Monday, August 8, 2011

The Rejection That Changed My Life

I started writing seriously about five years ago. My first novel, a paranormal romance, was a real stinker. I'd made every mistake that you could:

1. Opening with a dream sequence
2. Taking too long to build up back story and not getting to the action fast enough
3. The overuse of every cliche in the book
4. Not having a critique group to look over my edits
5. Querying almost as soon as I wrote the words, "The End".

I can't really pick a best from that list because they are all equally horrendous. And they all had a hand in landing me the rejection that changed my life. Here it is for your reading enjoyment:

Dear Ms. Gibsen: Please note that I’ve changed your font to one that is more readable and formatted these first pages into the accepted parameters for presenting a manuscript for publication. I’ve taken the time to critique the pages, as I do for all authors who submit to XXXX Press, because I believe the standard rejection most novice authors receive from New York leaves much to be desired. Bear in mind, this type of in depth critique would cost $2-4 dollars per page if done by a ‘book doctor’, and no editor would take the time to describe the failings in your submission.
1) The story takes too long to get to get to the action.
2) There are many errors in punctuation
3) There is an overabundance of repetitive words and flowery phrases (purple prose)
4) There is a lack of direction in your story that I’m not sure can be fixed.

XXXX Press is looking for professionally written novels that are ready to print, with little editing or revision required. Your manuscript is still in the amateur stages and needs much work. I suggest you join a writers’ group (possibly Romance Writers of America, check them out on Google as they are the largest teaching organization for writers in the US).
I wish you success in your career and the placement of your novel.
XXXX Press


I admit, when I first read this letter I burst into tears and devoured a pint of cookie dough ice cream. I considered quitting. I'm one of those annoying people who doesn't like to do anything I'm not instantly good at (which is why I don't garden, go ball room dancing, and I don't have a tea pot crafted from clay). The only difference here was, I couldn't give up writing because unlike those other things, I LOVED writing too much to quit. BTW - I hate you, knitting! Hate Hate HATE!!!

So I resolved to do whatever it took to get better. I joined a critique group (several actually), I joined the fabulous community over at Query Tracker, I switched to a genre I felt more comfortable with and closer to, I gobbled up practically every YA book at the library, I read every book I could get my hands on about the craft of writing, I went to conferences... the list goes on and on.

The moral is: I had to really work, learn, and work and learn some more and it totally paid off in the end. My book KATANA sold and will be out next year. This would have ever happened without that in-your-face rejection and the determination it inspired in me to do better.

How about you? What was your best mistake?

Cole Gibsen loves writing, day-old chinese food, and her nail polish is always chipped. Her debut YA novel, KATANA, will be released, spring 2012 by Flux. You can check out her website at Word to your mother. (But seriously, you should call her. She worries.)


  1. Yes, yes, and yes! Love that determination! BTW, I hate knitting also. So sweet, and yet, it's a total bitch.

  2. Ouch! I had deja vu reading this because I swear I got the same type of letter once upon a time as well. (My go-to comfort food was Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, but... that's another story!) I love your enthusiasm and tenacity and congrats on signing with Flux! Congrats all the way around, for turning a negative into a positive and NOT giving up on your dream!

  3. This is wonderful Cole! I love road to publication stories. We need someone to tell us the truth, even if it hurts and send us into ice cream comas.

    You've better off for it!

  4. I'm sitting here trying to remember my biggest mistake...MY BIGGEST...I do remember feeling mortified quite often. I do remember crying. I do remember some agent referring to my manuscript as "drivel," which literally means saliva dripping from the mouth. It took me awhile to admit they meant that in a bad way, and it didn't mean they were salivating for more.

    Seriously, the biggest mistake I made was querying too early. And I made that mistake more than once, on more than one manuscript. Stringing subjects and predicates together for 300 pages does not a novel make. As you point out, it takes a lot of study and hard work. You got to love it. Clearly, you do!

  5. Cole, thank you so much for sharing this letter. I have a box where I keep the rejections from the first book I sent out, but they're still too raw for me to open and peruse. We've all been there, but you're brave one for posting. And your story has a happy ending bc/ you wouldn't give up!

  6. Thank you everyone for your kind words. :)