Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Good Email

Rejection can make or break a writer. Never mind that it’s what we fear in almost every corner of our lives anyway but when we’re opening a vein (as they say) and putting into words our private thoughts and feelings, rejection takes on a whole, disturbing, new meaning. Most people don’t do it. Their vein opening is reserved for traffic jams, spousal shenanigans, rude waiters, and dealing with teenage offspring. But some of us insist on spewing forth to a wider audience and here is gets dicey. Why do we do it? I. Don’t. Know. What I do know is this. If there were no story tellers the world would be a dark and dreary place. We’d be without life, love and redemption. So some of us, I guess, were tapped to tell the stories and this we do, rejection notwithstanding. I was tapped late in life so my veins are extra full.  

Okay – with that in mind, and for your amusement, I thought I’d share some of the ways my mystery novel was rejected before the clouds opened and “We’ll take it!” was heard in the land – or at least in my little bedroom office. It was a long potholed road and I began by looking for an agent.

1st crack at agent – Although we enjoyed reading your story we’re not going to offer representation. As you know, it is very hard to sell cozy mysteries now but we wish you . . . blah, blah, blah. No luck at Bookends.

2nd crack at agent – Six month wait before I realized they weren’t going to bother responding.

3rd crack at agent – Not something we’re representing at this time.

1st crack at sending it to publisher – We liked your proposal and would like to see the full manuscript. Two months later Avalon told me it wasn’t compelling enough to be a mystery.

2nd crack at sending to publisher – We all read your story and enjoyed it. You write with facility. However, we are discontinuing our fiction line. (This was written on a piece of legal paper that had been cut into thirds. I’m sure two other author hopefuls got the second and third pieces. Probably saved one whole birch twig. Yeesh.) This one took a year.

3rd crack at sending to publisher – “Susan we love what we see so far! Send the whole manuscript.” Five months later, after inquiring, “Oops! Computer crashed early this spring and we lost a bunch of submissions. Please send again.” Six months later, after another inquiry, “Sorry, not for us.” Bell Bridge doesn’t like to be bugged, I guess.

There were others. And with each rejection I revised the story. I tightened. I edited. I added more humor and intensified the mystery. The Red Shoelace Killer began as a 1K short story that I wrote for a coffee company. They almost bought it for their label where they used stories to entice buyers. That was over ten years ago. I revised the short story and sent it to Ellery Queen. No thank you, m’am. Made it longer and sent it to Grit, back when they did serial stories. Eventually the short story became a book. Why not?

And on it went for years. Then one day while searching yet again, I found Mainly Murder Press. They had opened up submissions for a few months and I read their requirements. The part I liked least was coming up with a detailed marketing plan. I didn’t submit right then. Had to mull it over. Scary, marketing. Pounding the pavement selling myself. But something drew me back and then back again. I wrote up a proposal. A killer query letter (I thought). Told them what I could reasonably do for marketing. Sent it off mere days before they closed submissions. Within two months a request came for the whole manuscript and then, then, I opened the Saturday morning email that told me I was IN.

“Dear Ms. Sundwall, I’m delighted to inform you . . .” wrote Judith Ivie, the publisher.

And my heart nearly stopped. After years of rejection and feeling like a putz for even thinking I could write a book anyone would want to read – I.Was.In.

I hope for every writer who has a book dream that you one day get an email like I got that Saturday. It will rock your world and is worth all the hoping, praying and waiting, and waiting – and rejection.

Oh, yes it is.

Thanks for reading.  

Image: Free Digital Photos


  1. Sue,
    I remember the day you got that email! This is wonderful and would be perfect for the Silver Boomer Book on waiting. I thought about the never ending waiting connected with writing but decided to use one about Y2K.

    1. After my hubby, I think you were the first person I told. It's so good to have writing friends to share the elation and deflation with. LOL You are such a blessing to me, Christine.

  2. Congratulations Susan! That is exciting. :-) Thanks for sharing your story. In this business, rejection is the norm. But like Ann Gabhart says, it's not fatal. So we press ahead. I just read a post by Terry Whalin that said his company rejects 97% of submissions. But, he said, you have NO chance of publication if you don't submit at all.

    1. I'm so glad it isn't fatal, Karen. Yikes. 97% rejection rate - how depressing is that?? Thanks for commenting.

  3. So glad you were patient and kept on plugging away, because in the end it was SO worth it! Says something about life too...keep plugging away at it. Christa

    1. Hi, Christa. Yes, a lot of life is just plugging away at it. I do have a stubborn streak, too, that helps!

  4. We look at our first rejection, maybe a bit discouraged at first, then reread and revise. In the end after all the extra work you put into your book, I'll bet you're glad that it wasn't grabbed up on the first try. I agree with Christine. This would be a good story for Silver Boomer.

    1. Marion, I'll give Boomer some thought. You and Christine know better than most how tough it is out there! What would we do without each other?

  5. Jennifer Brown BanksFebruary 24, 2013 at 11:53 AM


    Thanks for sharing this. It gives us hope! :-)