Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dealing with rejections

By Sheila Lowe, Forensic handwriting examiner and Mystery author

Have you ever read a book that you absolutely love, but your best friend says, “meh?” Of course you have. And there are doubtless many books that don’t resonate with you at all, but millions of others rave about them. For me, it was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Every one of us reads through our own personal lenses, which are an outgrowth of our personal life experiences over time. That is just as true of agents and editors as it is of you and me. So when you receive a rejection, remind yourself that publishing is a highly subjective business and that rejections do not necessarily reflect the quality of your work.

Having said that, if you are getting similar comments from several of your critique partners or other readers, it’s wise to step back and take a very good look at what they are saying. For me, doing so made the difference between getting published and staying on the outside looking in.

When I began sending out my first mystery, Poison Pen, I got a large number of responses that said it was a “good” story, had “good” characters, I was a “good” writer, but...it wasn’t strong enough. Huh? What the heck did “not strong enough” mean?

Hopefully, you’re quicker on the uptake than I was. It took me seven years and numerous drafts to find the answer. It came from an independent editor I’d finally hired (a smart thing for any author to do). What I learned is that not strong enough” means there are too many adverbs (those pesky words that end in “ly”) sprinkled through the manuscript.

Adverbs highlight lazy writing. Rather than looking for stronger, more descriptive words, adverbs are the words that tell the reader what to think. For example, “What the hell is going on?” he cried angrily. Instead of using the adverb “angrily,” choosing stronger words could paint a more interesting image: His face reddened; his eyes bulged like a bullfrog. “What the hell is going on?” he cried. Okay, okay, it’s not a great example, but you get the picture. Cut out the adverbs.

The other lesson I learned from my first editor was that my character was also too weak. I hadn’t realized that she was constantly feeling guilty until someone else pointed it out to me. Readers want your character to be strong—not that there can’t be moments of weakness, of course—she’s not a robot. It’s just that guilt-ridden heroines are not popular heroines.

I seem to have digressed. Don't let rejections discourage you. Keep going, even when you feel like Sisyphus, forever damned to push a boulder up a hill. In an interview with James Rollins, he said that a major publisher scribbled on his first manuscript that it was unpublishable. That book went on to sell over a million copies. So see—it’s all subjective. Keep submitting until you find the agent or editor who loves your work. Every rejection takes you another step closer to success.

My latest book, What She Saw, is now available in paperback as well as on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1492309168 You can read the first chapter of each of my books here: www.claudiaroseseries.com


  1. Great advice to aspiring writers! There are lots of bestselling authors today who faced countless rejections before they broke through...or went around the wall. Me and Andrew, for example. :)

  2. Ditto what L.J. said. It didn't take me very long to figure out I wasn't the next big discovery in the literary world. It would have been nice knowing that going in.

    Writing is a constant learning process for me. I hope that with each book my craft is more solid and my voice is stronger.

    Great post, Sheila!

  3. It's something I still have to remind myself--after all, we're only as good as our last contract, right?

  4. Critique is good for the writing soul. In a way, so is rejection. Someone once said writers should be discouraged. (I just saw the quote again on a website, but I'm too far behind deadlines to look it up.:) Very few of us get it right the first time and most of us don't know enough to do market/agent research.

    The advantage of independent publishing (with a support team that includes an editor like Jodie) is that one is not dependent on an agent's impression. The disadvantage is that one is not dependent on an outside professional's assessment.

    Ah, well, we shall grind away.

  5. I swear by my critique group. Though I've had about 35 books published, believe me I've gotten lots of rejections through the years. Learn from them if there is some constructive criticism and keep on writing.


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