Monday Moan – 50 Shades of Rejection

27 Jan

Monday Moan: Where I get to bitch about what bugs me. To see previous Monday Moans, click here.

Writers are used to rejection, or they should be. But that doesn’t mean it gets easier with time. Sometimes I understood why I was getting rejected. Most times, I had no clue.

After 10 years I got tired of hearing the same stupid rejection lines, so I went solo with my writing career. But I saved every one of my rejection letters and emails, because I earned every one, and they are my badges of honor on the unpublished author’s battlefield.

Your standard rejection letter starts out like this:

Dear Author, Thank you for sending us your manuscript, Blah Blah.

Then they hit you between the eyes with industry standard lines:

Your story’s not ‘big’ enough.
There’s too much dialogue.
There’s not enough dialogue.
Your story doesn’t fit our line.
It’s neither ‘fish’ nor ‘fowl’.
It didn’t sufficiently interest me.
Will have to pass.

And then, as in many rejections, they pull a “It’s not you, it’s us” approach:

We’re not enthusiastic enough about your story. 
We’re not right for your work.
You’re not exactly what we’re looking for.
We don’t have a place for your story.

Followed by the old ‘Kiss Off’ (a.k.a. F**k Off)

We wish you the best of luck in finding a home for your work/placing your work/your future endeavors.

Blah, Blah.

But do publishers really know what readers like? How do you explain the success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, which started out as fan fiction and was rejected by literary agents? Or Amanda Hocking, who self-published, garnered legions of fans, and only then was approached by big publishers? 

Here’s an encouraging anecdote:

In 1975, writer Chuck Ross, to prove his theory that unknown authors always get rejected, copied the first 20 pages of the 1969 National Book Award winning novel Steps by Jerzy Kosinski, in manuscript form. He then submitted it, using a  pseudonym, to four publishing houses, including Hougton Mifflin, (his publisher at the time). They all rejected it. Not satisfied that he had fully made his point, he then sent the entire manuscript of Steps to 14 publishers and 13 literary agents. They all rejected it, including Random House, which was the book’s original publisher, with no indication that any of them remembered it.

Enough said. 

10 Responses to “Monday Moan – 50 Shades of Rejection”

  1. lizdouitsis January 27, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    haha, love this. I’ve gotten the rejections too. It sucks. But don’t give up!

    • nancyelauzon January 27, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

      Part of life as a writer, I guess. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. 4amWriter January 27, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    I love this as it speaks to my own frustrations of fighting the traditional publishing battle. I still haven’t been able to make the switch to self-publishing, but I appreciate the reasons for authors who have. I am stymied by some of the authors who do make it in the “big leagues” and wonder what is it about those books that got a lit agent’s attention? Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

    • nancyelauzon January 27, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      It’s difficult, because I don’t even think big Publishing knows what it’s looking for. They say unique and different, but then they shy away from anything too out there, saying it ‘doesn’t fit their line’. I personally believe it’s a cross between talent and politics and money. Definitely money. An editor may love your work, but it’s the folks in finance that get the final say as to whether they’re going to cough up the dough for a print run.
      Unless your name is Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan …. then you’ll get a book. LOL!

  3. Selena Robins Musings January 27, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    Great post! The reason why some books get picked up and not others will always remain as enigmatic as how the hell did Justin Beiber make millions? Sometimes I think they look at their slush pile and play a game of poker with the manuscripts, and the winning hand gets a contract.

    The good thing is, that the tide has changed so much, there isn’t a big 6 any longer, but a big 5 (or maybe it’s 4, I can’t keep up) and agents aren’t the gatekeepers, readers all. Readers who love your work will tell the world, and indie publishing is a great movement. There are a lot of great indie works and not so great, but that holds true for traditionally published books as well.

    I’m still baffled at the Fish or Fowl line, it made no sense then, it makes no sense now. Just say, Hey, this book didn’t work for me, but good luck. Some of their rhetoric in rejection letters just made no sense at all.

    • nancyelauzon January 28, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

      I think they have a dart board made up of rejection lines, and they throw the dart to see which one they’ll use that day, LOL!

  4. Jewel Divas Style January 28, 2014 at 6:50 am #

    I got alot of those in the letters I actually got, many times I didn’t even receive a letter and one was rather positive, “we really like your story but just can’t fit it into our schedule at this time”. Yeah, bullshit!

    The one publisher that did want it was going to take two years to publish it or I could pay $12,000 to get it out in 6-8 months. After much silent crying and wailing into my pillow I had to turn them down, with no idea of what or how I was going to get them published. Turns out, a few months later I found out about self-publishing, Smashwords and then CreateSpace so went off down the road of doing it myself. It may cost money but at least I own all rights.

    As for fifty shades, the publishers only wanted the money it was clearly earning and saw dollar signs which is why they published it as was without editing and put it on shelves so fast. It was all about the money. I follow Amanda, it’s all about money, they saw her making money, they wanted in.

    That’s why publishers no longer take on mere authors who schlepp their wares, they would rather go find already proven best sellers on places like Amazon, Smashwords, ITunes etc and make money off them that way instead of pulling their socks up and changing the way they do things themselves. The publishers are the ones losing money so they try to make it up by paying the authors who have done it all themselves and are taking their pay packets basically.

    • nancyelauzon January 28, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

      Yeah, it’s less work that way … lets see what the readers are buying, and THEN we’ll buy it.


  1. Jill of all Trades « The Chick Dick Mysteries - December 6, 2011

    […] is I don’t have to suffer rejection by publishing houses anymore. For more on rejection, read 50 Ways to Reject a Writer. I actually don’t need publishers to reject me, because I’m very good at […]

  2. The 20 Year Old Hamster | Nancy Lauzon - February 24, 2014

    […] publishers even know what readers want? I’ve blogged about this before. (See Fifty Shades of Rejection). How do you explain the success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, which started […]

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