Civil Rejection

26 Mar

Unless you are one of the lucky few, you’ve gotten a rejection from a publisher or agent. You also know the best ways to deal with it. I never thought I’d say this, but even getting a rejection letter in this day’s publishing world is an affirmation.

Over the past few years, common civility in all things has taken a downturn of near mammoth proportions. Almost five years ago, my workplace had their employees read “Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct” by P.M. Forni. I remember my bemusement that someone actually earned money for a book that said:

  1. Pay Attention.
  2. Acknowledge Others
  3. Think the Best
  4. Listen
  5. Be Inclusive
  6. Speak Kindly
  7. Don’t Speak Ill
  8. Accept and Give Praise
  9. Respect Even a Subtle “No”
  10. Respect Others’ Opinions

These are only the first ten Rules.

So simple. So obvious. I thought everyone knew this was how to behave.

And yet…

Civility appears to be less a priority these days. People don’t have TIME for it. It’s like people are hamsters running inside the wheel.

Regarding rejection letters, many publishers no longer send them. You send off your submission whether it’s ground mail or electronic and the editors don’t have TIME to notify you of their decision. The non-response rejects you. No feedback, no “this opinion is subjective, good luck” darkens your e-mail or mailbox. Your efforts are not only barely acknowledged, you might not get a letter even if you put a SASE in your snail mail submission. No TIME is an acceptable excuse for lack of civility.

How about electronic submissions? It should be easy to send a one-line rejection via e-mail. After all, they have an automatic message about having received it. Often, they have no TIME to send a rejection. I’m not writing this because I’m upset that I haven’t heard from an agent or editor, although now I long for a good old-fashioned rejection letter. They stung, but they were civil.

Just for fun, here is a brief rejection history of these writers and works:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 14 rejections

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – 17 rejections

Carrie by Stephen King – over 30 rejections

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 38 rejections

A Time to Kill by John Grisham – 45 rejections

Louis L’Amour, author of over 100 western novels – over 300 rejections before publishing his first book

Ray Bradbury, author of over 100 science fiction novels and stories – around 800 rejections before selling his first story

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – rejected so universally the author decided to self-publish the book

From rejection slip for George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”

From rejection slip for Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It: “These stories have trees in them.”

From rejection slip for article sent to the San Francisco Examiner to Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

From rejection slip for The Diary of Anne Frank:  “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity level.”

Rejection slip for Dr. Seuss’s And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street:  “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”

I’m all for change, but I miss civility. I miss it when I hear or observe how people treat others. I miss it when I listen to politicians. I miss it almost every day.

How about you?


Posted by on March 26, 2012 in community, editors, publishing


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22 responses to “Civil Rejection

  1. Liz Flaherty

    March 26, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    I’m so with you! Excellent post.

    • Janis McCurry

      March 26, 2012 at 7:09 AM

      It’s troubling, but I think there are still enough people who care to take the time. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Clarissa Southwick

    March 26, 2012 at 5:27 AM

    Janis, I do think it’s nice to receive a rejection letter, even if it’s a form letter. It helps the submitter stop thinking about that submission and move forward. As for civility, I’m not really certain it was more common in the past. I remember hearing about one author who got a rejection letter two years after her book appeared on the best-sellers’ list. With that kind of delay, a rejection letter is pretty pointless.

    • ValRoberts

      March 26, 2012 at 8:04 AM

      You know, if you only get around to reading and rejecting a manuscript multiple years after it has been a) published and b) on a bestseller list, I don’t think civility is your biggest problem.

      Competence, organization, time management and industry knowledge come to mind as possible candidates for the larger issue. 🙂

      • Janis McCurry

        March 26, 2012 at 10:42 AM

        Those areas definitely need improvement.

  3. Janis McCurry

    March 26, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    Oh my. Yes, that’s pretty pointless!

  4. ValRoberts

    March 26, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    Civility must be a topic on the collective subconscious; I posted last night regarding the civility of authors toward reviewers and why it’s unacceptable to tell anyone his or her opinion of your art is wrong.

    It’s based on the recent rash of authors-behaving-badly stories coming out in the twitterverse and the blogosphere (words like that make my inner geek all warm and happy), so writers are having the issue of declining civility, too.

    • Janis McCurry

      March 26, 2012 at 10:43 AM

      Great minds, Val! Civility doesn’t really take much time and we must all remember that.

  5. ramblingsfromtheleft

    March 26, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    Janis, it might be true that in many ways “civility” was a facade and in reality it never existed. That being said, the non-responses are a real downer. Forms are second and only mean a nice intern got the thankless task of sending out snail or e-responses, also a downer. One of the top agents of one of the top agencies sent me a rejection. No form, no polite pastel wash of “it’s just not for us, but good luck.” She simply told me in three sentences why she and any number of other readers would not be interested in my story. “Ask yourself,” she said, “Who would want to read a story about –” and filled in the blank describing the two main characters. I was not depressed, nor did I want to hit her with a brick. Why? Because she was right. That was in the fall of 2010. So I went back to work. Early next month I intend to send her a revised query with a short thank you note.

    She won’t remember me, but I will never forget her and I will always be thankful that even though her rejection was less than civil it was honest. Three sentences I might have thought were unkind, were actually the nicest rejection I could have received. Of yes, I used her rejection with two others to qualify for Pro status in RWA. My next goal is to gain PAN status 🙂

    • Janis McCurry

      March 26, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      It’s my hope that it isn’t a facade or, at the least, it’s a learned behavior that produces positive outcomes.

      I’ll be pulling for that PAN status for you.

  6. stephanieberget

    March 26, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    Thanks for an interesting blog, Janis. I don’t think you can remind people of this subject too much. Anonymity makes it easy to say thing a person wouldn’t say face to face. You have a great workplace atmosphere if they foster that kind of attitude.

    • Janis McCurry

      March 26, 2012 at 10:46 AM

      Thanks. I love where I work and they do try to pay attention to civility.

  7. Meredith Allen Conner

    March 26, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    Great post Janis. I couldn’t agree more. One of my favorite things to do is send someone a handwritten note – especially a thank you. It’s becoming a lost form of communication these days with email and Twitter.

  8. Janis McCurry

    March 26, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    That’s great, Meredith. Just this weekend, my daughter-in-law and I were shopping and she picked up some gift cards. She keeps them in her desk so she can send out thank-yous and appreciations when she needs them without having to go to the store then. She’s a keeper!

  9. Liz Fredericks

    March 26, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    I’ll echo everyone – excellent post, Janis! I’ve received some very nice rejection letters (odd phrase that) and didn’t realize how important they were until recently. Thanks for this reminder on civility.

  10. Peggy Staggs

    March 26, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    Great post. I love the image of people running on a hamster wheel. In retail I’m more surprised when someone is polite than when they’re dismissive. I’m far more likely to get a, “Just looking,” or a glair when I ask, “how are you today?” than a pleasant response. Very sad. When did we get so busy we can’t treat people with respect? Very sad.

  11. Janis McCurry

    March 26, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    Retail does teach you a lot about people. Not everyone can do it!

  12. marsharwest

    March 27, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    Great post, Janis. I don’t think I’d ever equated all those non-responses as not being civil. I”m so civil, I just assumed the agents were too busy. LOL I actually like to get the “Thanks for thinking of us, but your story doesn’t fit what we’re looking for right now. Remember, this is a subjective business and good luck with your writing.” I’ve gotten a lot of those, but they allow me to put that on my chart and move on. And these folks are being very polite. I hate not hearing anything.

    Now as to the issue of teaching civility: Because of my experience in schools, I know many kids get into trouble because no one ever told them to look someone in the eye. In fact in some cultures, that behavoir is frowned upon. No 2 above could be taken to mean make eye contact. Learning how to follow directions was frequently taught in classes for troubled teens. “Look at the person. Say, Okay, and Do the task or Ask a question for clarification.”

    The favorite piece for me about civility has always been “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The author escapes me now, but his list was genius–including taking a nap in the afternoon. 🙂 I’ve used it over many years for readings with various groups. Let’s hear it for early childhood educators and their charges!

    • Janis McCurry

      March 27, 2012 at 7:46 PM

      Yes, cultural differences do impact civility in the US. We can only continue to react with kindness. Thanks for the fresh perspective, Marsha.

  13. Lynn Mapp

    March 27, 2012 at 6:24 PM

    Janis, great post. There are rude people among us. Knowing how to treat others is an important life skill. I like the story of the actress talking about one of her experiences when she first came to Hollywood. Her beat up car broke down on Wilshire in front of several expensive cafes. One person offered help. The actor from the Matrix movies, Keanu Reeves. She talked about how she always went to his movie opening. He’d stopped to help and she never forgot. The actress is Academy Award winner, Octavia Spencer. She mentioned Keanu Reeves name during several interview during the last few months.

  14. Janis McCurry

    March 27, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    I’ve heard her speak of that story and it warms my heart. It obviously meant a lot to her and I’m sure she pays it forward every day.


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