Think YOU Don’t Like Pass Letters?
Neither do I. Here’s a look at some that have hit my inbox:
“It’s not clear who the intended audience really is.”
“It felt like a class research paper at times.”
“I like the plot and hate the execution.”
“The setup has so much potential for conflict, yet the story is dull.”
“The content and premise just aren’t strong enough to overcome the current lack of platform.”
“Even though the writer’s talent is quite evident, it moved a bit slow in the early chapters.”
“I found that I wasn’t drawn into the material the way you must have been.”
“There is some great stuff in here—the author’s voice, honesty, and firsthand experience. There were, however, concerns about the marketability, author platform, and audience.”
“Our Board was unable to catch the vision… just too risky… did not have the uniqueness we were looking for.”
“I don’t think the writing is strong enough to overcome all the clichés in the plot.”
“The main character isn’t very likable up front. I think the reader is going to need to like her sooner, even if they don’t necessarily like her actions or decisions.”
“I liked it, but wasn’t sure it was unique enough to stand out. I was going back on forth on it, and I guess that means that ultimately I’m going to have to pass.”
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t really have a strong enough hook for us to be able to take it on, so I am sorry to have to pass.”
“I didn’t think the writing was quite as sharp as other [genre] novels I’ve read. This one didn’t quite nail it for us.”
“With no publishing history or national media connections or big-name endorsers, I won’t be able to get this through committee. We’re not looking for first-time authors right now unless they bring stunning writing and some kind of promotional hook.”
“I feel like I’ve read this all before, somewhere. So I’m going to pass.”
“We were unable to catch the really big vision for the project that it deserves. Personally, I was intrigued by it and wanted to take it to make an offer, but didn’t get the support I needed. My instincts tell me this could be huge.”
“I’m afraid this concept would be dead here before it even started.”
“Unfortunately, when I brought it up at our editorial meeting, some of my colleagues felt that this didn’t have the emotional depth they would liked to see in story like this, and I was unable to convince them.”
These are actual excerpts from rejection letters written by editors at major publishing houses.
Every one of these projects went on to sell to a publisher who loved it.
So what’s the lesson here?
P.S. While many projects are repeatedly revised before finding a publisher, these examples are ALL from projects that sold with no further revision.
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I conceive you have mentioned some very interesting details , regards for the post.
I delayed reading this for at least a week because I didn’t feel ready to read about more rejections. And what did I see? These “passes” were all about success! Sometimes, it’s hard to ride out the process. This is encouraging, though I hope I’m still alive by the time someone says yes.
Wow, some of these are outright insulting and rude.
This has been an enlightening post. It brings back several memories of comments I have received. I can identify a hundred percent and agree with all that persistence is the key, and never become discouraged or entertain the idea of quitting. If you are ready to quit after a few or a hundred rejections, then writing is not really your game. Go ahead and quit, but… what if…
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the pictures you’ve shared from editors—and your stunning surprise ending—said as much as a year’s worth of your posts.
I think this is my favorite post from you, since “I can’t remember when.” THANK YOU, Rachelle!
And that my dears, is why we need an agent. Someone who can have thick skin for us.
William Goldman said Nobody Knows Anything about Hollywood and it applies here as well.
Unfortunately my agent gave up after 7 rejections and now “too many eyes have seen it’. On to the next.
Thanks for the post. We all tend to think everyone elses opinion is the ultimate.
Thanks for the nightmares…ugh.
Thanks for the encouragement!
Thank you for posting this!
I am so thankful that you posted this, Rachelle. It just goes to show that a writer should never give up. Ever. For me, reading the various rejections from editors above, and then knowing that each book went on to sell (WITHOUT revision), is uplifting and definitely gives hope to all of us authors seeking publication.
That is incredibly fascinating! No further revisions–after those comments implied that MAJOR stuff was wrong with the novels. It’s all so subjective! Good to know as I get ready to go out on sub. I’ll take these kinds of responses with a grain of salt…only takes ONE editor to love your story. 🙂
Amazing! Nice to know as my “writing” world seems to be suspended in time while I wait for certain responses. If those responses are not my “ideal”, I’ll be coming back to read this post again…and again! 😉
BTW~ Just saw your interview with Michael Hyatt~ you both are so very professional and still so engaging to writers and new authors! We appreciate your input into our lives! Thank you!
One of the big lessons has to be that a single rejection (or even several rejections) for a story or novel doesn’t mean that it’s inherently bad or flawed. It certainly COULD be bad, but you can’t prove that by the rejections.
It also probably means that the novels which are published represent just a small percentage of the novels which could be good enough to be published under the right circumstances. I can’t decide if that’s encouraging or discouraging…
Sometimes you just have to wait for the right buyer (similar to the real estate industry) and try not to take the rejection personally.
There’s a buyer for every book, it’s just a matter of finding the right one.
Thank you for this! One of the most encouraging posts I’ve ever read. 🙂 Further proof….you only need one yes!
There is hope!! 🙂 Now I just need the stamina and persistence to keep on keeping on.
This was a post I needed. I feel that I take letters of rejection pretty well, in general, but was caught off guard by one just today. It was quick and to the point, and I found myself blushing as it caught me by surprise. A few breaths later, everything was fine…as it always is. Many people have already hit the point: you will NOT please everyone…you will see more rejections than requests…the business is subjective…you must not give up, but possibly change your approach. And one I think is VERY important is to not take rejections personally. Your work has value and merit, even if it’s only to you. Thanks, Rachelle!
This gives major Hope!
What an encouraging post—thanks for the insider’s glimpse! (:
Thanks for this. It was a bit surprising.
At first it was depressing me. But the twist at the end pumped me up with motivation to keep working on my next project.
What I see primarily when reading these lines is a lack of courage. Courage of Convictions. The ones where an actual opinion about the quality of the work or the appeal of the story is expressed at least reflect a person’s true opinion. But the ones where there is a sort of “giving up” because there are perceived obstacles (lack of platform, doesn’t fit a mold, don’t want to take a chance) just make me sad. Thank heavens most writers don’t give up as easily!!
I’m sure you realize, Melissa, that someimes courage of convictions isn’t the issue, but rather being a good businessperson. You have a responsibility to balance your appreciation for certain kinds of books with the need to have successful business. This means you have to know your market, and know what your company can sell, and know what level of risk you can afford to take at any given time.
Actually, being a good businessperson – and sometimes turning down books you like – takes incredible courage of conviction. You believe strongly in your business, and what it takes to make it a success, and you do it, no matter how hard it is sometimes.
Yes, Rachel, having been an executive for a Fortune 500 company, I do realize what it takes/means to make sound business decisions. I just think it’s sad when the publishing focus has become so narrowly focused and risk-averse. Did the many agents/editors who rejected Harry Potter make “good” business decisions? Would they really answer “yes” to that question? Maybe they would, but surely they’d be justifying their choice. I have no quarrel when the opinion is that they didn’t like it or clearly didn’t see a fit for their company, but the ones where it’s clear the book was liked but no one was willing to fight for it, well, that IS just sad.
Awesome encouragement! Thanks!
This is so interesting!I’m not too surprised that the 60 authors went on to sell, but the “with no further revisions” part really caught my attention.
Agents and editors are human just like the folks submitting to them. We all have different taste and ways of looking at the world. I guess that proves that a writer should keep submitting. If the work is good, it will find a home.
It’s just the nature of the beast.
While I would never compare myself to Kathryn Stockett, I was immensely comforted to hear that she had 60 rejections on The Help. I’m similarly encouraged by this post. Maybe beyond the craft and the platform and the vision, there’s tenacity. I can do tenacity.
Thanks for sharing these comments. To me, it proves how subjective the publishing industry is. Just because the manuscript didn’t work for one publishing house doesn’t mean it won’t work for another.
Plus I love the diligence you have for your clients in not giving up because someone said no. One person’s no is another person’s yes.
I found those comments fascinating, especially the ones from editors who loved the project but yet couldn’t sell it to the pub. board or others on the team. Just proves how subjective it all is…and how we can’t give up until every rock has been overturned!
So I guess to have success for my book, I need to be as persistent as that creepy guy who stalked me through college. Maybe he’s the same guy who caused the bomb scare this week at the Beverly Hills literary agent’s office. I’m starting to feel sorry for agents and editors!
The lesson – Don’t hate your book! There is hope!
Ouch! Right through the heart.
Wow. Like anything else…back to square one or the next novel.
Just shows that one person’s cup of tea is not to be poured into another’s mug.
That publishing, again is a very subjective business.
BUT within those comments I actually saw some encouragement. The editor loved it, the board wasn’t behind it yet. And each of those things mentioned, hook, audience, plot, character likeablitiy, these can ALL be changed with some hard work.
But still, wouldn’t be great fun to open that email. 🙂
I think the lesson is that you shouldn’t get crushed by rejections. If all the rejections point out a similar problem, then you gotta fix it or move on. But take each rejection with a grain of salt (or a boulder in a quarry, depending).
The philosophical lesson is clear; the literal lesson depends on how many of these books were revised AFTER getting these letters but BEFORE finding a buyer. Just knowing they went on to sell without knowing how much revision went into it based on passes such as these doesn’t tell me too much. (Still very much enjoyed the post, tho.) 🙂
These particular projects sold with no further revision.
Then, wow. That’s almost alarming – many of these rejects sound so convincing/valid. This is why publishing can be so crazy-making. How do you know when you’re right and when they’re right? (Thanks for the clarification, Rachelle.)
That’s a GREAT post!
Because, as a writer accruing rejection letters all over the place on a book you feel in your gut is good and worthy, the moment comes – say, after one or two particularly dismissive dismissals! – that you start to doubt. The “well, maybe I’m wrong…maybe this isn’t as good as I thought, as all the readers and editors who’ve worked with me on this say it is….” and you lose your sense of perspective. So to read the eerily similar rejections sent to you from publishing houses at least tells us that, a.) they all work with the same “rejection letter handbook,” and b.) the fact that these all went on to be published proves how utterly subjective this all is!
Thanks, Rachelle. Those letters can say it a hundred times – “this is a very subjective business and we wish you luck in finding an agent who’ll be as passionate about your work as you are” – but your post today proves the point! Made my day.
Don’t worry about rejections; rejections are just a reason to send it out again. If it’s any good at all, it will eventually find someone who does like it.
Thanks so much for posting this. I don’t feel so alone.
I think the lesson here is that the book publishing industry is very subjective. You have to write well and pray (meant literally) that you connect with the right person (hopefully while they are having a good day). Never give up on yourself but make sure you are constantly honing your writing craft.
I needed to read this today. Thank you, Rachelle. I’ve had so many temptations lately to quit. I need to trudge on.
It’s important to remember that part of the lesson is about economics, not art. We creative types hate that fact, but publishers take a risk every time they chose a book — and it’s a big risk (think about how many slick-looking hard cover novels you’ve seen in the $2-dollar bin at Hastings). We tend to think of the process and ME-centered. While I agree that publishers are often out of touch with what readers really want, I also understand that they are the ones risking thousands of dollars before they see a single dime returned on their investment. That fact helps me keep my perspective and not take it personally when my project is rejected.
In saying “they don’t know what they are doing,” I think Luplan assumes too much of editors.
Of course they can’t be right all of the time. They’re not free from subjective tastes. They’re not omniscient about what will sell and what won’t. They can have bad days, or busy days when they don’t give their full attention to a piece. They’re only human. We’re asking an awful lot of editors to expect them to be right about everything they accept and everything they reject.
Some writers take a rejection like it’s a dagger that severs an artery. It’s just a shaving nick. Wipe off that speck of blood and submit somewhere else.
I submitted a magazine article once to a magazine I considered the top in its field, and was promptly rejected. I sent it to a smaller almost unknown magazine and it not only was accepted, it also won an award.
Rejection is always a wound, but it’s only a small one. If it hurts for very long, you’re taking it too personally.
Rejection is a necessary step on the road to publication. In fact, it is just a part of life in this industry.
Dang, that makes me feel a bit better about my rejections 🙂 It takes me almost a year to rack up that many.
But how many of those manuscripts eventually sold in the same state that garnered those rejections? And how many were revised and revised again between rejections and eventual sale?
Publishers have niches, just as writers do.
Oh my Rachelle! I’m so glad I kept reading until the end.I would have so missed the truth in all this. Thank you!
Kathryn Stockett recently said in an interview that she sent her manuscript out over 200 times.
Thanks for sharing these excerpts. It proves the importance of believing in your work and if you don’t you shouldn’t be sending it out.
My first rejection (way back, before I had an agent) was delivered via phone call, from an editor who said, “Don’t take it too hard. This pub board also rejected the Left Behind series.”
By the way, that novel never sold, but after four years writing four novels that garnered forty rejections, I got a contract and my fourth novel comes out soon. I’d agree with those who say, “Keep learning, keep writing, keep submitting.”
It’s not personal, it’s subjective.
So glad the stories got sold! 😉
Wow… that was really depressing until I read the part about every one of them selling to another house… which shows me that even if someone doesn’t like your project, it doesn’t mean someone else will.
In reading these editors’ feedback, I wondered how much of this is merely their personal biases and how much is warranted criticism that would justify a rewrite.
The fact that these books all later sold, suggest that these notes were mostly personal opinions and not valuable feedback.
I’m happy to rework something if I trust the commenter to be astute and knowledgeable, but not so much to accommodate a personal whim that may not be reflective of the reading public.
Hopefully, my future agent (whose input I will implicitly trust) will guide me in deciding how to respond to such comments.
This is a most interesting and thought-provoking post. Thank you!
Is is also possible that the publisher is just looking for something different?
…that as writers, we need an agent who believes strongly in our project and will not give up until it finds the perfect home.
Thank you so much for that encouragement! If I’m really a decent writer, I’ll find the right agent out there, sometime, somewhere, some way. 🙂
Most of those seem to boil down to “it’s too different” or “it’s not different enough”.
Seriously? I thought my form rejections were bad but these are just downright mean. Most of them are not even remotely constructive.
Thanks for sharing. One (or 20) agent’s opinion does not mean you should abandon the project. Going to take that advice to heart!
I’m thinking the lesson is to get a good agent who won’t show you the rejections–at least not until she can show you an acceptance!
The lesson is, that everything is subjective. That’s it.
One size does not fit all! But it’s good to know that perseverance and hard work can eventually pay off.
This is great. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.
If there’s one thing I’ve gathered from all of the information I’ve read and heard, it’s the fact that dedicated writers don’t give up.
It’s in them to move forward. They have a passion that outweighs the many obstacles on their path to success.
It’s a reminder to persist for both the writer and the agent who believes in her client’s story.
I imagine receiving a few of those each day can be a real downer. At least the writer only gets one every so often. 🙂
When you get caught between the moon and NY city, the best that you can do is fall in love?
All this gorgeous sunshine is inspiring the silly out of me.
Okay, so I really think the lesson is to believe in your work, trusting it will find the *best * home.
NEVER give up!!! thanks for the reminder. happy wednesday!!!
We should never give up!
The lesson here is that after everything is said and done, publishing is still a business, and these people aren’t enthusiastic enough about your work to feel comfortable to investing in it. Now run a long, and find someone who IS. 🙂
It’s the same with books, songs, movies, or even a blazing golden sunset painted by the Creator of the universe: what makes one person stop and marvel barely rates a shrug and a yawn from another person. No human is infallible when comes to predicting what other people will like.
Lesson? I’d say it’s never give up and always keep a positive attitude. What might be a definite no for one person might be an enthusiastic yes for another.
I’m not as sure as Luplan that “they don’t know what they are doing” I do question when a novel like The Help gets rejected 60 times, doesn’t it suggest at least a disconnect between what readers want and want publishers think they want?
I find it interesting how many of these excerpts mention not getting buy-in from others in their company.
We tend to think of the person we are dealing with as holding all the powers of decision, but they usually don’t.
Not only must the book grab their attention as worth pursuing, but it also must be material that they can effectively pitch to other decision makers and achieve buy-in.
Look at your book for any “slow” spots and KEEP TRYING!
I’ll second Neil. I read the same article on Kathryn Stockett and noted that she did edit and rewrite with each rejection. I guess the lesson is keep trying…everything…and never up.
I’m going to go against the grain a little here. I worry that the constant stories of successful works that go through a slew of rejections before finally finding a home are more of an exception than a rule. Far more typical are the millions of works that are rejected over and over because they simply aren’t good enough.
It is fanciful to think that any manuscript will finally find a publisher if you are just persistent enough. Yes, persistence is required, but the real persistence required is over making your writing as good as possible, not over the submission process. In a recent interview with Kathryn Stockett, she was saying how the Help was rejected dozens of times, but the thing that really struck me was that she rewrote and improved her manuscript with each rejection.
I totally agree with Neil. My debut novel has not nicked a publisher yet but I received a response from one (I haven’t sent it to many – there are few in S. Africa) saying that it covets merit but needs some working on. I noted that it was the first publisher I sent it to and had rewritten/edited it up to 3 times after that. I hope to finally get it to an “unrejectable” form and forever keep my peace!
Absolutely. Be persistent, but meanwhile keep writing and revising.
All hail the mighty trait of perseverance!! And all goodness comes only from God. Forget the stars aligning and the magic fairy dust, when the time is right no one can shut the door He opens. I’ll be standing in the doorway when the door swings wide 🙂
All these comments just go to show what it takes in this industry. Bravo for sharing them and thickening the calloused skin. Now onto the MHyatt vid!
I recognized some of the terms used in these rejections. The most common one I see is, “this project just doesn’t seem to be good fit for what I’m looking to represent right now.” There is a lesson there. Agents, and the publishing houses they are going to, often have tiny windows as far as genre they are looking to fill. You might have the best book to be published in years … and all of us harbor that hope … but if it doesn’t fit those preconceived notions then you have no hope of being accepted. Just remember the Kathryn Stockett lesson … 60 rejections, more than three years of work, one agent finally agreed, and “The Help” was finally on its way to publication and international acceptance by readers. Keep on keepin’ on.
What’s the lesson: Sometimes when I get that form rejection letter, I wish I had more information. But the old adage is true: If you can’t handle the answer, don’t ask the question.
If I’m willing to send out my manuscript, then I need to realize there’s the high likelihood it’s going to be sent back. Not everyone likes me as a person (Gasp!) Not everyone’s going to like my writing. I started learning that lesson in school (both of ’em actually) and pub boards have only reinforced those truths.
I loved this one:
“Our Board was unable to catch the vision… just too risky… did not have the uniqueness we were looking for.”
It so reminded me of the maxim: “Good, fast cheap: Choose 2”
While some publishers might not see the value in a project, all it takes is one house that does. I kept this in mind as the passes came in when my proposal went out on submission. Thankfully my story had a happy ending: my first sale.
I suspect one or more of those excerpts referred to my project, which eventually sold after multiple passes. A grid of elements have to match up just right for the best chance of success. Patience is key.
Publishing is a crapshoot (the cynic’s response)
Don’t let anyone sabotage your vision, because someone, somewhere is going to catch it too (Pollyanna’s interpretation)
I think the only way to be happy is to write books YOU love and forget about who else loves them. And you can always share with your friends and neighbors while you’re waiting to be discovered. That always feeds the writer-hunger for affirmation.
These rejections are encouraging, though. I have always kind of thought that a manuscript that has been around gets a reputation…like a girl who has dated all the guys and can’t find one to like her enough to ask her to go steady. The more she is passed around and passed over by the football team, the less hot she looks, even to the geeks reading their math books in the bleachers.
So thanks for writing this. It’s good to hear about rejected manuscripts going on to find true love.
“Whether or not a book is salable or even worth publishing is completely subjective. I knew that.” – JM Cornwell.
Totally agree. We all have vastly differing opinions on the merits of our favourite authors. We must just keep on keeping on.
every good real life success story starts out with the author who got turned down by 600,000 people before she got a contract
600,000? Dang. I don’t think I’m going to live that long.
I disagree with Luplun. The lesson here isn’t “idiots run the place”. It’s just in-your-face truth about EVERY saleable product: You’re never going to do something that everyone loves.
It’s impossible to please everyone. So keep going. Keep working until you find someone in the business whose vision for the project matches your own.
I guess instead of “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” it would be, “Don’t crack your eggs just because someone claims there’s no chicken…”
It’s interesting reading actual pass comments like that from editors!! Thanks for sharing!!!
Excellent analogy! Couldn’t have said it better 🙂
Send it out again.
I’ve seen my share of rejection notifications, and some of these made me say “ouch.”
Whether or not a book is salable or even worth publishing is completely subjective. I knew that.
Persistence, hard work, resilience, humility, faith, guts, etc etc etc all required – and maybe an occasional glass of wine or piece of dark chocolate, just to take the edge off. Or a little doll to stick pins into. Sheerly for therapeutic purposes.
At any rate, definitely a sense of humor. Plus, depending on how much chocolate is actually involved, a good exercise regimen.
I think the lesson is also in part that editors/ publishers may have very different reads on how to reach certain target audiences. Or even different ideas of which target audiences are valuable book buyers – or book buyers that their resources know how to reach.
That the people making the big decisions don’t know what the hell they’re doing.
Yes, yes, I know, the lesson is meant to be “Don’t give up.” I get that. But put yourself in the shoes of a young author who knows he’s got a publishable story on his hands, but has failed to find an editor/agent who believes in it. He’s followed all the rules, listened to all the advice he got from knowledgeable writers and agent blogs, revised repeatedly, redone the query at least a dozen times, and so forth, but he still comes up empty time and time again.
Knowing that equivalent or lesser books have sold, he draws one of two conclusions: A) the system is random no matter what he does, or B) the system is run by idiots.
I get your point, but the average aspiring author takes a completely different lesson away from a situation like you describe.
If he doesn’t take away “write another book, try again, write a third, try again”, he’s not a writer, he’s just someone who wanted to publish a book. End of story.
Out of every reply I’ve read, I identified most with yours. Riding on the heels of a rejection can be tough (and frequently is), but I appreciate the definition of a writer that you posed. We stay the course if it’s truly in our soul. Thanks for the reminder today! ; )
If you really believe it is a sell-able book, then sell it. Self-publish and see what happens. If it’s a fantastic book, then you’ll gain an audience and show those publishers who wouldn’t look at it. If it isn’t selling directly to the audience, then you’d have to acknowledge that something is wrong and you’re too close to it to see.
If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. Whether that means polishing, persistence, or a new novel.
I think I’ll take my form rejections over some of these. (Obviously you’d rather have acceptance letters, but they can’t all be those.)
Also, persistence and self-confidence, knowing that your worth as a writer and as a person isn’t dependent on whether an agent or an editor accepts you/your manuscript.
Never give up!
I think the lesson here is the importance of finding the right audience. Unfortunately, even with all the research and networking in the world, it’s impossible to know whether someone at any particular publisher is going to feel as passionate about your book as you do, so you have to focus your efforts and try, try again.