December 17, 2009

Dejection rhymes with rejection

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:50 pm

I read a great blog post today about one of the perennials of a writer’s life.


The blog post discusses it at one of the earlier levels, that of being in a critique group, struggling with issues ranging from grammatical errors to character development.

But it could just as easily apply to the stage I’m stuck at–novel on submission–and probably long after that.

On this listserv I’m part of there’s a thread going about sucky reviews. Even novels that wound up on some awesome reviewer’s top 20 lists get them. And what is a bad review but rejection by a reader or reviewer?

So rejection is a given if you’re a writer.

And here is why.

Good writing is subjective.

That’s why Hollywood legend William Goldman says, Nobody knows.

He meant nobody knows what makes a hit. And that’s because what one person loves another will hate.

As many of you know, my novel is on submission right now. I have literally gotten the following rejections.

Big house #1 Editor wants to make an offer. Takes it to the board. No, they say. It’s too LANGUID AND LITERARY.

Big house #2 Editor wants to make an offer. Takes it to the board. No, they say. Everything in the chapters moves the pace along. It needs to be SLOWED DOWN.

Big editor #3 Sort of wants to offer. Provides ideas for revision. The reader should know more than the first character. Too much of the first person character.

I add third person vignettes because I thought this was a great, inspiring point.

Big editor #4 Really wants to offer. Board says, The first person character is great. We never have to leave her head. Cut the third person sections.

What is good is subjective.

Rejection, once you reach a certain level of craft, will come down to one thing.

The agent, editor, reader, or reviewer didn’t like it. Not because it’s not good or done right. Just because it’s not done the way they liked it. They’re neither wrong nor right. There is no wrong or right.

Nobody knows.

Do I mean that there are no legitimate criticisms to be made of a piece of writing? Of course not. First of all, even published fiction can be flawed. Dialogue can be stilted. Plots can be contrived. Prose can be purple.

We all see flaws like that in books that are bound in perpetuity. And a good reviewer can assess such flaws in startling and insightful ways. I hope I always read everything written about my books–if they are ever read–so that I can learn from such assessments.

But I am also saying to keep the subjectivity factor in mind when assessing others’ assessments of your work.

When my siblings and I were little, our parents taught us not to say blech or make faces when served something we didn’t like, but just to say, That’s not to my liking.

In a lot of cases that’s why our work gets rejected.

Not because it’s bad or good.

Just not to Reader # whatever’s liking.


  1. Great post! I wish they’d really just say no thank you and keep the editorializing to themselves. :)

    Comment by Judy — December 17, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  2. You are so correct. That’s why they have different editors and different imprints and different houses. Rejection doesn’t mean the work stinks, just that it isn’t a good fit at that particular place, at that particular time.

    Good luck with your submission. It sounds like you’re really, really close!

    Comment by Alan Orloff — December 17, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  3. Thanks, Judy, and thanks for commenting, Alan! Especially thanks for the “really close” comment. I don’t feel close–I feel farther away than ever. I had no idea that finding that good fit could be so hard–even with editors at the houses wanting to offer! I would love to hear more about your journey, Alan. (Judy, you KNOW the option is open to guest :)

    Comment by jenny — December 18, 2009 @ 8:55 am

  4. I agree with Judy soooo much.

    And I loved your perspective, Jenny. Clearly, the answer is: “It’s too languid….slow it down!” Ha ha ha ha

    Comment by SapphireSavvy — December 18, 2009 @ 9:56 am

  5. Now why I didn’t do that already, Sapphire! We writers–we’re so stubborn and wedded to our ah-t :)

    Comment by jenny — December 18, 2009 @ 10:15 am

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