Rejection is inevitable if you want to be published, so thicken your skin, baby.
On September 14, 2017, I crossed a big-ticket item off my bucket list. Not only had I completed a 75,000 word romance novel, a bucket list feat in itself, I submitted it to Harlequin Historical Romance for consideration. Pressing the submit button gave me the most amazing sense of joy, accomplishment, and lightness. I had poured my heart and soul into that story and its characters on and off for years. Now I had let it go and the results, mercifully, were out of my hands.
Evolution of a novel
A few years ago, I sent the manuscript in novella form to Harlequin’s Undone line, an eBook division. Two years later, I received an apologetic email from an editor stating that they had shut down the line and only recently realized the email account linked to it was still active. They encouraged me to submit to another line, which meant I needed to expand my story by about 50,000 words.
Inspired that an editor had emailed me for any reason, I lengthened the manuscript and submitted it, this time to Avon Romance. They never got back to me, which serves me right for betraying Harlequin! In retrospect, my query letter and synopsis were pretty awful and I should not have sent a sex scene as the sample of the best scene in the manuscript. I still cringe (and giggle) when I imagine the horror the editor must have felt when she read that scene, if she bothered to read it at all.
Learning from those mistakes, I revised the story rather extensively, wrote a new query and synopsis, and submitted them along with the first three chapters, as requested, to Harlequin. Three months later, I received the best rejection ever, which was a rather detailed and constructive critique of my story. I was so grateful that someone had actually read what I’d written and taken the time to respond! (See rejection letter below if you want.)
Using that critique as a guide, I am back to work on a new historical romance novel. A colleague who has been published suggested that I work with the original manuscript. He read Harlequin’s critique as saying that they thought the piece had promise with some changes. I read it as I should start all over. Regardless of one’s interpretation, it feels right to start fresh with a new story line and characters.
I have learned so much from the experience and process of writing and submitting that novel and I want to share it with you.
- It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, and perseverance to complete a 75,000 word story. Passion alone will not see you through to the end, though it helps. Kudos to those of us who actually do it, regardless of whether the piece is published.
- Be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself and your story out there for the world to see. Some of the feedback will be helpful and encouraging, some will not. We have no control over that, so let it go. Develop an open mind and thick skin. The former will help you sift through the criticism and use it to grow and improve; the latter you will need to keep from wallowing in anger or self-pity and giving up.
- You will fail, be rejected, make mistakes, and want to give up. DON’T! Listen to the criticism, embrace the rejections, and use them to make you a better writer!
- The more you write, the more you read, and the more open-minded you are to constructive feedback, the better you’ll get at writing. Even your worst writing is not wasted! All is practice for what comes next.
- Try to assess your writing objectively, especially when revising, editing, and taking in feedback. Don’t become so attached to a word, phrase, scene or character that you can’t see reason. Killing your darlings is a skill set in itself. Get comfortable with it.
- Fear not rejection! Fear never having tried in the first place. Enjoy the writing process, look forward to submitting your work, and consider your rejection letters to be badges of honor! They mean that you have written something you care deeply about, submitted it, and taken another step toward your dream. How many people can say they’ve done that?
If you have any words of wisdom you would like share about writing and publishing, please leave them in the comments section!
For those of you interested, here is the rejection I received from Harlequin (a huge thank you to that editor!):
Thank you for submitting Sweet Irish Kisses for our consideration. The story has interesting characters and you have a lively way with words. However, regretfully it is unsuitable for publication on the Harlequin Historical list at the current time.
Here are some areas for you to think about, should you choose to submit again.
This story has lots of very exciting, dramatic plot points that we thoroughly enjoyed. However, while they are dramatic, it’s unclear why your characters are choosing to behave in this way, on an internal, emotional level. For instance, your heroine chooses to engage with your hero very quickly, when she might, perhaps, be naturally more suspicious, and in particular the kiss does feel a bit out-of-the-blue. Equally, your hero does not seem to question this. You might like to think about layering in your characters thought processes further, so that we can see why they are acting in this way. Establishing layered, deep-seated, internal motivations for this will make your characters more believable and engaging.
The Alpha Male:
Perhaps tying in with the above, and indeed the matter of emotional conflict, it’s crucial that a Historical hero is powerful and commanding, regardless of his economic background. While your hero is very likeable, he doesn’t quite fulfil the fantasy of the above traits. It’s important than in his interactions with every other character, he feels thoroughly in charge; it’s also important that he feels motivated by his emotional conflicts, rather than external situations. We would suggest that in future, you focus your hero on his more commanding traits, who embodies that aspirational alpha male which readers look for in the series.
Emotional conflict driving the twists and turns of the story:
The main area to work on would be the emotional conflict between your hero and heroine. With this submission, there is a lot of focus on your characters immediate, dramatic behaviour, and as mentioned above, without much motivation. This is preventing the reader getting straight to the heart and the emotional impact of their backstories and conflicts. We’re sure there is a wealth of potential emotional conflict that prevent these two from coming together, however, it is the external intrusion of external circumstances that forces the twists and turns in their relationship. Emotional conflict is vital to any romance as it is this that pushes characters through their story and provides the grounding for their emotional turning points so that they can evolve and develop as their relationship does.
Digging really deep into their past hurts and using this to creating that ‘will they, won’t they’ tension throughout the story will keep readers turning the pages. To develop this there needs to be an almost insurmountable emotional obstacle within both characters that stops them being together. It is then important for your reader to see both your hero and heroine overcome their emotional concerns through their relationship and come to a happy and emotionally satisfying resolution at the end of the story.
If you are interested in pursuing Historical as a series to write for, we would recommend exploring the series guidelines and reading as many books from the Cherish series to be able to deliver on our series promise. A few excellent recent examples are Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress by Lara Temple, A Pregnant Courtesan for the Rake by Diane Gaston, and The Wallflower’s Mistletoe Wedding by Amanda McCabe.
We are sorry to disappoint you on this occasion but hope you find this feedback helpful.
Thank you for your continuing interest in Harlequin Mills & Boon.