A word on rejection letters

Hate them. With a passion. I have sent of a number of books and short stories to various places to try and get published the old fashioned way. Unfortunately, either due to not submitting to the right places or not writing well enough, I have been sent many rejection letters. Most are form letters. “Sorry, we don’t have time to actually read your book. We skimmed the query letter and decided not to bother.” That’s not exactly what they say, but that’s what they mean.

Last year, I submitted my novel “Hell’s Junction” to an open call from Harper Voyager. They were looking for Military Science and Urban Fantasy. I received a rejection letter and it depressed me. Wanting to let my friends know, I let two other authors read it. They both thought it was awesome. I didn’t understand what they were talking about. An awesome rejection letter? There is no such thing.

Here’s the letter that I received, in its entirety:

Dear Cat,

Thank you so much for your submission of Hell’s Junction to the Harper Voyager Impulse open call last November.  We hope you had as much fun writing your story as we did reading it!

The Military Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy submissions we received during this open call certainly set a high bar.  One of the toughest parts of being an editor is making decisions about which books we want to work on and publish.  That means weighing a book’s strengths and weaknesses, and, while your book certainly had a number of high notes, we ultimately felt that the heat level in this story is too high – it reads more like a paranormal romance than an urban fantasy.  Therefore, sadly, we are declining interest at this time.

We really appreciate your submission and patience, and we wish you all the best of luck in finding a home for your novel.

Sincerely,

The Harper Voyager US team

I read it as a “Sorry, no” letter. I think on some level I knew it wasn’t a form rejection letter but I didn’t see the awesomeness of it until one of my friends sent me a rejection letter they received. Their letter wasn’t a form letter either, but it was different. That friend submitted to the same open call. My letter says: Not right at this time. Their rejection letter said: Here’s what you need to fix.

It took a moment for that to sink in. The editors weren’t telling me what to fix, they were telling me it wasn’t right for them “sadly”. Shit. A major publisher liked my work but couldn’t take it, because they were looking for something different. And they took the time to compose a letter of rejection, rather than sending a form letter.

Now, I do understand that if my book were freaking amazing, they might have decided to publish it anyway, but this is a good step. This is a step in the right direction.

My point to all this isn’t just to brag, as I feel I am doing. It is to tell writers out there to slow down when reading rejection letters. What does the letter actually say? Is it a form letter or was it composed by someone who actually read the book/story? Take the time to read a rejection letter for what it is, don’t just see the bad. If the editors are telling you to fix something, fix it. If they are telling you sorry, not now, take that as a positive.

There are so many times in this life when we artist are faced with utter and complete rejection. But sometimes, there is a glimmer of hope. Let that feed your heart and go with it.

It’s a wonderful feeling to know that a publisher liked my work. I’m holding on to that and I may try and find a home for Hell’s Junction that isn’t a self-published avenue.

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