Rejection Letters I Have Known

It’s 5:30 in the morning. I haven’t been to bed yet and I really am tired. However, I also feel very satisfied because chapter forty-six is done. It needs to be cleaned up and begin the revision process all over, but it’s done. Chapter forty-six was the climax told from the view of an enemy soldier. I was so darned bloodthirsty. Good grief. It also had some very touching moments I hope will not seem too hokey.

I am still working on the special post I promised you, but I’m trying to find some old links to the person I am writing about.

In the meantime, I was thinking about the current publishing situation and particularly about Nathan Bransford’s latest post about query letters. In case you didn’t know, he’s holding another contest. This one is for first paragraphs. Jump on in, the water’s fine. Nathan really is a sweetheart, albeit completely insane with masochistic tendencies at times. Someone should have warned him contests like those are akin to remodeling a house. It’s a real test of love. So, there you have two links. Are you impressed with me yet?

So, anyway, his post about perfect query letters got me to thinking, which I like to do.

I’m going to share something with you I really hate to admit in public, but it needs to be done.

In 1996 I decided to send out query letters for my novel DANCING HORSES. I made up a big three ring notebook with copied listings of all the agencies I was interested in. I made up my own ratings guide to these agencies with points for twenty-six various items. The next pages were ledger pages where I could track the dates sent, exactly what was sent, the date received back and comments. I also put every rejection letter in their slot. This was all divided up alphabetically with the index dividers.

No, me being psychotic is not what I hate to share publicly.

What I hate to share is the query letter I sent out. This was before I really had any idea what a proper query letter, synopsis or cover letter was. Back then, it really was a little more difficult to figure out what you were supposed to send. This is why I say writers are truly living in a golden age. All the information is available if you will just dig a little.

So, here is the query letter from long ago.

Horses, expensive horses, are dying and farm manager Colton Edwards is missing.

Colton disappears immediately after a champion cutting horse is electrocuted while drinking from an automatic waterer. This is just the latest incident in a string of bizarre accidents. He reappears in Montana on the professional rodeo circuit a few days after two wild, young Cajun cowboys blow into town. That’s nothing particularly unusual in rodeo, but their curiosity about Colton and the farm is. Colton tries to put the accidents out of his mind–the same thing he tried to do with the memories of his tragically abusive childhood. But, in trying to escape the present, he runs headlong into the past when he returns to Montana.

When accidents begin happening to Colton, he realizes he must leave the rodeo stock contractor’s daughter he has fallen in love with and return to Texas. There he hopes to discover who was behind the horses’ deaths and what his own puzzling connection might be. Too late he learns the dead horses were only a minor part of a sophisticated money-laundering and insurance fraud scheme…and he holds the key that can bring a drug trafficking empire crashing down.

Okay, so there is my shame bared to all. What is most interesting is it actually garnered several requests for partials or fulls and I got an agent from this, but that isn’t the point of this meandering. You will note in Nathan’s post about query letters he used to take a chance on poorly written query letters if something zinged with him. I assume that’s what happened here.

Ok, from this, I will be sharing some of my rejection letters. Yes, I saved them all.

The first one follows.

Thank you very much for your letter of 4/22/96. I liked the opening pages of THE DREAM CATCHER. (I later changed the title due to some guy named King writing a book with that title.) You do a great job of creating atmosphere and your characters come alive. It isn’t exactly what I’m looking for at the moment but under different circumstances I’d probably have offered to take a close look at the balance. Unfortunately I’m up to my ears in manuscripts and I know that I couldn’t promise a timely reply. I’d better pass. I wish you well with this though. Maybe we will connect with a different project down the road.

Thanks for thinking of my agency. I wish you good luck in placing THE DREAM CATCHER with an appropriately enthusiastic agent and supportive publisher.

Second one.

Thank you so much for sending your project to me for possible representation.

I’m so busy these days that I take on very few new clients, and thus must be wildly excited about projects I accept. Although there are many fine things in your manuscript, I just didn’t feel strongly enough about it to feel I could do a good job for you. In this highly competitive environment, you need an agent who can represent you with 100% enthusiasm.

I wish you every success in placing this book.

I did receive lots of form letters as well as rejections scribbled across the top of my query letter, offers to edit for a fee, lots of advertising for their books or workshops and about 15% never responded.

Okay, here’s the point. As an aspiring author, you are going to receive lots of rejections. Some, like the two above, you will clutch at when you wonder if you are insane for wanting to write. You will treasure a few words of kindness and those few words will be enough to keep you going in the dark times.

Some will make you angry because they were simply rude. Some will make you laugh, like the form letter that starts with. “Ouch! This is a form rejection.” Some will confuse you when you wonder why they are telling you they aren’t enthused about THE RAIN BABIES, when you sent them your suspense novel. It sounds like a really good title for a book, though. Maybe I should write it.

So, my advice to you is this. Hang on to the hope. Remember the kindness. Maybe even send the agent a thank you card someday and tell them you appreciated their kind words and they kept you writing in the hard times. Mark the agents off the list who want you to pay them to edit your work. Use the advertisements others sent you to line the bird cage, start the fire or wipe your butt if you are the tough and vindictive sort. Ignore the rude ones.

Through it all, keep writing. Nothing succeeds like persistence.


  1. Hey, Tony. Missed you. How did you do with Nano?

    Ohhhh, Bookmarked. How much fun. I’ll add that tonight when I get home from work. Well, in the morning. I think it will be fairly late.

  2. Beth, it’s horribly long and has a lot of mistakes, but I think agents are more forgiving, or were, than they seem. You’re very sweet for commenting. I still think the story is solid.

    I sort of miss Dancing Horses. I may try to recover it someday.

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