The Tale of the Three Good Rejections

Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Writers speak of the “good rejection” like it’s some sort of Holy Grail but the truth is, some good rejections are better than others. In fact, some good rejections only seem good while others that may appear bad are actually the best. Confused? I’m here to help, so today, it’s my Tale of the Three Good Rejections.

Rejection #1: It’s Not You, It’s Me

I have a Middle Grade mystery adventure with a pretty specific topic and I sent a query to an editor (at one of the Big Five publishers) whom I’d met at a conference. Imagine my shock when I got a response within a couple of days!

And it started out so wonderfully, personally praising me, and then the premise of my novel and the hooks therein! But then she regretfully had to pass because a colleague was working on a MG novel with this very same specific subject. What’re the chances? Still, it was a personal and glowing response and that’s always a good rejection, right?

Hmmm…it’s nice to get validation for hard work and good ideas but ultimately, this was a soft and very polite way of saying “not for me.” So though I felt good for a few minutes, in the end, I’d have to put this good rejection in the “so-so” pile.

Rejection #2: It’s a Southern Thing

So, the same MG mystery, but this time, it’s an agent who requested to see pages based on the pitch I’d made (also at a conference). And this is an agent who uses a form that requests all kinds of information; I think I may have had to send my GPA. From high school.

Anyway, again, within a few days, I received a response. And again, the email started with lovely words about me and the conference and what a joyful experience we all had. But following all these delightfully charming and personal words was the bottom line about my manuscript: the agent didn’t connect with the voice.

Still a good rejection, right?

Not so fast. This is the equivalent—around these parts—of saying, “Bless your heart, this manuscript’s a hard no.” The thing is, there is no way to get around not connecting with voice. And as polite as this rejection was, there was nothing substantively good here. So this rejection went into the “bad” pile.

Rejection #3: The NGB

Back in my dating days, we had an expression for the guy who may have been practically perfect except for maybe one little thing. We called him the NGB, the Nice Guy But…maybe there was no chemistry with him, or maybe he was too short, or maybe too serious. With the NGB, you knew he was a great guy—just not for you.

So I had a request from an editor to send my manuscript for a Young Adult ghost story (as a result of an open submission call). Months went by and then the world closed down and honestly, I forgot all about that manuscript. Until I had a response in my inbox from this publisher. And at first, I thought this was a bad rejection, starting with the stock line, “Thanks for sending your manuscript.”

But she continued with words that will make every writer’s heart sing: I read this one to the very last page! She told me that she connected with the characters and supernatural themes but as much as she loved it, there was one thing in the story that she didn’t connect with so she’d have to pass.

Now, there were no glowing words about me; this was a strictly business response. But this was probably the best rejection I’ve ever had. I knew exactly the one thing that wouldn’t work for her, and her explanation helped me think about how this book might do in the YA mainstream market.
For me, this bad rejection turned good and then golden! So the moral of this tale is clear: not all the good rejections that glitter are the Holy Grail.

Also, just in the general help column here, beware the Bless Your Heart.

~Cathy C. Hall


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Do you mean when people say, "Bless your heart" it's not a positive thing? It's not a compliment? People have said this over and over to me, and I was always pleased as punch when I heard it...

Seriously, it's nice there are different kinds of rejections, because writers get so many, so at least we can lick our wounds while we put our rejections into tidy, neat (but towering) piles as we categorize them.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Oh, Sioux, you do make me laugh.

But yes, there's something to be said when your rejections start gleaning personal responses (instead of the stock and/or no response). And I can spend days thinking about each word in that personal rejection but once I figure it out, off it goes to the appropriate pile so I can move on and try again.

Linda O'Connell said...

You handled that very well, put a positive spin on it! One of my best rejections was about my unique voice. I still wonder.

Pat Wahler said...

Rejections that give ideas on how to improve a manuscript truly are golden. That said, I do think these days getting a thumbs-up from agents/publishers has become tougher than ever.

Cathy C. Hall said...

You don't need to wonder, Linda, you have your own charming voice!

And Pat, I agree about getting any kind of response these days. The sheer number of people putting queries out there makes it so much more difficult.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Well, God Bless your pointy little head. That was my grandmother's unique way of letting me know I was loved but . . .

There really isn't much you can do if someone doesn't connect with the voice of your character. Unless you want to try the story from a different POV.

Hopefully you have other potential markets for both manuscripts.

Angela Mackintosh said...

These are helpful examples, Cathy! Thanks for sharing them.

I think the first one was a huge compliment (about the premise and hooks), but you really can't do anything about the same specific subject. It happens all the time.

The one about voice is so subjective... bless your heart. ;)

On the last one, did she give you the opportunity to resubmit if you changed that one thing that didn't work?

Good luck on both manuscripts! They sound promising, and I hope you keep submitting. :)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Thanks, Ang! It's the religious aspect of the ghost story and that's a hard sell in YA. And of course the Christian market's not keen on ghosts and such, so...

It's fine, though, that editor made my day!

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