I remember my first rejection letter. It was quite a number of years ago now, when my boys were young. I went and hid in the bedroom to open the “all important” parcel.

Trembling, I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out my manuscript. Without reading a word, I already knew what was in the brief letter attached because I assumed that if they were interested in my work then I’d be pulling a contract out of the envelope instead of my manuscript. I was right!


After many tears, I put the manuscript, and the letter, away and didn’t write another word for several years. The reason? I’d been rejected, which meant I couldn’t write. (I was young, and it was long before the internet existed, and I had no support–so you’ll have to forgive my way of thinking back then.)

About five years ago I started writing again. Maturity allowed me to read that rejection letter and realise that it wasn’t personal, it was a standard wording. This allowed me to pull the pieces together and find a new confidence.

Since then, I’ve received a number of rejections. All standard letters, but I never allowed myself to make the same mistake as I did with that first one. Naturally, finding the internet and a support base helped too.

If you’re a serious writer, you need to be thick skinned. You can’t afford to cry in a corner. There isn’t time for that. Besides, time is precious so why waste it feeling sorry for yourself. Get the work back “out there” and do it immediately!

Today, I received another rejection letter. It started with Dear Writer which means that it was a standard letter too. Whilst it was nicely worded and encouraging, I skimmed over it and dismissed it. They don’t want my story, fine, who’s next on my list? The story will be in the post, to the next publisher, by the end of the week.

Chatting with an Agent

I won’t go into details about how this came about but yesterday I chatted with an agent about writing, what is expected in the industry and what an unpublished author should be aware of.

The agent was Brian Cook, a well known figure in the Australian publishing world.

Word count has always been an issue for me and I wanted to “know” what was really expected in the industry. He said that a lot of people say a story takes as many pages as a story takes, but if you’re an unpublished author then this is not really the case. For unpublished authors the rules change, and economics come into affect instead. Publishers won’t invest a lot of money into an unknown so an unpublished author should tell their story in 80,000 to 100,000 words. 80,000 to 90,000 for young adult (age 12 to 15) manuscripts and 80,000 to 100,000 for adult (age 16 and over) manuscripts. He said for each 1,000 words you go over the 100,000 words you lessen your chances of getting published. The publisher might stretch to 120,000 words but your story “better be bloody good”.

The ages for young adult and adult was a surprise to me. I told him that I was aiming for 16 and 17 year olds and had been saying that was the young adult market. He told me I was wrong and that I was an adult writer if I wrote for that age. This was a shock.

Also, at this stage I must mention that word count is NOT based on what Word or OpenOffice tells you you’ve written. It is based on the proper way to work out word count. See this previous post for how this is done.

Anyway, once you’ve been published the rules change and you have a higher limit to play with – especially in the fantasy and SF genres.

He went on to say that every single word must have punch, must have a reason. If there isn’t a reason, delete it.

I asked him how an unpublished author should handle trilogies in their proposal. He said that it’s unlikely that the publisher would contract all three books up front. Most of the time they contract the first two books with the third book as an option. Sometimes they will only contract the first book and wait and see how things go.

However, the publisher doesn’t want to risk investing in a new author unless they know there are more books in the planning stages. I told him that in my trilogy all three books are stand alone, although there is a thread that will link them. I asked if I should mention this when submitting my manuscript.

He said that I definitely should because it shows that I have plans for future writing but it means the publisher doesn’t have to contract more than one book, which will go in my favour. Any trilogy where the reader has to read all three books to reach a satisfactory conclusion will be difficult to place (unless you are already published).

Then we went on to talk about our CV and what should be included on there. He said anything that shows you are an active writer should be noted (even if you haven’t been paid). However, he said to be careful about which internet publications you note down. Naturally, high profile ezines should be mentioned but if you only submit to a shabby ezine that has no credability then don’t mention it (this is commen sense, of course).

Actually, most of what was said is common sense, and all is subject to an exception if you have a fabulously great manuscript, but none of us know if we fall into that category (we’d like to believe we do, but do we really).

If you are unpublished, and you’re writing an epic, maybe you should think about starting another story which is shorter and can be your first novel. Get a name for yourself before you try to sell something that the publishers won’t want – not because you can’t write, but because they don’t want to take a chance on you.

This was my chat with an agent. I’m feeling quite pleased with myself.

Inside Information

Writing the manuscript is the easy part. Getting noticed is the challenge!

A friend of mine received one too many rejections where it was obvious that her manuscript had not been read. This was after she did the right thing and queried the agent first and she was asked to send in the chapters. After the normal waiting period – 6 to 8 weeks – her manuscript was returned untouched. Why do they ask to see it if they have no intention of reading it? But that’s a different story so I won’t go into that now.

After this happening several times, she was frustrated enough to email the editor and ask politely what she should do to ensure her manuscript would be read next time. Apparently, the reply was a little agro but pushing that aside, she was given some inside information that really hit home.

This is the important part of what my friend told me:

She said that she receives so many submissions a week that she reads none of them first off. Even though the letters are addressed to her they automatically go to her assistant who doubles as her reader. The assistant reads the submissions and she picks out a tiny percentage to pass on to the agent. The figures I got was that perhaps 3 submissions out of 200 would be passed on to the agent. The rest get sent back. Even with the submissions she does read, the agent still may not request to read the full manuscript. She said that she takes on between 2 and 5 authors a year. According to the agent, this is the usual system with literary agencies (the screening assistant system) because they receive so many submissions and are nowadays acting as readers for publishers because the publishers won’t accept anything unsolicited.

So now we see just how difficult it’s becoming to be noticed. Right, this means a change of plan!

You Want to Write

Why do you want to write? Is it to escape the world in which you live, to entertain other people, because you want to see your name on a shelf in a bookshop or simply because you enjoy the craft. Whatever the reason, if you want to write… write! However, take the time to work out your storyline, to identify with your characters and know the industry, just to name a few very important issues.

I hope the information found on these pages will help you do this and will be a stepping stone to you reaching your goal. Click on “Writing” in the navigation bar at the top of the page to see the list of categories on writing.