A Picture Of A Thousand Torments, Or: A Literal Pile of Rejection Letters

I often tell aspiring writers that I started writing queries back when everyone knew what an SASE was (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope). Those were the days when receiving letters to yourself in your own handwriting made your heart sink… and honestly it still kind of does. I recently went through my box of rejection letters – yes, I had box for them – in order to remind myself of the struggle.

My debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK was my fifth finished novel. I wrote four books before that, none of them deserving of publication. And that’s said without bitterness. I’ve read the manuscripts I wrote 15 years ago. Or, I tried. I actually DNF’d one of them.

Which one?

Funny you should ask. Check out this rejection letter I received for my upcoming release, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES… then check out the date on the letter.

That’s right, June of 2001.
The novel that is releasing next week was rejected – over and over again – 15 years ago. And with good reason. The first (and subsequent) drafts of that particular manuscript were below subpar. They were, in fact, quite bad. When I decided to revisit the concept with the intention of revising it as a YA novel, I thought I might use sections of it. Maybe a scene or two. Perhaps some dialogue.
Um, no. I even blogged at the time about how bad it was.
There was nothing salvageable about that manuscript. It was poorly written, had a saggy middle and an abrupt end, populated with characters that I cared little for who spoke in awkward, unbelievable dialogue. Is it really that bad? Yes, it really is. If you’re curious, check the hashtag #BadFirstNovel on Twitter where I shared snippets back in January of 2015.
You’ll see by the handwritten note at the top of the query from 2001 that I did garner a partial request. More than one, actually. But none of them turned into a request for a full, and again, if you check out #BadFirstNovel, you’ll see why.
I’m sharing all of this with you not as yet another example of “never give up,” but rather, “never stop improving.” If I had continued to query for fifteen years but never bothered to improve my craft, I guarantee I would still be receiving rejections.
W.E. Hickson famously said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

I would add to that, “Ask yourself why. And fix it.”

6 thoughts on “A Picture Of A Thousand Torments, Or: A Literal Pile of Rejection Letters

  1. I remember the days of the SASE, and I also have stacks of rejection letters. The novel writing has been a struggle for me for many years, for many reasons. But with NaNo on the horizon and now this inspiring post – thank you! – I'm ready to get back to it.

    “Never stop improving” is something I aim for every single day, in my writing and in my life. 🙂

  2. “Never stop improving” are definitely words every writer (every person, really) should live by. There is always room for improvement, even after you publish, and always so much more to learn. Great post!

  3. I thought of you at the writing workshop this weekend and wanted to mention how you're now publishing this book…but that would have required me speaking and having people staring at me, and I wasn't ready. lol

  4. I think I revised the first novel I wrote over twenty times and only received a contract for it after I had sold two other novels and learned a lot. Mostly the plot was the only thing that survived and character names.

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