Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Worldcon Treasures: But Why Can’t You See My Genius?: Handling Rejection Letters

Today is the last segment of Worldcon Treasures, where I share my notes from this year’s Worldcon. Unfortunately, a family emergency called me away before I could attend the whole con, but I managed this last panel, which had great advice on what to do with rejection.

(As a side note, I found it interesting that this panel, filled with agents and editors, was the most focused panel I attended.)

Experts Michael Underwood, Mary Robinette Kowal, Beth Meacham, Joshua Bilmes, and Eleanor Wood shared the insights that anyone, no matter what they write, can glean useful bits from. And, yes, they did say the panel’s name, But Why Can’t You See My Genius?, with exactly the whiney voice that you’re probably imagining.

So with no further ado, how can we productively handle rejection?


  • Remember, agents suffer rejection too. After all, they are the ones trying to get editors to buy the books their clients write. They too endure frustration and disappointment.
  • Sometimes a story is rejected because it just isn’t good.
  • Other times, a story is rejected because it isn’t a good match for that agent or editor.
  • Sometimes, a book is rejected because an editor can’t purchase stories that are too similar.
  • Books will be rejected because the publisher’s catalogue is too full for the next year.
  • Eleanor Wood offered these things to avoid, which will make an agent quickly back away from a work:
    • The author mentioning he’s written other books in the series.
    • An author who wants to revise their work upon each rejection.
    • Though, Bilmes will sometimes ask an author to revise their story if an editor shows sincere interest in a story.
  • Sometimes, books are good, but they just don’t rise above the rest.
  • Stories that rise about the rest are:
    • Structurally sound
    • Have a message
  • Bilmes keeps some books that are good but he knows don’t currently have a market. He has an ANM pile, Awaiting New Market Pile. Keeping this in mind, it means that some rejections come because there isn’t a current market for a story.
  • Common things that will cause an agent or editor to stop reading:
    • Explanations
    • Unnecessary detail
    • Unneeded background
    • Sensationalism
    • Cliches
    • Going over the top
    • The POV (point-of-view character) looks in a mirror to describe himself
    • The opening shows the main character as disoriented, confused, or uncertain of where he is
    • Derivativeness
    • If they don’t care about the main character
  • Things agents and editors like to see:
    • An author writing with confidence
    • Things in the story are there for a purpose
    • Bilmes finds it interesting when an author breaks the rules, but he still feels compelled to read.
    • The first page of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is a great example of breaking the rules well.
  • Instinct plays a part in whether or not an agent accepts a story.


  • As an author, the longer you submit things, the less rejections will hurt because you know there will be future opportunities.
  • “Rejectionomancy” is this idea that you can discern hidden truths from a rejection letter. There is nothing hidden in the letter. The rejections letter says exactly what it says. Don’t waste time trying to discern hidden messages or obscure clues as to why a piece was rejected.
  • You are not your work, so a rejection letter is not a personal rejection.
  • Work on improving your writing. Some good ways are:
    • Critique for others.
    • Read the slush pile. (They suggested reading the Amazon self-published lists as an example of the slush pile. No offense to anyone who self-publishes, but you will find a range there.)
  • Read your own manuscript. Mark every time you skim or walk away from the story. If even your own book can’t keep you from putting it down, something is wrong.
  • As soon as you send a submission out, begin working on a new project, not the sequel.
  • If a rejection angers you, respond with the attitude of, “I’ll write something better. I’ll show you.”
  • Look to the future.
  • Most writers never get published because:
    • They don’t finish the story.
    • They don’t submit the story.
    • They give up.
  • Turn off your internal heckler, not your internal editor. The editor is important, but you don’t need that voice that says what you’re writing is stupid or whatever your internal heckler tells you.
  • When your internal editor rears her head, you can put a note in the text like “Fix this,” to satisfy her, but allow you to keep writing.
  • Write more. Write better. Learn from every story you write.
  • Sometimes, when a writer gets better, he can go back to a previously rejected story and improve it.
  • It’s good to thank the agent or editor after they reject your story.

Thank you for joining me for these Worldcon Treasures. I hope you learned as much from all the advice these agents, editors, and authors offered as I did.

Swing by on Monday for the next segment of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and Friday for further forays into writing, the speculative, and life.

For other Worldcon Treasures, check out:


  1. Super great post, Laura. And timely for me, as I'm sure I'm about to have some rejection coming my way;-)

    1. I'm glad it was helpful. Hang in there on those rejections. Each one is one more closer to that acceptance.