Thursday, April 30, 2009

Writers Aren't the Only Ones Who Get Rejected

by Joyce

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday about the rejection letters students have received from colleges. Due to the large number of applicants, more students than ever are being rejected by the schools of their choice. Rejected students have even created a "rejection wall" on a message board. Colleges are rated on how harsh or how compassionate the rejections are.

Rejections ranged from harsh "The deans were obliged to select from among candidates who clearly could do sound work at Bates" (Bates College), to the very nice "Past experience suggests that the particular college a student attends is far less important than what the student does to develop his or her strengths and talents over the next four years" (Harvard). Stanford tells students that appeals will not be considered. Duke wants rejectees to know that they'll "find an institution at which you will be happy."

I couldn't help but see the parallels between these letters and the rejection letters most writers have seen at some point in their careers. Come to think of it, looking for an agent is a lot like searching for that perfect college. Students pore over college websites checking out majors, course requirements and activities. Writers spend hours researching agents to see what they represent, who their clients are and how many sales they've made. Students spend weeks working on the application package and essay, while writers agonize over the perfect hook and query letter.

The rejections are similar, too. Some are harsh, like the one from Bates College. I once had one that said, "I thought it would be better." Ouch. Others are kind, "while I liked this a lot, it's just not right for my list, but please think of me for your next project." Some agents say that you'll surely find another agent who will love it.

Although rejection isn't easy, I think it's healthy for these students to learn to deal with it. Rejection is a part of life, whether it's not getting accepted to the school of one's choice, or getting turned down for the perfect job.

And if the student plans to be a writer someday, well, they'd better get used to it.

Anyone have any rejections they'd like to share? What was your most memorable rejection--either good or bad?


Gina said...

Most memorable? Maybe the word "no!" scrawled across the cover letter.

Annette said...

Oh, Gina. That's cold.

I don't have any truly memorable rejection letters. The ones I remember most are the people/publishers who just don't send one. I'd rather have a form letter or a definitive NO than just be left hanging.

Tory said...

I like the idea of comparing agent rejection letters with college rejections because it puts it into perspective. I remember, when I was applying to schools, how convinced I was that the "perfect" choice would make or break my future. In fact, though a good school, I didn't really pick a good fit for me (though the folk dancing was excellent!) And, I'm not sure how much impact it's had on my life since then.

Sometimes what you THINK will be the best fit isn't really the best fit in the long run.

Joyce said...

Gina, I think I got one of those once. Makes me glad most agents will only take e-queries now. It's hard to scrawl NO across an e-mail.

Joyce said...

Tory, my kids were lucky. They got into the perfect schools for them. Andy was accepted by his second choice, which turned out to be for the best. He really fit in there, and ended up a campus leader. He still keeps in touch with a few of his professors. Josh only applied to one school, and now he's working in the same research lab where he was an undergrad assistant.

PatRemick said...

Great post. Now who's going to organize the "rejection wall" online? :)

Joyce said...

That's your job, Pat.

Jennie Bentley said...

For my very first submission, sent off to Harlequin way back in 2000, I got a two-page rejection letter from an editor, detailing everything that was wrong with my synopsis with suggestions for how I could fix the problems. At the time, I didn't realize that this was code for "fix it and send it back to me," so I put it in a drawer and never looked at it again. Just goes to show you should do your research before you start willy-nilly sending your babies out in the world...

Great post!

My word verification is fluttri. Is that the new spelling of fluttery?

Karen in Ohio said...

The first book I ever wrote was a children's book on a natural history topic, meant as a collaboration with my photographer husband. One of the rejection letters (it was never published) said something along the lines of "I'm sure your husband's pictures are pretty". Which is funny, because he's one of the best in that particular genre, not just in the country, but anywhere, and has been highly successful for the last 40 years.

This was about 20 years ago, and I've had lots of other rejection letters, but that one still sticks in the craw.

Verification: berathe Hmmm. Breathe aggressively?

Dana King said...

My daughter just went through the college acceptance/rejection grind. I agree, it's good for bright kids to get a taste of rejection at this age. They'll still go to college, but they'll also see, as our generation would say, "You can't always get what you want, but you might just get what you need." She's delighted and excited to be starting at the University of Maryland in the fall.

My favorite rejection: Not original enough for a hardcover series, but too good to go straight to paperback. I wish my agent had said, "Go ahead. Insult us with paperback."

Joyce said...

I wouldn't mind being insulted like that, Dana. And congratulations to your daughter!

Word verification: ferati--a combination of a Ferrari and a Maserati?