Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rejection, Konrath Style

I'd like to welcome guest blogger J.A. Konrath to The Leaf Blower. Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers. I asked Joe to share some of his most humiliating rejections, and here's what he had to say:

My name is Joe Konrath. I've published over sixty short stories and articles, sold nine novels and an anthology, and make my living as a full time fiction writer.

I've also gotten over six hundred rejections.

Rejection is part of the publishing business. This is because publishing is mostly based on luck. Getting the right story, in front of the right editor, at the right time, and you'll make a sale. But the stars pretty much have to align for this to happen.

I still get rejected all the time. Even with a few hundred thousand books in print around the world, I still have trouble getting published. It's just how the business works. Those with thin skins need not apply.

Way back in the 90s, before email offered authors the thrill of instant humiliation, rejections came via the US postal service. Looking through my massive collection, I've noticed the majority of them are Xeroxed form letters. But I've found a few choice ones to share here.

"Dear Mr. Konrath. Thank you for writing, but the agent you addressed your query to died two years ago, so he won't be reviewing your manuscript."

A shame. It was a ghost story, too.

"We passed your proposal around the office with great amusement and much laughter. Unfortunately, we don't believe you intended this to be funny."

Glad to cheer you up. Even gladder that you're now out of business.

"I didn't like anything about your book. But someone else may prove me wrong."

They did, and the book won a few awards.

"There's a lot to like about your writing, but a dying protagonist is a tough sell in these days of "continuing" sleuths."

So far, my dying protagonist has starred in six novels and four short stories.

"There is an awful lot of swearing, and if you read a lot of mysteries you will note that swearing is held to a minimum."

You obviously haven't been reading the same shit I have.

"Please find the enclosed brochure for Writing the Blockbuster Novel, a book which provides guidelines for writers seeking to create commercially successful work for today's highly competitive fiction market."

While I enjoy How-To books, I'm a bit put-off by an agent trying to sell me his. Especially since he's never written a blockbuster novel. That his book is now out of print and self-published makes me even leerier.

"I found the premise extremely imaginative and original, and you do a remarkable job balancing the brisk pacing with humor."

This is a rejection?

"Save ten dollars off the evaluation of your manuscript with this coupon."

Run away. Run away as fast as you can.

"To me, this works better as a movie."

Damn it! Why can't I write something less cinematic?

"I have just taken on a thriller with comparable qualities."

I watched. And no you didn't. A few years later, however, you did take on Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

The list goes on, but frankly, leafing through all of my rejections began to depress me, so I stopped and grabbed a beer.

That said, even now, after an illustrious mid-list career, I still get rejected.

It isn't personal. It's business.

Remember, there's a word for a writer who never gives up: Published.

Persistence is the key. Rejections are proof you're making an effort.

The only writers who fail are those who never submit.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to work.

Here are some pics of Joe's Rejection Book, one of them comparing the thickness to the Chicago Yellow Pages.

JA Konrath is the author of the Jack Daniels thrillers, and writes the blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing at His latest novel, AFRAID, was written under the pen name Jack Kilborn. It was also rejected a dozen times before finding a publisher. Read an excerpt on his website,


  1. And the first time you get to go, "wow, they took that story -- now I have to find something else to send my backup market. . ." -- well, that's a whole new level of awesome.

  2. haha! love the comments to the rejection slips, 5 gold stars!

  3. Joe, these are hilarious. You should do a Standup routine at a convention based on your rejections and your comments. LOL

    I stacked up several dozen rejections, but most of them were far less personal. "We're sorry but your manuscript does not meet our current needs." Blah, blah.

    And I love that you keep hammering home that writers MUST be persistent. You can't get published if you don't keep after it.

  4. I'm amazed at how unprofessional some of the rejection letters are!

    Thank you for sharing - brings a new perspective to persistence and learning to take criticism in stride (which I think most of us need to work on - I know I do...)

  5. You can't take it personally. All writers get rejections.

  6. One of my recent rejections started off with, "I enjoyed this so much that I read every single word!"

    Then he proceeded to tell us why he couldn't buy the book. It had to do with an imprint shutting down.

    Got any extra fairy dust on you, Joe?

  7. My sister told me I shouldn't call them rejection letters, it's too depressing. If you call them love letters, it's easier to take. Of course, all of mine are more like "Dear John" letters! Harsh. And how is a rejection letter supposed to be professional? No matter what, the agent/editor/publisher is saying they think your work sucks.

    So what do you do? Write some more and send out another batch!

  8. Gee, most of my rejections aren't nearly as imaginative as these. I guess I'd better get cracking!

    Batson is right. This material is great stand-up comedy stuff!

  9. Awesome! It is cool that at least a good laugh can come out of something that can potentially take someone down emotionally.

    I was feeling depressed and particularly nuts one night and chopped up a rejection letter and rearranged the words so that it read like an acceptance letter. It was fun to make light of a concept that I take so seriously (Damning Rejection). Thanks for sharing!

  10. Great stuff! I just posted a link for this post and a plug for your blog on mine-, which is a blog I just started to document my work with my significant other as we struggle with his writing, publicity, getting published, etc. It's great to read about other people's experiences and gain encouragement.

  11. Thanks for having me, Brian.

    It just occurred to me that I should have given you some pics.

    Here are two photos of my Rejection Book, one of them comparing the thickness to the Chicago Yellow Pages.

    Feel free to add them to the blog entry, if you see fit.

  12. Joe,
    I think the rejections could make another good anthology for you! "One man's trash is another man's treasure..."

  13. Great to have you, Joe. I added the pics. At least your letters seem to be on full pieces of paper. The short story rejection slips I've received have all been on 2x2-inch slips!

  14. If you look closely at the pics, there are some plastic dividers with pockets in them, to hold those 2x2 slips.

  15. Wow. All of this is actually quite depressing. I am really glad that Joe can find humor in the rejection process. It must be incredibly vindicating each and every time you publish something that had previously been rejected. I would personally want to rub my publishing successes in the face of the manuscript rejectors. But that would not be sportsman like.

  16. OH... I totally needed that today. J.A. You make me laugh out loud! Hilarious. :)

  17. I love these hilarious rejections, Joe. A great reminder of how human agents, editors and publishers are and how subjective it all is.

  18. Wow - Thanks for sharing the inside scoop on being a writer. Sounds like you have to have Mt. Everest climbing type blood in you to endure. It gives me such perspective and even more respect for writers than I already had. It was also an encouragement to me to never give up . . . rejection is a part of life and I don't have to let it get me down. In fact, those who give up, never get the opportunity to truly live.

  19. Just like Jane said, "one person's trash is another person's treasure." Keep writing and submitting until your treasure is discovered!

  20. Gak! Oh, these are priceless, Joe! Thanks for sharing your misery as well as your achievements. Ah, the power of persistance.

    Two of my fave rejections: The one I got from a major pub TWO YEARS after the book was out with another publisher.

    The one where an agent said readers would never sympathize with this particular heroine. (I've gotten more reader raves about that heroine than any other).

    Oh, wait. Three. The pub who rejected one of my stories saying it wasn't 'fizzy' enough.

    What does that mean???

  21. Joe,

    I am certainly not a writer, but I found your rejection notices hilarious! Your responses were even better. Thank you for putting some humor and persistence into a potentially grim situation.

  22. Haha awesome work. You give good advice about being persistent to achieve what you strive for. This is good advice for a senior in high school.

    I really enjoyed this one, "I found the premise extremely imaginative and original, and you do a remarkable job balancing the brisk pacing with humor."
    -haha and...??????

  23. Just curious, why are you using a pen name for "Afraid?" You've apparently worked very hard to get "JA Konrath" on book covers and known in the publishing world.
    Is the horror genre that much different from mystery/thriller that people would be thrown off? (I'm sure the description is on the cover.) Once Stephen King became known he dropped the "Richard Bachman" thing. I would think brand name trumps all. Just askin' thanks.

  24. Joe, I was amused and entertained by the rejections and your witty comments regarding them. As I read them, it occurred to me that there is great wisdom that transfers to the environment we are living in today. Rejection is part of the road to success.

  25. Hi Joe! Love your comments. It must feel great to publish something (and it be great - trust me, your stuff is great) when someone else said it was basically crap!! Keep on writing and we'll keep on buy!

  26. Just curious, why are you using a pen name for "Afraid?"

    I was asked that by another blogger. You'll have to go to her blog for the answer. :)

    Thanks again for having me here, Brian!

  27. Hey Joe/Brian,

    I've certainly never been a writer, but am fascinated by the writer's mind and how a story evolves and morphs within...

    I can only imagine that the story becomes an integral part of the writer's spirit and psyche, so that rejection of the book truly feels like rejection of the writer himself/herself...

    So, I greatly appreciated Joe's tale of humorous rejections, as well as, ultimate successes, as they are metaphors for all of us who dare to take risks, in order to live a more meaningful existence.


    Nina Del Prado

  28. I have my share of rejections, but have a ways to go to catch Joe, so at least I have something to shoot for.

    My favorite? The editor who passed because "the book isn't original enough for a hardcover series but too good to go straight to paperback."

    I could hae lived with paperback. I've been insulted before. :0