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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, June 24, 2012


by Ruth Harris

I‘m a TradPubbed NYT bestselling author gone indie. I was also an editor for over 20 years (Macmillan, Bantam, Dell) and the Publisher of Kensington—so let me put rejection into a little perspective.

Let’s be clear: Manuscripts get rejected; not writers. Trust me. (Most of the time) it’s not personal. Let me count the ways.

1. THE BASICS: The reasons for rejection start with the basics, i.e. the ms. sucks. Author can't format/spell/doesn’t know grammar, is clueless about characterization, plotting and pacing.

Maybe, though, it's not that bad and with competent editing, it's publishable. But the days of Maxwell Perkins are long gone. These days, staff editors don't have the time and sometimes not even the necessary skills.

If you need an editor, hire one.

Occasionally, other hazards present themselves. Way back when I was a child working at Bantam, a would-be author showed up at the office, ms. box in hand.

As the least important, most expendable (what if this guy turns out to be a nut & has a gun?) warm body on the staff, I was sent out to Reception to find out what he was offering. Shook hands, introduced myself, he yackety-yacked, blabbity-blabbed about his masterpiece.

Then he opened the ms. box and a cockroach jumped out. True story. Ms. rejected. Politely, I’m pleased to say.

Timely subject, credible characters, good plot, well-executed pacing. Lots of us really like it BUT...

Here’s only a partial list of the buts:

4. OVERLOAD: We have too many thrillers, Regency romances, zombie epics etc. already. We need to trim the inventory so right now we’re not buying any of your particular genre. Sorry. Right now it doesn’t fit our needs.

5. PMS/LOW TESTOSTERONE: The boss (or my secretary or DH or teen-aged kid) is giving me or the editor-in-question a hard time today & I'm/he/she is in such a lousy mood we'd turn down War & Peace. So fuddgetaboutit. You’re Tolstoy? Tough. You’re toast.

The sales dept just informed us that books about trans-gendered pigmy werewolves in Lower Slobovia aren't selling the way they used to so we’re not going to make an offer for your (well-written, scary, hilarious, fabulous) novel about trans-gendered pigmy werewolves in Lower Slobovia. Sorry. Right now it doesn’t fit our needs.

7. SOMEONE YOU NEVER HEARD OF HATES IT: The boss (or his/her wife/husband/best friend/shrink/third cousin) hates (insert genre) so be glad your ms. got turned down because even if we bought it, it would be published badly.

Very badly. You’ll get a crappy cover, miniscule print run, zero advertising, promotion or publicity, positioning spine-out on a top shelf in the poorly-lit back of the unventilated, un-airconditioned third floor next to the men's room. You won’t be able to find your own book. Not even with a state-of-the-art GPS.

Your book is guaranteed to be a floperoo. You’ll be miserable and you’ll blame us and you’d be right.

So frame your rejection letter & be happy.

8. CASH CRUNCH: Of course we’re never going to admit it but the company’s in trouble, maybe even on the verge of bankruptcy & we’re not buying anything. Nada. Not right now and not for the foreseeable future. Not until/unless said crunch passes and the money’s flowing again.

Bottom line: you don’t know it and you never will but your timing sucks. Not your fault.

A major “reorganization” has taken place. The decision has come down from somewhere Up There in Corporate and half the staff (at least) has been fired.

A new regime is hired & they hate all the genres & authors the previous regime loved. The new regime wants to prove that their predecessors were stupid, incompetent and a toxic blight to literacy and that they are going to turn the company around by doing exactly the opposite.

Not your fault, has absolutely nothing to do with you or your ms. but your ms. is going to get turned down.

10. OOPS: Plenty of times editors and publishers are just plain wrong...zillions of examples of that all over the place from J.K. Rowling to Steven King. We turned down your ms.? Maybe we made a mistake. We’ve made plenty of misjudgments in the past and we’ll make plenty more in the future and we know it. Turning down the ms. that becomes a hot bestseller is an occupational hazard. We don’t like it any more than you do but it’s a fact.

11. WE HATE YOU: Once in a while, it is actually personal. We’ve published you before or a friend at another publisher has and we know from experience (or the grapevine) that you’re a whiny, demanding, narcissistic, high-maintenance PITA. No one wants to take your phone calls and everyone who’s had the misfortune of working with you hates you.

We’ve had it with you and your diva-like tantrums and we’re never, ever, ever going to publish another book of yours again.

Except, of course, if you’re making us a boatload of money. Even then, we still hate you and we’ll tell everyone (off the record, of course) that your books “aren’t as good/aren’t selling as well as they used to.” Payback is a bitch.

Just like a lot of things, rejection isn’t always what it seems to be and writers need to put that stack of rejection letters into perspective. Self-published novelist Tracey Garvis Graves, whose debut romance, ON THE ISLAND, was rejected by fourteen literary agents, just signed a two-book deal with Penguin Group's Plume imprint for "seven figures, a good seven figures." We’re talking OVER A MILLION DOLLARS for a book no one wanted.

I once got a form rejection letter for HUSBANDS AND LOVERS while it was on the NYT bestseller list.

No kidding.

Who knows why? I don’t and never will. My agent and I laughed our asses off and I went back to my computer and continued working on my next book.

You should do the same.

EXCEPT if you’re being rejected because your manuscript sucks (#1)—or your behavior does (#11) ...oh yes, and absolutely, positively check for wildlife before submitting (#3). 

In the first case, re-read & re-write with a critical eye and/or hire an editor and pay attention to what s/he says. In the second case, remember the Golden Rule and Do Until Others As You Would LIke Them To Do Unto You. You know, just like your mother said…and maybe get out the Roach Motel?
What about you, scriveners? Have you got a rejection you suspect was for one of these reasons? Have you got an outrageous rejection story to share? Does it help to know it’s not your book, it’s the editor’s hormonal imbalances?

Anne will be out visiting this week. On Tuesday, June 26th, she'll be stopping by Meghan C. Ward's Writerland. Anne will be talking about how to choose the publishing path that's best for you. On Wednesday, June 27th, she'll be visiting Catherine Ryan Hyde's blog to talk about the perils of blogging.

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Anonymous R.M. Prioleau said...

This is a great and informative post, even with all its tongue-in-cheek :) It really puts understanding rejections in a new light (especially when it's coming from a NY Publisher and author). It dispells a lot of the urban myths about why publishers reject great manuscripts.

Though, I must ask about point #4. Overload. A publishing house says they have way too much of one genre (in the case these days, it seems to be YA paranormal), yet, when I walk in places like Barnes & Noble, that's all I see lining the shelves. And when a new book comes out, it ends up still being in that same genre. So they still seem to be publishing this 'overloaded' genre even though it doesn't seem to 'fit their needs.' This, I don't understand. Is this stuff from existing authors they are publishing before they got overloaded??

For now, I've been self-publishing my books, but perhaps one day I will muster the courage to query an agent. I'm really not afraid of getting rejected. In fact, I expect it. I feel like the only thing I would really need a publisher for would be the distribution/exposure (and maybe some major advertising) aspects. I wouldn't want them to mess with my book cover, or make me edit my manuscript to the point that my main character is doing something that I, as the author know is out of their character. But I have to change it anyway because it would 'appeal' to readers more, or some other. I've heard stories of things like that happening. Is that really true?

Getting traditionally published is certainly a big deal, and like anything else that is a life-changing experience, I would want to consider all aspects that would benefit me in the long run (especially if something like this is going to be my career/full-time job).

June 24, 2012 at 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Chihuahua Zero said...

Wow. Awesome post! If it was a weekday, this would go straight into my weekly round-up. For now, I'll link it on the writer's forum I'm at. Part of why I liked this post is because of the detail.

Another part is that I happen to be having a good day so far. So you avoided #7 on my list. ;)

And about what R.M. Prioleau said, would you say that the sheer amount of YA paranormal romances (a local Barnes and Noble is shelving it under the non-fiction YA!) indicate that the genre has pretty much overloaded itself for the next couple of years?

Better avoid those vampires and werewolves. Maybe I'll hit gold with spirits and psychics.

June 24, 2012 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger Lindsey Bell said...

I'd love to be entered to win this book! lindsey (dot) m (dot) bell (at) hotmail.com

June 24, 2012 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

RM—What Overload means is that there is too much in-house inventory in the genre in question. That inventory will probably be published over time (altho some will just be written off) but no more mss in that genre will be taken on.

No author has to take any suggestion from a publisher. If you don't like what you are being told, you have every right to refuse. Please do so politely and remember that, if they want a change you don't agree with, perhaps there's a third alternative that will please both of you.Sometimes it's just a matter of negotiation.

CZ—Thanks for the kind words. Yes, definitely! Once you see oceans of any category flooding the shelves, you are pretty well guaranteed that particular genre has been published into the ditch. Time to hop on the next train.

Lindsey—Good luck! It's a terrific book & a signed copy makes it very special indeed.

June 24, 2012 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Great advice. There are snippets and pieces of this information in a variety of places, but this is the first I've seen it stated so succinctly. Thanks for giving me a resource to share with others.

June 24, 2012 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline Howett said...

A wonderful list. You managed to get down a bit of everything from a day at the office.

This was so funny!
I once got a form rejection letter for HUSBANDS AND LOVERS while it was on the NYT bestseller list.

June 24, 2012 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Dalya Moon said...

I love this list! Sometimes agents will put out "what you're doing wrong" lists and it's all about weather description openings. This is a comforting list for those people who've been careful about avoiding all the "bad" things from all the other lists. I'd love to be rejected while on the NYT bestseller list! Something to aspire to, I guess!

June 24, 2012 at 12:43 PM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

"We hate you." Hilarious! I can see that happening to people.
Many of those reasons come back to one thing - timing.

June 24, 2012 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Maya—Thanks for the kind words & thank you for sharing. I appreciate it.

Jacqueline—Thanks. It IS funny & also completely absurd—really puts rejection in perspective. Also explains those one-star Amazon reviews. You can't please everyone, that's for sure.

Dalya—Thank you! And why not aspire to the bestseller list—& to a form rejection to come along with it? Go for it! lol

Alex—You're right. A lot of it IS timing. Luck, too. It's an irrational business because no one knows ahead of time what's going to sell & what isn't.

June 24, 2012 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

Ruth, I am not sure if I should get drunk or take and asprin and call you in the morning :) Neither I am sure would be your advise.

It's that "don't take it personally" time again ... the time when you need to extinguish self-doubt and blame it on someone's neice standing in as a summer intern ...

New Yorkers are always on the look out for wild life :)

Did you forget to say ... all of the above?

Okay, I've run out of cute remarks. Thanks for another great post !!

June 24, 2012 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Charley Robson said...

This post is amazing - and hilarious! - thanks Ruth! Note to self, check for escaping wildlife ... and at least try and convince them I'm not hell-bent on world domination. That might scare 'em off a wee bit ;)

Fabulous work here! :D

June 24, 2012 at 11:52 PM  
Blogger Donna Hole said...

I've gotten about 8 rejection letters from my first women's fiction novel, and I'm sure those are because the query and first pages need some work. But, I also queried top agents, and the chances of getting signed with them as an unknown author is slim if at all. But it was my first round of querying, and I haven't queried it in 3 years.

I've had better luck with my short stories. So far the only rejections I've had are in the form of no response.

I suppose bugs in e-mail attachments could be as devastating as a roach in the ms box. Yuck.


June 25, 2012 at 12:04 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Donna—LOL re computer bugs! Excellent!

These days 8 turn downs are nothing and, if your query letters & first pages need work, by all means take the time to fix them before you resubmit. Good luck!

Charley—Thank you! Always love to hear from someone who gets my sense of humor. Much appreciated.

fOIS—No booze & no aspirin, either. Side-effects too costly. Blaming is good & clueless nepots are definitely a universal blight. LOL

June 25, 2012 at 5:38 AM  
Blogger christine A said...

Thanks, Ruth. Great points. A magazine editor told me one time that she rejected a short story (not mine) because the magazine had just printed a story the month before where the protagonist had the same first name. So I guess, if you can easily pick another story from your huge pile, why bother to request even the most minor of changes. Write on!

June 25, 2012 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger queengeek said...

I'd love to win a copy of the book! It sounds fascinating. My email is lpreble (at) cox (dot) net.

June 25, 2012 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Christine—thanks! The story that ed told you is another example of why rejection can be so nonsensical. I will also point out that these days editors are so overworked that asking for the fix would probably take longer than just picking another story. Sad but true.

QueenG— Good luck!

June 25, 2012 at 11:10 AM  
Anonymous AJ Burton said...

Read your piece regarding reasons for rejection.

I sent away manuscript to three agents got three rejections for various reasonS,including econonmy etc. Got so depressed never sent another one. I think I shall remain agentless forever lol.
AJ BUrton

June 25, 2012 at 3:51 PM  
Anonymous Susan Tuttle said...

Ruth, thanks for the great post. I write suspense and was once rejected because my writing wasn't "elegant" enough... Never knew that elegance was a prerequisite for mysteries! (Weren't no 'critters' in that box, either! LOL)

So I put it out myself to great reviews. If readers like it, why do I care if a publisher doesn't?

June 25, 2012 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Aj—Agents' loss. Your gain. lol & good luck!

Susan—100% right! If readers like it, what do you care what some publisher thinks? WTG.

June 25, 2012 at 4:33 PM  
Blogger Joyce Lansky said...

Thank you for a wonderfully informative article. Let's see, hmm, my manuscripts are fabulous, so it can't be that. ;) I've never sent anything in with wildlife attached, and I haven't been in the industry to tick anyone off, so it must be one of the non-important reasons. I'll keep trying. :)

P.S. I've gotten a lot of rejection letters where they tell me I have a great "voice" but reject me anyway. I guess that's a positive sign.



June 25, 2012 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Joyce—Excellent attitude! Also voice is important & makes up for other sins so keep going. Onward!

June 26, 2012 at 4:43 AM  
Blogger Best Business Brands said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

June 30, 2012 at 7:20 AM  
Anonymous T.K. Marnell said...

I love the honesty. I have a question about another reason I've heard about, though: do publishers really hold your previous sales records against you? Say you're a delightful person to work with and the editor loves your MS, but you don't make boatloads of money. You self-published a novel that's ranked number two million on Amazon, or a title you sold to a different publisher five years ago never earned out its advance. Do editors check these things and prejudge your sales potential because of it?

June 30, 2012 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

TK—The answer to your question is: yes! Track record rules everything: size of print order, promo/ad budgets, pub plans. A poor track record is the beginning of a vicious downward cycle & just about guarantees failure.

The way around it is to use a pseudonym. Done all the time by authors who need to get out from under poor previous sales performance.

July 1, 2012 at 6:00 AM  
Blogger Morgan Hyde said...

Putting rejection into perspective is very useful, and I loved this list for that reason. I recently had two stories rejected, both of which contained elements a conservative Christian might have found offensive. I have no way of knowing if that made a difference, and while I don't want to assume my work is good enough if it weren't for personal bias, it is a comfort to remember that there are many factors outside my control.

I would love to be entered in the book draw: amethystars at gmail dot com.

July 1, 2012 at 9:35 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Morgan—Thank you for the kind words. You're right when you comment that there are many factor outside your control. Those factors are also outside the control of agents & editors as well. Maintaining perspective in the face of rejection is crucial.

July 2, 2012 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Monica Stoner said...

Having been at the writing game for a very long time, I've heard a lot of these reasons but never in one place and never in a fashion that makes me snort iced tea through my nose!
I'll definitely remember to check for wildlife (and random dog hairs), check my attitude (I can be abrasive, imagine that!) and keep on writing.

July 5, 2012 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Willa Blair said...

Having observed agent/editor panels at conferences reacting to short, anonymous selections from attending authors books, I totally understand this. One will love what they heard, another completely hate it.

It's subjective, subjective, subjective. So your advice to keep submitting and honing your craft is spot on.

July 5, 2012 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger Becke Davis said...

Fabulous post, Ruth! I was once rejected because the agent I'd submitted to was already repping what she called "wolf lit" and didn't need any more.

In my case, frustratingly, I don't think I have anyone to blame but myself for the rejections. I started writing fiction pretty late, and I'm trying to cram a lot of knowledge into my head to make up for lost time. I think my brain is on overload.

My CPs tell me I'm editing my voice out of my stories, which may well be true. But it's also true that I'm still learning, and while I've had some extremely positive-slash-helpful rejections, I think the "blame" rests solidly on me.

I'm hoping one day I'll believe in a story so strongly that I'll keep submitting in the face of multiple rejections. For now, I usually head back to the drawing board.

July 5, 2012 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Monica—Thanks! Love it when someone gets my sense of humor.

You've been-there-done-that & know what a load of horsebleep most of it is. The sane reaction is to keep on keeping on. As they say. ;-)

Willa—You've literally *seen* what goes on so you know what I'm talking about. As you say, totally subjective & thank you for your appreciation of my advice! Not all that frequent & most welcome.

Becke—If you keep writing, you WILL find a story in which you believe. If my own experience is any guide, that belief does not come easily nor quickly. Once you find it, though, it's yours & it's yours for good — & no one else has it or can duplicate it.

Your perspective is a major plus although I wouldn't be so quick to think in terms of "blame." As Willa says, this is all about subjective reaction. "Everyone" loves chocolate. Except me. Not my thing. And not the "thing" of lots of other people, either. Writing no different.

July 5, 2012 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Becke Davis said...

Good point. Maybe "responsibility" instead of "blame."

I always love my stories while I'm writing them, but I'm often my own worst critic. Not sure how to get past that.

Thanks for the advice and encouragement!

July 6, 2012 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Becke—Do you work with an editor whose taste & expertise you trust? The right editor can help you get past that awful bipolar love it/hate it syndrome. Someone really good can also help you find a voice that is really "you."

July 6, 2012 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes. Had a book rejected once because someone much better known than me had just done one on a similar subject. Another time I had just been commissioned to write a novel in a shared universe when the company was taken over and the very popular series cancelled. I once WROTE a book for a small publisher who then couldn't pay for it because the GFC had dried up her own source of funding (she was packaging). I once got a printed rejection slip from a publisher that didn't HAVE a manuscript of mine at te time! When I wrote to ask what they were rejecting they never replied. ( As it happened, I had already had a personal phone call from the head publisher two years before about my manuscript. - and she eventually bought it when she moved to another company)

July 8, 2012 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sue—Sad, pathetic, hilarous: "I once got a printed rejection slip from a publisher that didn't HAVE a manuscript of mine"

This just proves the point! All rejection *really* means is "on to the next." Or, as the Brits say, "Keep calm and carry on."

July 9, 2012 at 5:09 AM  
Anonymous Polly said...

You cheered me up and made me laugh, because of course my book is brilliant and I don't fall into any of the top three reasons!

August 10, 2012 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Polly—There, there. ~pats Polly's head~ Of course you don't & it (your book) doesn't. ;-)

August 11, 2012 at 5:41 AM  

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