Damn the Rejects Contest! Sometimes they’re kind, sometimes obtuse. Sometimes they’re illuminating, other times nonsensical. Every writer knows rejection letters are part of the process. But what do they MEAN?

If you read and re-read your rejections, searching for a shred of helpful advice — or if you’ve received publisher-speak and need an interpretation, this contest is for you! Just send us your letters and you’ll be entered in the monthly Damn the Rejections Contest. All entries will be in a drawing for a complimentary copy of Damn the Rejections, personally autographed by author Maralys Wills. Selected letters will be reproduced (wholly or in part) along with some commentary or analysis from Maralys or Stephens Press publisher Carolyn Uber. Annual winner will receive a submission evaluation from Stephens Press.

To enter, send a copy of rejection letter via email to and include your email address. Postal submissions can be sent to Stephens Press, Rejection Contest, 1111 West Bonanza Road, Las Vegas, NV 89106.


From Warner Books editor to author’s agent:

” . . . And there’s a lot to like in these pages. The author paints a vivid portrait of Rio and captures both the exotic traditions of Carnival and voodoo and the mundane day-to-day life of business people quite well. I also thought he had a very firm handle of what was a volatile political situation in Brazil at that time.

PLAY THE LAST SAMBA FOR RIO is a thriller at its heart, and unfortunately, it just didn’t have me turning the pages as quickly as I would have liked. It lacked that edge-of-your-seat suspense that books like this really need to work, so I’m afraid I must pass on this novel.”

Submitted by WS.

This is the most helpful letter of the month, giving the author a real sense of what is wrong with the manuscript. MW

The editor’s comments suggest the author needs to look hard at pacing and to build the tension that thrillers need — crank it all up a notch! CU

From Atria Books editor to author’s agent:

“I’ve had a chance to read PLAY THE LAST SAMBA FOR RIO and it is indeed a spicy read. I also found the author’s writing quite good. Despite that, I don’t see this truly standing out on our list, and I would hate for it to slip through the cracks if we were to take it on.”

Submitted by WS.

My take is it just doesn’t fit the publisher’s needs at the time. CU

From Soho Press to author:

“There is plenty of good, intelligent writing in this manuscript but I am afraid I disagree with you. From the perspective if a reader unfamiliar with the entire book, there is not story line. This manuscript proceeds chronologically, but it rambles. The cutting back and forth between narrators is an obstacle to the reader, not a help. And you bog down early and never get into your story. I’m sorry.”

Submitted by MW.

Rather than kudos, the smart writer hopes for a rejection letter will be candid and clear about the agent or editor’s reasons for passing. This one, however, is confusing. Most readers are “unfamiliar with the entire book” until they’ve read it. The writing is good, but the editor disagrees? Huh? CU

From Crown Publishers executive editor to author:

“This is a powerful book about dreams and loss, about the force that drives the human spirit beyond the edges of risk.  I know that it is made up of the lives of your family, this extraordinary story. Therefore, it is hard for me to write and use the usual phrase: ‘We don’t think we can publish this book as effectively as you and Crown would like’. That true enough, as far as it goes.

You need to find an editor and a publisher who will take on this book with the same kind of spirit that went into putting plastic and bamboo and duct tape together to make something that would lift a dream off the ground. Keep trying. Don’t let this discourage you in any way. I don’t have to tell you tht there is a remarkable story here. You know. Make this dream happen too. Don’t give up.”

Submitted by MW.

Clearly, this manuscript TOUCHED the editor and while it couldn’t be published at his house, he knew it had great potential. Taking the time to write such an encouraging “no thanks” also touched the author, who took heart, kept trying, and did find an excellent publishing home for this title. CU

Bantam Dell executive editor to author’s agent:

“With regret, I will not be making an offer on THE CHAIRMAN AND THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLES which doesn’t seem right for our list at this time. While the premise of this manuscript is intriguing, I’m sorry to say that I don’t think the writing is strong enough for us to taking this on in an increasingly glutted marketplace.”

Sumitted by WS.

This response is just cliched phrases so doesn’t really help the author. MW

From HarperCollins executive editor to author’s agent:

“It is an exciting story and the author certainly knows both Brazilian culture and the business world — and it is hard to say why, exactly, this isn’t for me. In the end, though, there’s something about the texture and tone of the narrative that, on a raw, elemental level, left me unmoved. This is a completely subjective thing, of course, but there’s just a little something missing.”

Submitted by WS.

Better than the usual rejection without the usual cliches. MW

This editor leaves a lot of clues — to be “unmoved” is to not have any emotional connection with the story. This, too, points out that reviewing submissions is a very subjective process. The next editor may love it. If one editor is “unmoved”, take it in stride. If it’s five, serious rewriting is the next step. CU

From Avalon Publishing Group/Carroll & Graf editor to author’s agent:

“We are not looking for a mystery manuscript of this type at this time. The author’s writing is erudite and elegant, which imbues the white-collar crime story line with an appropriate smoothness, but at times the manuscript gets bogged down with an excess of technical details and descriptions of business and finance.”

Submitted by WS.

Some actual help in this letter — author needs to look hard at those technical details. MW


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