Write on- Why Don’t You Love me-or the dreaded rejection letter.


The art of writing

Bah! The dreaded rejection letter! How does one handle it? I sent off my first novel to Random House in New York City. New York City was crucial, as that was where all the big books came from, or so I thought back then. I was sure my masterpiece was going to be a best seller and Random House would be mad, crackers, to reject me. Actually in my mindset, I was ten at the time; rejection wasn’t quite a word I fully appreciated. Well, I banged off the novel, single spaced, and I’m pretty sure, formatted only in the manner that a saint of an editor would attempt to read it. There were, I’m sure, massive amounts of typing errors as I often hit the typewriter keys with zeal. I didn’t rewrite. I thought all novelist wrote words of pure genius the first go round. I didn’t send in a cover letter. I didn’t keep a copy. I didn’t tell them a word about myself. And why should I? They would see  the utter brilliance of my novel? Wouldn’t they?

I did write a rather strange novel whose plot runs roughly as such: a beautiful blonde actress goes to Hollywood to become a movie star. (What else?) She lies down with men, and they sigh…(be fair now! There was no Internet and there was only two telly stations!)

After loads and loads of sighing, my heroine becomes disheartened with the audition couch and endless sighing directors, but this is what mind boggles me to this day, my fabulous weird ending! My heroine goes to the city park, gets on a swing and swings high up into the blue sky, but when she comes back down, she is dead. Don’t ask me why, or how, I’m amazed that I remember this much.

I waited for what felt like years, watching for the postman, running out to meet him, and every day, he would just shake his head and mutter, ‘Sorry, nothing for you.’

Still, I waited. I was sure Random was taking a second, a third read. Maybe they were even turning it into a movie! That’s what was taking so long! I was going to go to Hollywood! Nothing would dampen my spirits and I told no one about this manuscript.

One day the postman walked up with a pink card in his hand. ‘Is this what you’ve been waiting for?’

I ripped it out of his hands in eagerness and could not believe my eyes.

We thank you for your..blah blah…

         I was in a rage! My eyes were red with fury. How could they? A stupid postcard! Not even a letter!  I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, send anything to Random House again! They were utter rotters! Well, the pain of that insult eventually faded away and I turned to other pursuits. I didn’t quite learn, it wasn’t all about me– it was about the writing.

Rejection is something we all face as artists. We become so immersed in our created world, be it a novel, a painting, or a performance that we just give ourselves to this art. It becomes hard, if not impossible to separate rejection of the work from the person.

I was a judge for a short story competition, and we had some strict rules, no names on the stories, no personal notes, it must be typed, it must be in black ink, and what was I forced to do? Reject the pencilled stories, the red ink, the blue ink, the handwritten note– this is where you should really pay attention, and even the address of the author.  All of these went straight into the rejection bin. They might have been masterpieces, but I did not have the time, nor did the other judges to sort through that. We looked at the ones professionally prepared, and started from there.

Sometimes it is about the presentation. Sometimes it is simply about the market. The place where a manuscript is sent is so crucial for the lists that an agent have might be filled, the publishers might already have ten mysteries of dead men and parrots that talk.  How is one to figure out when to cry and when to just get on with it? There is no answer other than just send it out. But that can hurt…

Rejection is no different than sending out your first born to be harshly judged in front of your eyes.  A whole army of defence comes rushing up. It’s a horrible feeling, but…and here is the but, one must get on with it.  If the rejection is just a form postcard, I take it as, they are too busy, they didn’t read it, but most importantly, it just wasn’t for them. They might have even liked it, but agents and publishers have to and must look at their bottom line and make a wild guess. Will this sell for them? Quite often they are wrong.

Rejection letters with comments, I take very seriously, for someone took the time to read your work, and comment on it.  It might hurt to read what is written, but read it you must.  Place it aside for some time and then go back to it, for there might be a gem of information that on next go round will be the proverbial magic bullet.  Other times, the rejection letter just has to wait to be published in a book of famous rejections!

Some fabulous rejection letters and if you have one, I’d love to hear yours!

Dr. Seuss

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”


The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.

Mary Higgins Clark

Journey Back to Love

“We found the heroine as boring as her husband did.”

Rudyard Kipling

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

Jean Auel

The Clan of Cave Bear

“We are very impressed with the depth and scope of your research and the quality of your prose. Nevertheless … we don’t think we could distribute enough copies to satisfy you or ourselves.”

Richard Bach

“Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback.”

H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds

“An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would “take.”

Irving Stone

Lust for Life

“A long, dull novel about an artist.”

Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead

“I wish there were an audience for a book of this kind. But there isn’t. It won’t sell.”

Atlas Shrugged

“… the book is much too long. There are too many long speeches… I regret to say that the book is unsaleable and unpublishable.”

Sylvia Plath

There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.

J. G. Ballard

The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.

Emily Dickinson

“Your poems are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.”

Ernest Hemingway

The Torrents of Spring

“It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.”

 Joseph Heller


“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

“You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby Character.”

So what is the end to all this? Sometimes it really is, not about you.  Write, rewrite and write. Every writer has to be willing to submit to a critique of the work by either themselves, or other writers, agents, and the world at large. Art is subjective and there is no getting around that one. We just have to learn to let go of that ten-year-old child and get one with it…

In the meanwhile…Random House if you are reading this, I take back that promise to “never ever, ever, ever, ever, send anything to you ever again, as long as I live!” 

About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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16 Responses to Write on- Why Don’t You Love me-or the dreaded rejection letter.

  1. Lance says:

    In February I sent in two short stories (4 thousand words each) to an online magazine you all likely know. Here’s two sentences I received in response.

    “The character is unique but she does derivative things.”

    “I don’t think you have the voice that a lot of people would understand for us to publish.”

    I assumed they thought I sucked beyond description. I needed to read this today because I
    am anticipating rejection on a book I’m writing. Thank you.

    • Hi Lance

      Thanks for stopping by! I wish you good luck in your writing. It’s just a case of carry on! I love the first rejection..The character is unique but she does derivative things, reminds me of a rejection I once got, scribbled no less on top of my query letter…” She is the nastiest character I have ever read!” So who knows what that means and I dwelled on it far too long. Now it’s read it, and put it in the bottom drawer, after all think of all the money i can save on Wallpaper one day!

  2. paralaxvu says:

    “Sometimes it really is, not about you.” Aye, there’s the rub! But you, YOU wll plow through all of those rejections, take their criticisms (if given nicely) and come out the other side in print. I know it.

  3. I received several very encouraging rejections in my first go round on my not-ready (I now realize) novel.

    “I know one day I will realize how stupid I was to reject you.” (I had a rapport with this agent, and this was not offered as a platitude, given all our other correspondence.)

    “You are an energetic, talented writer, and I know you will succeed.” (From one of the biggest agents in the industry. I couldn’t believe this person even took the time to let their assistant read my work.)

    “Some of your prose is nice, but in the end, this is not a project for me.” (The one that really led me to conclude something was wrong with the book and hire a pre-editor.)

    I really think getting published means developing an outer coating of steel and the will to persist no matter how many people tell you ‘no.’ (And, yes, many people call that degree of passion ‘insanity.’)

    I hope you are successful in your current round of submissions, Susan.

    • Hi Andra

      I loved your rejection letters! Very positive indeed! And yes i do think we possess a certain degree of insanity to keep on with it! Who else puts themselves out to be scarred with cutting remarks? Why we do! Thanks for you good wishes. I will post when I start the mailings!


  4. crubin says:

    I wish I would have kept my rejection letters. Not sure why I tossed them. Maybe out of sight, out of mind? But some even had comments. It would be nice to go back and see them again. Great post. I loved reading the rejections of these famous works/authors.

    • Hi Crubin

      Me too! I tossed a lot and some I kept, the oddest one I ever got was just a note scrawled across my query letter…” she is the nastiest character I have ever read.” That’s one for the books.


      • crubin says:

        I remember one–I wish I would have saved it–where the agent took one of the pages I sent and underlined the word “she” every time she encountered it but didn’t offer why. To this day I don’t know whether she was implying I should have used the character’s name more; if I was telling rather than showing; or what. It still bothers me, because I suspect there was a useful tip in there somewhere. 🙂

      • crubin says:

        It’s weird–you responded to my last comment to this post, but it showed up on MY blog on a page that doesn’t “exist.” But I could see it in my comments. I see you sent it from your IPad. I’ve had that happen to a couple other people who’ve sent comments from their IPhone. Must be a WordPress app glitch. Lovely. One more thing to worry about. Comments lost in cyberspace…

  5. Pseu says:

    Love some of those rejection letters!
    There’s so much on the Great Gatsby at the moment. I listened to the serialisation on BBC 4 – the last episode, yesterday afternoon.

    Here’s an interesting piece on it

  6. Stacey says:

    Rejection is so hard. I am impatiently waiting on a couple of articles I have recently submitted. I have submitted before, but always been rejected. I keep hoping that maybe I have learned enough to finally have something published.

    • Hi Stacey. Thanks for stopping by. Rejections are just awful. There is no other word for it, but I have yet to meet a published author that doesn’t have enough to wall paper a small room. It’s just a writers badge of courage! I wish you luck but more so..keep at it and don’t give up!

  7. Great post, Susan: I loved what they said to Kipling. And HG Wells! Who’d have thought it!

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