Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


This isn't news to you if you have been trying to get published. Or even stay published: You have to be tough. How tough? You have to have the hide of a

The tenacity of a

And the drive of a

But even with all those qualities, you are going to get rejected. It happens to all of us. And it never stops. Even after you sign your first contract, you will deal with it. Your editor will make you rewrite. The marketing department will veto your title. Barnes & Noble will stock you but Costco won't. You won't get reviewed or worse, you get panned. And someday, you will be stalking some poor reader in the bookstore, see him pick up your book [YES! THEY LIKE ME, THEY REALLY LIKE ME!] and put it back on the shelf [NO! WHY DO YOU HATE MY BOOK?] Rejection is a staple of the writer's life, so no matter where you are on your path, you might as well begin to come to grips with it.

Even after you are published with a decent track record, you can still get dumped on. Four books into our current series, Kelly and I decided we wanted to try our hand at a light mystery. We finished it, convinced we were the next Janet Evanovich, had our new pen name picked out and everything. But our agent couldn't sell it. Not even to our OWN PUBLISHER! Which taught me a valuable lesson: It is not easy to write funny.

Rejection begins, of course, with query letters. This is a painful thing, the query process, because the agents who are rejecting you are usually maddeningly oblique about why they are giving you the thumbs down. Here's some examples of coded rejections I have seen:

1. "This doesn't fit my needs at this time."
2. "Your writing is strong but I don't feel I can be enthusiastic enough to fully get behind this project."
3. "I'm afraid I will have to take a pass. But I am interested in seeing other projects..."

What they really mean:

1. You can't write.
2. I already have four authors who write vampire detective series.
3. DaVinci Code rip-offs are yesterday's news. Have you considered paranormal chick lit?

I don't mean to make light of your woes if you are going through this phase of rejection now. But believe me, I have been there. My entry into this business took place during the Ice Age when it was possible to still submit to editors without having an agent. But the rejections were still as awful. I used to have all of them -- kept them in an old manila envelope in a desk drawer. Then when we moved a while back, I finally threw all the rejection letters away. Except for the first one I ever got, which I keep framed above my desk:
It is a classic! It doesn't reproduce well here, so let me point out some really nifty things about this particular rejection letter. First, it's a form letter. Second, there is no date. Third, there is no signature. But someone WAS kind enough to pencil in my last name and even take a moment to cross out "Sir."

I think this rejection letter is circa 1980. But you'll notice the language has not changed since. The inserts are how I felt at the time:

Dear Sir or Ms. Montee,
We thank you for the opportunity [yeah, right!] to consider your proposal or manuscript. [what, they can't figure out WHICH?]. We are sorry [I'll bet!] to inform you that the book does not seem a likely prospect [how elegant!] for the Dell Book list. Because we receive many individual submissions every day [you think I care how overworked you are?] it is impossible for us to offer individual comment [I'd say so since there is no human being attached to this letter to begin with!] We thank you for thinking of Dell [insert sound of raspberry here] and we wish you the best of success [ie don't darken our doorstep again with your crap] in placing your book with another publisher. [you'll be sorry some day!]

Sincerely, [you're kidding, right?]
The Editors [aka the evil Manhattan cabal trying to keep me unpublished]

So why did I keep this one? Well, with the passage of more than two decades I have gained a certain perspective about it. The manuscript I sent to Dell was really really bad. It had no business going out in the world in the state it was in. I know, because I kept it. Like this rejection letter, I kept it to remind me that this is a learning process. It still is. It always will be.

So if you are feeling blue today about rejection, just know this one thing: You are not alone. Pearl Buck’s novel “The Good Earth” was rejected on the grounds that Americans were “not interested in anything on China.” A editor passed on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” explaining it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” And let's not forget the agent who dumped Tony Hillerman and told him to "get rid of all that Indian stuff." (You can read more about Knopf's archives of other famous rejections by clicking here.)

Keep plugging away at your craft. Grow a tough hide, be brave, don't give up. And have a little faith:

Because it only takes one "yes" to make all the no's bearable.


Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Much to smile about here. My favourite rejection, based on a partial, was the one who said they didn't think it was realistic for X to happen. Since X didn't happen and they had a partial, well...

1:57 PM  
Blogger Joe Moore said...

Nice post, Kris. I still have my manila envelope full of “Dear Sir or Madam” rejections going back to 1992. I kept them so in the event that I ever got published I would send them all back with large red letters spelling SEE! When I did get published 12 years later, I knew that in reality it wouldn’t have felt all that good anyway. And the postage would have cost a fortune—there were a lot of letters.

Here’s what I’ve learned as I write my fourth contract thriller: when I started writing novels, I was stupid but I thought I was smart. Years later as I got smarter, I realized how stupid I was.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I landed an agent this year, but still no bites from publishers on the manuscript (not even a trip to committee).

I decided to stop worrying about it. It's out of my control at this point, and the only thing I can do is work on the next book. If #1 sells, great. If it doesn't, maybe #2 will.

There are so many dynamics in publishing, I've learned not to take rejection personally. I think that mindset will be useful, too, when the inevitable bad review pops up.

Publishing is largely a big crapshoot. All we can do is keep trying and hope for the best.

Nice post, Kris. I'll keep my rhino skin on. :)

9:56 PM  
Blogger foolesgold said...

Hey Kelly,

I met the two of you in Nashville. Thanks for getting the blog up and running again. I love your insight.


10:32 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Don't know if this will make you feel better or not:

At Killer Nashville, Mike Connelly was talking about how it took him a good ten years to become "an overnight success." He said he completed three novels before he had one (Black Echo) that he felt "didn't stink enough" to send out to agents. And it a lot of shopping around and numerous rejections before an editor finally bit on that first book.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Kris. A good reminder persistence is essential, even for someone as talented as Connelly.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I keep this on my bulletin board. (Don't know who wrote it):

"Dear (fill in here): Thank you for your consideration, but unfortunately your rejection does not meet our needs at this time. Please do not view this rejection of your rejection as any reflection on the quality of your editorial acumen.

"We apologize for the form letter, as we prefer to respond to each rejection with a personal note, but unfortunately the volume of rejections now makes this impossible.

"We wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors.

(fill in here, too)."

12:41 PM  

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