Tuesday, May 09, 2006


What if rejection letters were written by writers instead of editors?

Jane Austen: It is a truth universally acknowledged that an editor in possession of a manuscript such as yours must be in want of an antacid tablet.

Douglas Clegg: Long before this rejection letter, and well before my initiation into the mysteries of writing it, there were your many queries, bound in padded envelopes and buried deep within my inbox. They whispered of the manuscript that would come, but even then, in my innocence, I could not have predicted the horror that awaited me.

Emily Dickinson: Unpleasant a task it is for me,
To return this manuscript.
None can avoid this purple prose,
None may evade this rejection.

William Faulkner: I decline to accept this manuscript. It is easy enough to say that man is a writer simply because he will write: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one last writer like you, and a puny inexhaustible voice like yours, still writing. I refuse to accept this.

John Keats: what I feel, fair writer of an hour!
That I shall have to look upon thee more,
And again have anguish in the power
Of rejecting you;—then on the shore
Of the Hudson I shall stand alone, and think,
Till I see your manuscript into nothingness sink.

Alison Kent: Methinks someone’s knickers are going to be in a big fat wad over being exposed to explicit manuscript rejection here instead of hearts and flowers and euphemistic purple-helmeted prose apologies laced with writerly love.

Stephen King: This terrible manuscript, the manuscript that earned my rejection, the apotheosis of terrible manuscripts, which would not end until page 28 (where I stopped reading) -- if it ever did end -- began so far as I know or can tell, with a character made from cardboard floating through a chapter swollen with plot.

Holly Lisle: So my topic is to be the inadequacy of your manuscript. Joy.

Marjorie M. Liu: Given that I have so much work to do, the idea of rejecting your manuscript felt downright sinful. Sinful, I say! But I did take a peek. Dude.

Stuart MacBride: The only question is why the blue sizzling Hell they decided to ask me to reject your manuscript. My guess is that all the good authors were busy so they had to settle for a beardy half-wit instead. Which is gratifying in an ego-massaging sense, but a bit worrying at the same time (better make sure I've got presentable underwear on, just in case.)

China Mieville: A writer rejects. Pushes through cheap white-bond pages, through the purposeless chapters of this manuscript. I stared into it as if I might see something emergent. Things never came close.

Robert B. Parker: Last time I worked rejections was in 1989, when an important kiddie lit tycoon hired me to bounce his wife, who had run off with a Little Golden Books editor named Costa. Her name was, incredibly, the same as yours, but I found her manuscript to be okay. I conclude that you two are different writers.

John Rickards: There may be an actual rejection of an actual manuscript here later today, but I make no promises. I'm on a week off from doing any work, so I might just spend all day sitting here, scratching myself.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Many that write deserve publication. And some that write deserve rejection. I am not too eager to deal out rejection in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that this manuscript can be published before you die, but there is a chance of it.

James R. Winter: What is it? Oh, yeah. Manuscript. Rejected. Why? It was okay until I grok'd it around page 100, when I realized where the book was going. Nowhere.

(Feel free to add your own rejections -- and those of other writers -- in comments.)


  1. Shakespeare: This above all, I know to be true: this rejection must follow your query because your story doest not then meet our needs at any time.

  2. Anonymous2:35 AM

    Joseph Conrad (1): The horror. The horror.

    Joseph Conrad (2): Although the first pages of your manuscript filled me with a pervasive sense of dread, I proceeded to the end, such being the fascination of the abomination.

    Ernest Hemingway: The paper is good and clean and the typing is neat. The writing is bad. It lacks aficion for writing. Certainly there is no writing like the writing of a man and those who have written long enough and hard enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter. This manuscript is the writing of a woman.

    And since my son is reading Lord of the Flies at the moment . . .

    William Golding: Sucks to your manuscript!

  3. Anonymous4:41 AM

    Edgar Allan Poe:

    As one who suffers through the haze
    Of fitful nights and dreamless days
    And lurching shadows, things grotesque
    I found your writing on my desk

    My heartbeat sounded to the bells
    Which tore the bloodied halls of hell
    Such terror! Turned my soul to ice
    A glance or two, it didst suffice

    Forever will my mind recall
    Your tale of horror, held in thrall
    By what you say was meant to be
    A light romantic comedy;

    And lest you should profane our door,
    We ask you query—-Nevermore.

  4. Oh, this is brilliant! S., you need to put a warning up so many a computer may be spared the wrath of spontaneously ejected coffee!

  5. Anonymous6:23 AM

    I think I'm going to have to write letters like that all the time now! That was brilliant!

  6. Anonymous6:56 AM

    Isaac Asimov: Let me reiterate the three laws of Submissions for your clarification in future.

    1) A submission may not scar an editor, or through incompetence, allow an editor to come to mental harm.

    2) A submission must obey the guidelines given it by an editor except where such guidelines would conflict with the First law.

    3) A submission must stand on its own as long as such standing does not conflict with the First or Second law.

    Sadly, I must inform you, your submission failed all three.

  7. Anonymous8:06 AM

    HA! Like, totally (although I might possibly have added the phrase, "blows dirty white chunks")

  8. This post (and the comments) completely made my day! Brilliant!

  9. Anonymous8:22 AM

    At first it was just the flies, their constant buzzing, their quest to consume the decaying reek of your manuscript, but I detected something else amidst the hum. Weak verbs, perhaps. Slow pacing. Cardboard characters. I wanted to like it, wanted to believe your tale, but, as I lifted it, the plot tore free from the thematic structure, leaving only a gaping, bloody hole behind. I leaned close and there, in the congealed blood and bone and flesh, I saw a smudge of gray formulaic device. Grimacing, I placed the whole rotting mess in your provided SASE then turned and walked away.

  10. >>And lest you should profane our door,
    We ask you query—-Nevermore.

    OMG YOu're freakin' brilliant!

  11. Geoffrey Chaucer-
    ...I have tyme and space,
    Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
    Me thinketh it acordaunt to resound,
    To tell yow al the condicioun of youre sheepskyned prose - thou art a wanker.

  12. My idea of a Holly Lisle rejection:

    Suckitudinous. 'nuff said.

    My own:

    You were joking, weren't you?

  13. Dr. Seuss:
    I would not, could not in a tree
    Not in a car! You let me be.
    I would not take it in a box.
    I would not take it for a fox.
    I can not print this in my house.
    Your protagonist is a mouse!
    I do not like it here or there,
    I would not like it anywhere
    I do not like your manuscript

  14. Margaret Wise Brown:
    Goodnight, loon. Goodnight SASE with the address in balloon. Goodnight, non-star. Goodnight care. Goodnight to this manuscript...everywhere.

  15. H/S rejection.

    My heart beating double-time, I drew in a heavy breath and let it out with a sigh. I straightened my shoulders, narrowed my sky-blue eyes. One last try. I squinted at the words lying dead on the cream reams of paper hoping that somehow your prose will magically change into something I wanted. Badly.

    No. It must be done. Quickly. With a heavy heart, I leaned over the keyboard, red-tipped fingers at the ready. And began. No. No, a thousand times no.

  16. Lol, those are fun.

    Here's my little story of an agent at work:

    The agent stood amidst the carnage. His grip on the manuscript relaxed and it slowly sank to the ground; a few adverbs splashing on the linoleum floor. He blinked the sweat out of his eyes and looked around. The reading was over.

    The last rays of a setting sun coming in from a greasy window highlighted the strewn pages covered with Times Roman 10 letters and 0,5 inch margins, reflected on the red ink the agent had used to mark especially cruel murder of syntax, and lent a shine to stains of coffee. Dark bundles on the sickly greenish floor betrayed pages crumpled in disdain and thrown away.

    Where was the plot? Words gathered in groups; heavy with adverbs, participles dangling, they supported each other to form a coherent whole, but the agent could not see the plot. He swallowed. Another of those manuscripts!

    The stale smell of cold coffee and cigarette smoke was heavy in the air, mingling with the fragrance of an expensive after shave and the sweet fumes of the opium pipe he needed to survive his job.

    A character fluttered past him, settled down on a page with a battle scene and joined the fray. The agent followed it with his gaze, but it was a cardboard character, an invincible warrior with unaturally superb fighting skills. He picked the pages up though he knew he would never get them back in order since the author had forgotten to put numbers on them. The agent went to the desk, yanked an envelope out of a bunch of paper and scribbled the address of the author onto it. The SASE had mysteriously dissappeared, probably never been there at all.

    The agent tore his gaze away from the sullied, plotless pages and looked up. The sun touched the horizon, made the dustmotes in his office dance like tiny red flames. Freshly spilled ink marking big words wrongly used.

    He had to find the next bestseller. Leaning over the table, the agent reached for another manuscript, afraid to find the traits of missing plots and mutilated grammar on every page he turned. From the corner of his eye he beheld a character that showed a trace of originality. The agent looked closer and saw a a romance developing before his eyes, but alas, it was as clichéd as they come, a simple lack of communication. He leaned back and inhaled the fumes of his waterpipe.

    One day he would find the perfect manuscript. Until then, he shoved bunches of manuscripts, partly torn and covered in red ink, to his secretary and bade her send them off with form letters.

    (The original can be found here.)

  17. Anonymous7:08 PM

    It was the best of manuscripts, it was the worst of manuscripts. Well, if truth be told, it was simply the worst of manuscripts.

  18. TS Eliot:
    [buncha foreign language here, preferably in an obsolete alphabet]
    There will be time.
    Time to turn again.
    There will be.

    But now is not the time.
    Memory shows me still a crab
    with barnacles on my back.

    Acid words from your tongue.
    Slip to mine.

    That is not what I meant at all.
    I must turn away. It and you.
    Away in the damp night. Into the shrouding brown fog.

  19. Ack, STOP ME but first...Kipling.

    This is story of The Agent, the wild agent who roams the city jungle with her proud back high. She moves through the jungle wobbling on stilleto heels.

    In her most dexterous of hands she carries sheets. With her proud back and stilleto heels, she crosses the office and tosses those papers high and willy-nilly into the deep, dark depths of the blue, blue recycling bin. Ah, best beloved, one of those papers, I am sorry to say, was yours.

  20. okay so a couple of mine just describe the event rather than take authorship for it. (git it? authorship?) but boyhowwdy, this is FUN!

    I hope Linda shows up and does her Melville imitation.

  21. This is so much fun. :)

    Settle thy words, author, and begin
    To learn the depth of grammar and the plot
    Ere thou commenced, by vain conceit in show
    To send your writs, the end of every art,
    To an agent for some wondrous cure.
    Is to have two peple meet, Romance's chiefest end?
    Affords your art no greater plot?
    The end of books is widely well to sell,
    Why, writer, has thou not bethought that end?
    Is not thy adverbs idle ornaments;
    And thousand clichéd tricks thou use
    Whereby characters have escaped, and plot
    That aims at nothing but external trash.
    Why, being dead, rise them to life again
    If dead they were from time of birth
    In your frail mind of man.
    You can not rise the wind, or rend the clouds,
    By your writing that exceeds in faults,
    A pretty case of paltry legacies.

    Write thou no more, thou has attained the end.

    (Christopher Marlowe)

  22. Anonymous9:32 PM

    Some o' you guys are too airyoudite for me.

    J. K. Rowling:

    I awoke early the next morning in my flat at number three, Snarkington Place, and kept my eyes shut tight.

    "It was a dream," I told myself firmly. "I dreamed a giant weasel dumped an eight-hundred-page manuscript on my desk. It was enormous and beastly and held together with a lot of Scotch tape. Just in case it wasn't a dream, I shall send the author a note by owl at once. It shall read: 'To Suzy Scribbler -- the writer who sucked!'"

  23. Anonymous4:11 AM

    I have given your submission my kind attention, however, it couldn't hold my kind of attention for more than a minute.
    The rain falling outside my window was more interesting. Rejection seems inevitable. So it goes.

  24. Dick sees the book. Jane sees the book.

    "It is no good," says Dick.
    "Yes, it is no good," says Jane.

    Spot eats the book. Spot says woof!

  25. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  26. There's no sex or violence in the first few paragraphs. I have the attention span of a nit. Give me some hope here, bud. Give me *something* to hold on to.

  27. Anonymous1:26 PM

    I still have yet to see the one I really want to, so...here it is:

    Howard Phillips Lovecraft:

    The most merciful thing in your manuscript, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of coherence in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sentences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated prose will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

  28. Another Shakespeare:

    "And now shall all the world
    Which, attuned to the fineries
    Of well-crafted imaginings,
    Turn to thy wretched writing
    As a dog to its vomit
    And, partaking thereof
    With Hell's own predilections
    Yapping at its heels,
    Send thee on thy way
    Ashamed, and forever accursed."

  29. Ray Bradbury -
    It was a pleasure to reject.
    It was a special pleasure to see the SASE in the OUT box. Inside the manila envelope, the manuscript bleeds with the red bic marks of rejection like a mortally wounded beast. This beast no one morns, for it is only mythical, never has and never will breathe life.
    I grin the fierce grin of all men driving what is worthless to extinction.

    J.D. Salinger -
    If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is if I liked it, and if I decided to pick it up, and all that Wall Street business crap people need to make profit. Well, I don't feel like getting into that crap, if you want to know the truth. Your manuscript bores me.
    Anyway, your manuscript is a piece of crap. I don't know why I waste my time with this shit except that there's nothing better to do on a Saturday night.
    All I want is for you to quit being phony and leave me the fuck alone.

    Mark Twain -
    I couldn't see no advantage in lyin to ya, because mainly I tell the truth. I stretch the trush sometiems, as what man doesn't in the world, but I try to be straitforward.
    Now the thing of it is, your manuscript isn't worth a bag a corn. I don't mean no harm, but a feller like you needs to go back to school where a teacher can learn you sometin worth a grain, becasue like I said, this ain't.

    Jack London -
    Buck did not read the manuscripts, or he would have known why his master was groaning and rubbing his temples to no avail. His job was to watch the house and kids. The master reviewed the manuscripts. When the master placed the papers on the floor, Buck knew he was to piss on them, because they were not worth his master's time. And so, Buck never read what he pissed on, and assumed it was a shame that anyone ever had.

    Chuck Palahniuk -
    What I'm supposed to be doing is reading this manuscript. We all have our duties. Mine is to sift through the crap. Open, read, sort. I'm still alive, but barely. My body has numbed with the acceptance of my inevitable death.
    The stench reaches out through the cracks in the manila envelope, warning me off before I even touch it. But I'm not paid enough to have choices. It should be I'm paid enough to not have choices.
    Life is just being ruled by someone else until you either climb to the top or die at the bottom.
    Today, I value my perch in the middle. I may be miles from enlightenment, but I have enough power to deny your crap.
    I'm on the mountain today, because I have the ability to keep all the sheep in the valley where they belong. You aren't the ram who will buck me off.

  30. Anonymous7:19 PM

    This is a real rejection letter (found here) in the style of William Carlos Williams:

    This is just to say
    we have taken some plums
    we found in our mailbox.
    You were hoping they would be
    yours. Forgive us,
    others seemed
    or colder
    more bold
    or whatever.

    So best!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.