Thursday, October 8, 2009


I love reading rejection letters of people whose books went on to amazing success. It's just something I take great delight in. The other night, I read one of Ursula K. Leguin's:
"Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well, but I'm sorry to have to say that on the basis of that one highly distinguishing quality alone I cannot make you an offer for the novel. The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith."
*Hee* There's a whole list of rejections received by now famous authors, here. I particularly love the fact that Madeleine L'engle was turned down *29* times for A WRINKLE IN TIME. Well, I don't love that she was turned down so many times--I love that she was immensely successful in spite of being turned down 29 times.

I did get one letter saying that my writing was "sub-par" (yes, that one stung), but mostly I remember getting oodles of those, "Neesha Meminger writes really well, but..." letters during my search for agents and editors. Seeing LeGuin's letter made me go digging through my own pile of "declines" during SHINE subs, and I found this one:
"As promised, I read SHINE, COCONUT MOON by Neesha Meminger at my earliest convenience. I appreciate how Samar is struggling with her identity and Indian descent--I just signed up a book about a girl struggling with similar issues in [Asian country] in [historical time frame]. But Samar's struggles don't seem to be in the service of a larger plot or narrative. The early part of the book is mostly focused on [particular characters] so there's no real sense of how this will be Samar's story. And then the grandparents seem to come out of nowhere. Throughout, I really didn't get any sense of direction..."
The letter goes on for another couple of paragraphs, but it was good to read again because it reminded me, yet again, how subjective this business is. When my (amazingly gifted and talented) editor acquired SHINE, she totally "got" it. She sent me about two pages of revision notes (this is not a lot of revising for those who aren't familiar--it is not uncommon to get 10-15 pages of single-spaced notes--which is what I was expecting), and we had only one round of revisions. None of the revision notes addressed any of the above concerns, by the way.

My story clearly didn't work for that particular editor. S/he just didn't like it. And that is absolutely okay. I wouldn't want to *have* to like something I didn't like, either. But reading these letters helps to put things into perspective as you continue submitting work and receiving feedback. This goes for anything in life, not just writing. More and more, I am convinced that believing in oneself and persistence are the two main ingredients that make up a successful [insert career choice or life passion here].

This is why it's SO important to hone that inner voice that tells you to stick to what you *know* is true. And to not make changes that don't align with your vision for your work. But to incorporate the ones that do.

It's a reminder for all of us to keep pressing on, and to believe in that little voice that just knows.


evelyn.n.alfred said...

Thanks a lot for sharing this. Newbies (like myself) need to hear it.

Neesha Meminger said...

Evelyn, absolutely. Those of us who've been on this journey a while need to be reminded, too. That's why I enjoy reading these "success in spite of" stories ;).

olugbemisola said...

yes, we certainly do need these reminders. thank you. oh, and madeleine's book about her decade of rejection called 'a circle of quiet', is one of my favourites.

mayraldole said...

i enjoyed reading through the "reject" pile and happy you posted it. that goes to show you that we must never give up the fight! : )

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