The Personal Rejection: Backhanded Compliment of Publishing


by John Briggs

There are two types of rejection letters – the dreaded form letter and the personal rejection letter. The former is just what it sounds like—the one that editors and agents send to dozens, if not hundreds of authors every year that says, with very little subtext, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The personal letter, of course, says, with very little subtext, “We’re sorry, thanks, but no thanks.”

Actually, that’s a bit unfair to the personal rejection letter. Some are effusive in their praise. Gushing even. But for whatever reason, they can’t publish or represent your hard work.

My friends have come to consider me the king of the personal rejection letter. In the past three years I have received exactly one form letter for a half-dozen books I’ve been shopping around.


A List of Rejection Letters

  1. One editor rejected my book by saying, “If this were five or ten years ago, I would have published your book. I had a bigger budget then.”
  2. Another wrote, “This book is imminently publishable, and I am sure that I will one day see it in bookstores. Unfortunately, I must regretfully say that we will not be the ones publishing it.”
  3. Yet another: “This book is very similar to Book X that we have just released. Had you gotten this book to me sooner, I would have strongly considered publishing it. Unfortunately, we feel that it would be too confusing for our readers at this time.”
  4. Three times the frustration… “I found your book refreshing and funny. It is a delightful read. Unfortunately, we don’t publish books about exotic animals here at Publisher X. Do you have another manuscript you could send me?”
    a. After sending a second manuscript: “I thoroughly enjoy your writing, but find that this story is not right for our house. Is there another manuscript you can send me? I’m sure that’s it’s just a matter of finding the right story, because you and I are definitely going to work together.”
    b. After sending a third manuscript: “Editor Y no longer works here and your manuscript is being returned unread.”
  5. “Your book reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Movie X. I brought this book to our board meeting, but the board has rejected it. I’m sorry to say we must pass on this project.”
  6. After sending in two rewrites to an editor: “I love this story, but my line editor does not, and upon further review, I’m inclined to agree with him. I am sure, however, that you will definitely be published.”
  7. And my favorite: “You remind me of Author X (Author X was a client of hers. It’s precisely why I sent her the book). Unfortunately (There’s that word again!), I already have Author X and don’t need another one.

Rejection, whether personal or form-fitting, still hurts. After all, the backhanded compliment is publishing’s version of the backhanded slap – it still stings. That said, it’s good to get such compliments because, at the very least, my work was worth a little extra effort on the editor’s part, even if they are often followed by that unfortunate word, “Unfortunately.”

So, do I give up? No, I keep submitting because the one thing failure has taught me is that you can fail at different levels. I’m falling short somewhere near the top, and while that is still falling short, I find the drop is not as far as if I were missing by a mile and a half. It’s much easier to pick myself back up and try again.




Guest post contributed by John Briggs. John has been a writer for nearly 20 years, starting out in newspapers and eventually spent several years as a nationally syndicated children’s TV critic. His book, Leaping Lemmings, is coming out Sept 6th, 2016.

21 thoughts on “The Personal Rejection: Backhanded Compliment of Publishing

  1. This is just what I needed to read this morning! I often imagine receiving these rejection letters as I’m writing (but not worded as nicely and specifically as these) and have to find the resolve to push through anyway.


  2. Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    While I freely admit to spending far too much time to pouting over the very detailed rejection letter I got for my first novel, I eventually took a look at it again. I knew I wasn’t going to resubmit to that publisher, so I read the advice with a more open, less angry mind. There were some criticisms with which I wholeheartedly disagreed (e.g., they wanted me to change it from first person narration to third person — and that wasn’t right for the story), but others I could take on board. So, I made the changes that made sense and went back to the drawing board. That led to that same book being traditionally published in both the US and the UK.

    The rights on that book, “In The Eye of The Beholder,” have since reverted and I’ve self-published it. Still, the lesson remains with me: a detailed, personalized rejection letter is a gift. It’s okay to be upset that someone called your baby ugly. Once you get past that, take on the criticisms and use them to your advantage.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you for posting this. No one likes to face rejection and it helps to “see” how others handle it 😊 I will carry on submitting, hopefully learning from each rejection and continuing to believe that I am getting closer to a yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on A Writing Life and commented:
    Many years ago I received my first rejection, from Reader’s Digest, with a long explanation of how I might make it more suitable for them. Disappointed, I showed the note to my teacher who had suggested the submission. “This is wonderful,” he said, and went on to tell me how rare a personal note is and how it says in essence to rewrite and submit again.


    1. I guess you missed the note at the end about his book coming out. The release date said Sept 2016, so this is either a recycled post or one with a typo. 🙂


  5. Sending all my love and support! I’ve been feeling the same thing for how many months now and I feel very refreshed to know that youre still very positive about it. 💖


  6. Persistence. Rejections of any sort, whether personal, or not, hurt. We just have to keep taking them, I guess, till the right one comes along. After a certain level of writing, it is all about the right story at the right desk at the right time.


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