Fate as the culprit for rejection.

    Tsk. I’ll say, I’m most probably that kind of a person, myself.

    It’s palliative to know that there are those who can sympathize with our kind, however awkward it is.

  17. Tracy on December 18, 2008 at 8:58 AM

    >I don’t know whether to find this to be humorous or sad? I’m expecting to get numerous rejections before I get an acceptance. I’m new at this, but I think that’s kind of the way it goes. Blessings and Merry Christmas!

  18. Yvonne on December 18, 2008 at 8:52 AM

    >I don’t know if I COULD give up. It’s in my blood. I have to keep trying.

    I’ve tried not telling anyone about something I just wrote…and I can’t! I just have to “broadcast” it somehow… not that I think my writing is the greatest thing around, but it’s something I’ve learned or dicovered about life. I guess I feel a need to share my inner thoughts, and it doesn’t work if I keep it to myself.

    I’m going to keep on trying to get published, even if the Great and Powerful Oz doesn’t grant me my wishes.

  19. Inspire on December 18, 2008 at 8:41 AM

    >For some publication can take years. For others it’s right out of the gates. That reply was quite sad, and seems to me to be more hurt feelings and a longing for sympathy than anything.

  20. Richard Mabry on December 18, 2008 at 8:29 AM

    Thanks for sharing this story. Just in case the about-to-quit writer is reading this, let me pass on the comment of the editor who called to tell me the pub board had rejected my very first novel: “Don’t take it too hard. They rejected the Left Behind series, too.”

  21. Pam Halter on December 18, 2008 at 8:00 AM

    >We all want to give up sometimes. But look at what happened to Andrew! If he had given up, he wouldn’t have this chance.

    I think what’s important is to keep learning and writing and submitting. It will pay off.

  22. Jessica on December 18, 2008 at 7:08 AM

    >Aww, sorry you got that response. If that person is reading this blog, I hope they don’t give up because of one rejection. Unless they want to, like you said.
    You do seem like a nice person, like Andrew said, so I hope this doesn’t bother you too much. If it’s his/her first rejection than there’s going to be some pity partying. LOL I think most of us did it.
    Anyways, almost time for you blog to close for the holidays!
    I’m so excited. Hope you are too

  23. Andrew on December 18, 2008 at 3:11 AM

    >Cool blog, today.

    In the end a book’s just words on paper. It isn’t me, or even a part of me. It’s a product, a piece of work. Granted I enjoyed writing it.

    I got about sixty rejection letters – no problem. The sixty-first asked for a full. That’s writing, that’s business…and that’s life.

    And, Rachelle, thanks for being there. Not much chance I’ll ever meet you, but I hope it’s all right to say – I think you must be a nioe person, and I like you.

  24. sarah p on December 18, 2008 at 3:02 AM

    >Ah, but you know what frail and foolish creatures writers are. We don’t hand over just stories, we hand over our peeled and typed-up souls. No rejection letter could ever be kind enough!

  25. Pheebles on December 18, 2008 at 3:01 AM

    >You’re not God? *stunned*

    J/K! I think it is sad when a writer takes one rejection as proof positive that they’re not meant to be a writer. Gosh, if half the published authors today had taken that attitude well…there’d be more room on the market for my books! *grin*

  26. Kim Kasch on December 18, 2008 at 2:29 AM

    >Are you trying to tell us, “You have no power here?”

    Wait, you’ve got a great brain, a caring heart and the courage to blog your emotions. So, even if you don’t have a frizzy cloud of fluff surrounding your head, I know the truth – there is power in you. And you don’t have to be “a good witch or a bad witch”, it’s in your abilities. So you can’t fool us “my pretty”.