Sunday, February 15, 2009

At Last, My First Rejection...

The first thing you have to know is: this story is true. The second thing is: seriously, it's true. Last month, I submitted an unagented manuscript to DAW Books. On Saturday, I found that dreaded Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope inside. Writers, you know what was inside - the form letter. I was rejected. It was a simple statement; they didn't think it would be a commercial success. I thought about it, and oddly, I wasn't devasted.

I say oddly, because until Saturday, I've never received a rejection letter. Don't pshaw. It's true - with caveats. I've rarely written fiction; I'm usually a non-fiction 'features' writer. I've written two pieces of short fiction and two novels - or, to be correct, one novel several times.

The first piece of short fiction, Wasteland (which is in the Annex and is terrible) was submitted on a lark to New Blood magazine and accepted. It was the first thing I ever submitted and the first place to which I sent a submission. The second piece of short fiction was called Morals. I submitted that to a contest held by TSR (the AD&D people). They accepted the 20 best submissions and were critiquing them at GenCon. Mine was selected. It wasn't for publication; it was just for the contest. One of TSR's senior editors, James Lowder, ended up critiquing it for me when I was unable to attend and sent it to me.

It was like he had bled all over the paper. There was red ink everywhere. I was devastated. But I was floored when he called me later and spent over an hour discussing it with me. It became my first-ever professional criticism, and was the single most defining moment in my fledgling writing career. One thing that he drilled home to me was that I was trying to tell a novel's worth of story in a short-story form. He told me that if I ever was to finish a novel, he would be happy to read it and consider it.

Some time later, I did finish one and submitted it. I happened to do so in the same week (or month - I'm not sure) that TSR was bought out by Wizards of the Coast (WOC). As wrapped up as I was in completing the novel, I was unaware of any of this and didn't know the fallout would include a shakeup of personnel. By the time I had submitted the manuscript, James Lowder was long gone from TSR - and a string of anonymous junior editors was in place.

I found out about this a month or so after submitting, but it was too late to do anything about it. When I did the writer's follow-up call to see if it had been read, the junior editor I talked to was almost horrifyingly rude and said that 'all submissions by authors who were not WOC authors were not being considered, since they were not professional.' (This is very much paraphrased, but the thrust is the same.) In fact, when I asked to have my manuscript returned, since times were very hard at the time, he refused and said he had more important things to do.

Angered, I entirely rewrote the novel, removing all aspects of the book that could be considered TSR-related. I finished it - and this was the last thing I wrote for several years. I worked in the field of developmental disabilities, and managing group homes took up all my time.

About a year after that first conversation with that rude editor, I received a phone call from WOC/TSR. They wanted to publish my novel. I told them it was not available. I told them to return my manuscript, and after they told me I was giving up a plum chance at working with the best in the business, I told them to go to Hell.

Three things written - no rejections yet.

Eventually, I left the field of human services and fell into writing for a community-alt-weekly newspaper. I took on some freelancing jobs, as well. I submitted probably three dozens queries. All of them were accepted, and all of the articles were published. Every assignment I had at the paper was published. I still had no rejections.

Believe me, I knew this was abnormal.

Eventually, I restarted my novel. I had reread it and knew it needed work. I finished the first 10 chapters and didn't like it. I restarted it again. It took about three years to complete. This was the novel I submitted to DAW.

I now have my first rejection. And I find I'm not upset. I really don't know why, but in my heart I suppose I knew I was due for this. Every other writer I know has been rejected, so perhaps now I really belong. I also find that I don't blame DAW. Particularly in this economy, and with all the issues publishers are facing today, I can understand why they would pass on my decidedly non-commercial dark fantasy novel (five main protagonists, lots of brutal violence, some sex, much swearing, a bit of baroque language, and over 200,000 words). Yeah, I get it.

I will say that DAW was one of the publishers I most wanted to work with; they are home to many of my favorite authors - Tad Williams and C.S. Friedman are two. I do feel a wave of disappointment that I won't be in their company, but that is ameliorated by the fact that perhaps there is another outlet out there for me, somewhere.

Red Leader Speaks

When I announced that I had sent this off, I did so in tongue-in-cheek form as Red Leader: I wasn't certain what was going to happen, but my gut instinct said that I wasn't going to be Luke Skywalker, sending that manuscript in and making it happen. I'd hoped, but it was only hope.

For every book that doesn't get accepted at DAW, or Tor, and every other publishing house on the planet, that leaves a space available for another author to get through. So in the same spirit that I originally announced this, to all the other writers out there who are seeking publication, let me say this:

"Get set up for your attack run."


Edit: I have expanded and clarified James Lowder's position at TSR at the time of my submission. In the first version, I did not make it clear that he was no longer with TSR/WOC by the time I had submitted. My apologies for the confusion.


  1. First reaction: NOOOOOO!

    Second reaction: Crap.

    Third reaction: They're REALLY going to be kicking themselves one day when the world is clamoring for your work. Tons of fans out there, sweetie, you'll see.

    Fourth and constant reaction: *hug*

  2. You are certainly one successful writer. Heck, I've been working as a freelance journalist for 8.5 years and so far I've had _one_ successful query letter (I've mostly been working on contracts, including one that lasted for six years, so it's not like I've had just one article published in almost a decade, but still).

    But how come do you only submit a manuscript to one place at once? You should be submitting to dozens!

  3. Maija, a lot of mine has been luck - the right place at the right time. And a lot of my work has been contract, as well.

    I submitted to DAW Books because they were accepting unagented submissions. Most publishing houses in the U.S. want agents, and I have not yet sought representation. Until I do (which is soon), I sent it to one publisher that I really wanted to be involved with.

  4. Truthfully, I'm not surprised by this. Disappointed yes, I think you got some dues coming for this work, but surprised no. Your particular brand of fantasy is pretty dark and I can see why it may scare away milder folks. There ain't no happy hobbits in there. The book is a damn fine read, and I think you know it and that's some comfort on a sub-conscious level. Keep sending it out there, someone will be bold enough to give it a shot. Remember the Flux moves in strange currents...

    Oh and if you get a rep steer clear of anyone with Colonel in their name.