Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Feeling a little rejected?

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By Dennis McCloskey

If you have never received a rejection letter from a publisher, you are not a writer.

And if you’ve received a few, take heart and think of Gilbert Young, of Bath, England, and Bill Gordon, of Ohio. Poor ol’ Gil was a persistent author, according to a past edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, who wrote a 150,000-word manuscript in 1966, titled World Government Crusade. He received 242 publishers’ rejections. Not to be outdone in the failure department, Bill Gordon was on his way to beating Gil’s dismal record with his manuscript How Many Books do you Sell in Ohio? when publisher Aames-Allen sent a written offer to publish his book. He had received 176 previous rejections from publishers.

Persistence pays!

I’m a pretty persistent guy and I’ve had my share of letters of repudiation from some of the biggest and best publishers in the business. And I don’t limit my ejected and rejected manuscripts to just book publishers. I may not have enough to wallpaper my bedroom, but I have saved enough rejection slips from book producers and newspaper and magazine editors to line all the bird cages in all the PetSmart stores in Toronto for a year. One of my “favourites” came from the Toronto Star many years ago. A female editor returned my submitted story, suggesting it was too long and would I be interested in cutting it in size and re-submitting an edited version? I did, and with breathless anticipation I waited for the cheque to arrive in the mail. Instead, I received a note, along with the twice-returned article, from the same editor who sniffed (if you can actually “sniff” in a letter): “This is not up to Star standard.” In defence of Canada’s largest paper (which hired me as a summer reporter while I was a university journalism student and subsequently published over 100 of my articles in their daily, Sunday, and regional paper) the best rejection letter I ever got from them came from entertainment writer Peter Goddard. He included a lengthy, very welcome and helpful note outlining some constructive criticism, suggestions, and ideas regarding my story. Then, he ever so politely told me and my story to go to hell. In a real nice way. I am a long-time subscriber to the daily Toronto Star and ever since receiving his rejection letter, Goddard has been my #1 favourite writer at the paper. Seriously!

No one likes to have their work thrown back in their face, but in our profession it’s a fact of the writing life. You simply allow the bruises to heal, dust yourself off -- and then your manuscript -- and re-send it. I laughed at the cartoon that shows a guy standing at his mailbox, yelling aloud: “I don’t believe this! The publishing house rejected my novel! I was so sure they’d buy it. You pour your blood and guts into writing and what happens? They dash your dreams into oblivion! Well, they’re not going to defeat ME! I will write another novel—one they CANNOT reject. And I don’t care if it takes all week!”

Another favorite cartoon is from a Peanuts panel by the late Charles Schulz who drew Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse (where else?) typing a letter: “Gentlemen: Regarding the recent rejection slip you sent me. I think there might have been a misunderstanding. What I really wanted was for you to publish my story and send me $50,000. Didn’t you realize that?”
I don’t know why publishers or their readers can’t be a little more sensitive when they throw our missives on the trash heap. Years ago, the famed Maclean’s editor, Ralph Allen, remarked to an editorial assistant about someone’s manuscript: “This will have to be re-written before we can reject it.” (I wonder if the editorial assistant or a protégé or relative went on to work at The Star!)

I heard another apocryphal story about a writer who showed up at the office of a big New York publisher. As he clutched his manuscript like a newborn baby (which it was) an assistant told the hopeful writer that the publisher was not in the office. Then she added, politely and helpfully: ‘Would you like ME to reject it?”

Perhaps publishers could caress our wounded egos by writing the kind of rejection letter that appeared in a Chinese economic journal, and quoted some time ago in the Financial Times, which read: “We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal. We are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”

Now, why couldn’t the Toronto Star’s female editor send me a rejection letter like that? Quite frankly, I felt like responding to her with a note that read: “Thank you for your rejection letter. However, I regret to inform you it is not up to my standards!”

1 comment

This article made me smile and reminded me of the 3" binder of rejection letters that I kept when I first graduated from university. It is amazing how many different ways you can be told to, ah, go away! Thanks for the memories!

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Dennis McCloskey

Dennis McCloskey is a journalist and editor and the author of numerous books. Several hundred of his human interest and business articles have appeared in over sixty-five newspapers, magazines and corporate newsletters in Canada, the US and Europe. His latest book, My Favorite American, is published by General Store Publishing House.

Go to Dennis McCloskey ’s Author Page