Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sometimes It's Not You, It's Them

By Jewel Leann Williams

Statement heard in local American Night Writers Association chapter meeting (paraphrased):

“I’ve written a book, I pitched it, and it was accepted by XYZ publishing house. The editor had big plans, and then strangely rolled everything back and rejected it. I’ve been completely revising it and turning it into a completely different book. I guess my story didn’t have much to offer anyone.”

Let me tell you about the book this author is speaking of.  It is an inspirational memoir about her daughter and their experiences through a leukemia scare. 

I haven’t read the story, and I don’t know if it needs revision for the usual things we all have to revise, revise, revise in our stories. But one thing I can tell you, and I did tell her, is this:


As a mom, I don’t have to have a child with leukemia to be inspired by another mother’s journey in that space.  I have other trials with my children and can gain insight and inspiration from what she went through.

Sometimes, it’s not YOU, it’s THEM.

Editors, publishers, agents are people. What’s worse, BUSINESS people. They have goals, agendas, business models—and each of them has a different one.  There are as many reasons for a rejection as there are rejections. 

I get it. I had a book I worked super hard on. I’d finished it, pitched it, got a “pages request” and sent it to not just the agent requesting, but every agent I could research who might be interested.  I thought it was ready, and it was rejected (a lot). It is one of the hardest things for me to pick that back up and work on it. But it’s a worthwhile project. The story is still, well, awesome, it has a great voice (says more than one of the rejectors), it just needs work. It doesn’t need the whole thing changed—just lots of polish. But man! It is HARD to put more blood, sweat, and tears into that project when my hopes had been so high, and then been smashed like a clam on a rock.
Mid nineteenth-century depiction of Josephine fainting after being told by Napoleon he will decree a divorce (to seek a male heir and royal alliance) Artist: Bosselman - Chasselat Public Domain in US (Public Domain in source country before 1996; past 75 years from artist's death)

But hear me now and believe me later (bonus if you know that reference):

Just because your book was rejected, does not mean that you need to change it into something different. What you need to do is:
  1. Consider the source and the content of the rejection. Sometimes it’s more about timing, marketing, and publishing trends than it is about the story itself.  Did you pitch a self-help book to an agent who only represents fiction? Or to an agent with a full list of authors in your genre?
  2. Realize that much of what is accepted and rejected depends on personal taste.  An agent or editor has to believe in your book to properly represent it. The publishing world is highly competitive for agents as well. Sometimes it just isn’t something that strikes their fancy, but there will be someone else out there who won’t be able to resist what you’re offering.
  3. Did you query too soon?  This was where my eager little self went wrong. I finished a book, loved it, and like an ugly baby with a doting mother, I thought it was beautiful and perfect.  Beautiful it is, but perfect—not by far. I should have gone through some real edits, beta readers, more edits, etc. and polished it more.  Make sure that what you are presenting is the best you can make it, and that you have had feedback and critiques to help you polish your product.
  4. PRAY about the feedback you receive. You have every right to ask for guidance. Don’t change things because some cranky editor who doesn’t like family stories or things that mention God or books with a happy ending (or a sad one, or one with puppies… etc. ad nauseum). Take the criticism, turn it over in your hands, consider it, and pray about it. You’ll know what needs to happen.

Here’s the thing.  I want you to remember this above all else.

Heavenly Father gave YOU the talent and desire to write. He has a purpose for blessing/cursing you with the need to express yourself with words.

He gave you that talent to bless His children.

You may not think that what you have to offer is anything special. But if you wrote it with the inspiration of our Heavenly Father, then you can rest assured that it is special and it does have something to offer the world. As such, you also need to include him in polishing your book, because just as He can transform people, He can guide you to transform your words into what He would have them be.

He will let you know what needs to happen, whether it is not to change a thing, to edit, to rework the whole thing, or to set it aside in a folder marked “Things I Wrote to Hone My Craft.” Or any myriad of other things. You just have to ask the Guy Who Really Knows.

Just remember—

Sometimes, it’s really not you, it’s them. 


  1. So, so true. I once listened to an agent at a workshop say that the line between a MS request and a rejection might be whether or not he had lunch before he read it. You just never know! There are so many things a writer can't control- wasting time obsessing over them is to waste time you could be spending getting better!

  2. This is a fantastic post. I heart everything you said so much, because some people lose love for their manuscript and faith in their own ability. This should not be the case. I will direct all my friends to this page when that starts to happen. Thank you for writing this.



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