How To Interpret Rejection Letter

by Irene Vartanoff
Many publishers of romance novels allow manuscript submissions directly from writers without an agent. But since the majority of submissions get rejected, then writers get rejection letters that they must interpret on their own. It can happen to you. Despite all your high hopes, after some months you receive a letter from a publisher saying they do not want to publish your manuscript. But you aren’t sure why. There are three basic kinds of rejection letters. Reviewing what they contain and what they mean may help reconcile you a little to the inevitability of receiving them. Rejection is part of being a writer.

The Form Letter Rejection. This is the toughest because it’s a printed form letter. It usually does not list a real editor’s name, so you can’t call and ask for details or clarification. This letter typically thanks you for submitting your manuscript, says that your material unfortunately is not what they want to publish at this time, and wishes you well in placing it elsewhere. And that’s all. It does not say if the editors hated your characters, laughed at your plot, or thought you couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag. But if you let a form letter rejection puncture your self-esteem, you may start imagining those negative reactions.

The most important aspect of a form rejection is that it is a form. It means that whatever you submitted is not even close to what they want to publish at this time. Compare your story to what they do publish and try to figure out why. If it is very close, it might be too familiar a plot. If it’s very far off, it might not fit into their publishing program. “At this time” is significant, too, because next year that very publisher might be looking for your kind of story. Unfortunately, a form rejection often means that your writing style did not impress anybody, either. And yes, as long as you followed the submission guidelines, someone at the publishing house did read a good portion of your submission. Publishers that accept unagented submissions do read them. But editors are busy, and if your submission is far off the mark, no one is going to take the time to tell you what your writing lacks or has too much of. Why should they? Other submissions, perhaps ones much closer to what they seek, are demanding their time. Don’t forget, publishing is a business, not a writing school.

The Letter Rejection I. The second kind of rejection letter is warmer, because it comes from an editor directly and it may praise some aspect of your writing. But sometimes writers misinterpret its meaning. The rejection still holds: Your story is not right for this publisher at this time. The editor does not want to see it again, so do not revise the rejected novel and resubmit it. However, the editor is willing to read something else by you. In your chagrin at being rejected, do not ignore the engraved invitation to submit another manuscript. Make sure you do so promptly.

The Letter Rejection II. The third kind of rejection letter is the best kind. The story has flaws, but the editor likes it and makes specific suggestions for changes. She may say she is willing to consider it again once you make those changes, or she may not. Yet detailing specific changes always is an implicit invitation to resubmit the same story after you have made the changes. Just don’t take a year to revise. Fashions in genre stories change swiftly, and editors change jobs a lot. A professional writer would be expected to do revisions in a matter of weeks, not months, so act like a pro and revise quickly. Be thorough. And don’t assume that your manuscript will automatically be accepted once it’s revised. A manuscript with flaws significant enough to generate a rejection letter may require a level of rewriting of which you are not yet capable. And there’s something else to consider: the editor’s suggested changes might not agree with your concept of the story. You might prefer to submit your unrevised manuscript to another publisher instead.

The ideal response from a publisher is an offer to buy your manuscript. But all writers get rejected at one time or another. If you have submitted repeatedly and only received form rejections, it’s time to do a stern comparison between your manuscript and romances that do get published. You can also submit it to a writing contest that promises a critique, such as, or join a writers’ critique group and get reactions from other developing writers. But please do not burden your family and friends with requests to read your rejected romance. Their kind-hearted opinions will not help you develop your ability to be self-critical. And if you ask people unfamiliar with the romance genre you’ve chosen to review your material, they may make suggestions that are not appropriate for the genre.

Most of all, writers who want to get published need to develop a thick skin. Rejection letters are just part of the writing life, and some, maybe many, will come your way. Sometimes your only option, if you must see your story in book form, is to self-publish.

About Irene Vartanoff
Irene Vartanoff is a longtime romance editor and writer who got her start in comic books. She is the author of several graphic romance novels published by Arrow Publications include Breaking All the Rules and The Egyptian’s Texas Spitfire. Under her comic book nom de plume, Poison Ivy, she contributes to the MyRomanceStory Blog.