Monday, January 19, 2009

A Letter of Rejection

In ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan, there is a lovely rejection letter to Briony (one of the main characters). She is 18 years old, has sent in a novella and it has finally returned months later. Here are some excerpts (in italics):

They begin with the fact that they wouldn't consider publishing a novella by a unknown author, let alone an established one.

That said, we found ourselves (initially against our better judgment, for there is much to do in this office) reading the whole with great interest.

There is much commenting on Briony's use of words, her characters, how well she's captured a specific moment. The first part of the book is an excellent exercise in seeing events through different points of view.

We found Two Figures by a Fountain arrresting enough to read with dedicated attention. I do not say this lightly.

Then come a lot of questions. Lots of what ifs, encouraging her to make a plot out of the observations she's made.

Simply put, you need the backbone of a story.

Ah yes, it's the story that's imporant.

You may feel perfectly satisfied with your pages as they stand, or our reservations may fill you with dismissive anger, or such despair you never want to look at the thing again.

This made me laugh.

We sincerely hope not. Our wish is that you will take our remarks -- which are given with sincere enthusiasm -- as a basis for another draft.

Good advice.

I am thankful today for *good* rejection letters. My husband thinks this is an oxymoron, but the truth is, it's these kinds of letters (I confess mine are not three pages long, usually just 1/2 -1 page) that have pushed me to take my writing further. I still have some manuscripts that I don't know how to implement the advice. But I know something somewhere will click and I'll know exactly how to fix it, and then the comments will make sense.

What's your experience with good rejections?


Bish Denham said...

Mostly my good recjections have been personal hand written notes that at least let me know my story was actually read.

And Vijaya, I've nominated you for the Kreativ Blog Award. You can get the details on my blog.

Vijaya said...

Yes, it is nice to know that your work is being read, isn't it? Sometimes you have to wonder ...

Thanks for the nomination -- I don't know if I'm so creative, not like all these people I know who can sew and draw and make all sorts of doodads that I wouldn't even think of.

Marcia said...

Well, they beat bad ones. :) I agree that good rejections can push you onward. The editor sees something in your work and wants to encourage you. But some rejections that are SOOOO close are some of the worst kind. I once had a book rejected that was under contract. It was my second, when you're fighting that "Am I a fluke?" feeling. They accepted the revision, but still.

Vijaya said...

Oh, Marcia, the close ones hurt the most. I have recently had a similar disappointment ... yes, tears were involved. My first PB, too. Not to be. Since then, I've heard many authors letting me know that books can get canceled after teh contract ... things happen, editors leave, there are disagreements, so I'm learning to not count my chickens before they're hatched. This business can sure take you on an emotional roller-coaster.

MollyMom103 said...

Hey Vijaya: I keep a whole notebook of my favorite rejections -- I call it "The Evidence of Things Unseen."

My favorite notes, "This project has potential, but I wasn't in love with the writing." And in a rejection for the same book -- "this piece isn't for us, but I enjoyed your writing" and in yet another rejection "your writing is so accessible."

(It ain't rocket science, folks.)

and this one.. "ultimately the rest of the company didn't share my department's enthusiam for your story."
and my all-time favorite rejection: "You are a writer. There is no question in my mind that you can create a novel, and probably more than one. There is no doubt in my mind that you can tackle a totally original story and make it work."

Yep, rejection. :) Molly

Vijaya said...

Thanks so much for sharing these, Molly. Shows how very subjective this business is. I used to think it takes just one editor to share the same vision as you, but unfortunately, several at the same company have to. Sigh.

Hmmm, I might start a folder of favorite rejections ...