After Rejection – Caroline Pavlakos

I was 17 years old and starting the College Road Trip journey. I wanted to go to college in Boston where my boyfriend (now husband) was at school, and how fun it would have been to be in the same city. I was so excited about attending college and learning how to live on my own, especially the opportunity about hopefully living in a new city for a few years. The most challenging point in thinking about where exactly to attend college was the fact that it had to have opportunities to attend smaller classes and a supportive Office of Disabilities because I had (and still have) a form of Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes reading comprehension, test taking, following multistep directions, and navigating mathematics quite difficult and challenging for me.

Getting Started

Being the oldest of three children, I was motivated and driven to pave the way for my siblings on the whole process as I thought of it as a game. The SATs were taken, my major of Psychology was picked, and I was confident that I could go wherever I wanted as long as I did my research on the resources the colleges offered for me to be successful.

I was at Boston University at a college visit day, and the Director of Admissions said in her address to us that even if we did not get the chance to attend our first-choice college, “You will go to college. You will succeed. You bloom where you’re planted.” The Director of Admissions at Simmons College said something similar on our visit there later that weekend. That stuck with me that day and as we continued to visit colleges throughout the year in preparation for the fall of my Senior Year, when I tirelessly completed college applications.

Not as simple as it sounds…

Losing Hope

My plan for going to school in the city of Boston epically failed. I was waitlisted and received a letter to be accepted as a transfer student to one of the colleges I had my heart set on attending.  I received another rejection letter from another college I so badly wanted to attend.

Now those words came back and boomed in my head – “You bloom where you’re planted.”

I was so angry at those words. Furious, actually. How could this have happened? Those words meant everything to me that day I heard them. I felt they were meant for me, and I put so much hard work into making my application and college essay stand out.

I cried for days as I saw my friends running into school waving their acceptance letters over their heads and shouting how excited they were about getting into their top-choice schools. I fell into a rut, not talking much to anybody, sitting by myself at lunch, and cringing whenever I heard a teacher say, “When you’re in college…”

The letters of waitlisting and rejection kept rolling in as I applied to over 10 schools, most between my hometown of Brooklyn and in Boston. It was then I began applying to local smaller colleges close to home where I could commute on the subway.

Making a New Plan

I felt like having my learning disability kept me from doing everything I had planned to do, living on my own in a new city, being close to somebody I loved, and creating my own independence. But finally, a letter arrived and the first word was ‘Congratulations!’ I got accepted to one of the smaller schools I had applied to. Ultimately, as more letters of acceptance rolled in and my family and I discussed where I would attend, I chose Wagner College in the borough of Staten Island, NY. Wagner was closer to home, but my parents agreed to let me live on campus, and I am so grateful to have had that opportunity!

While Wagner wasn’t my top choice, I still ran into school waving that letter over my head and hugging my friends. That next fall. as I was checking my mailbox at school, a letter arrived from one of my former top-choice colleges, stating that they would love for me to join the class of 2012 the next semester as a transfer student. At that moment, I grappled with my emotions, reflecting on how happy I’d become but remembering how I had wanted to live in a new city. I prayed that night for God to extend His right hand down and guide me in the right direction.

Learning to Bloom

Rome

I continued my college journey at Wagner, declared my double major of Psychology and Education, and jumped right into college life and even studied abroad in Rome!  I ended up staying another 2 years after graduation for my master’s degree and worked in the Early Childhood Center on campus, my first teaching job ever.

As I continued my college years, “You bloom where you’re planted” boomed into my head. I joined a sorority, took on leadership positions in the clubs and organizations I was a part of, and jumped right into Student Teaching and academic honors. I had made my college a home and learned that no matter what happens about rejection, you will bloom where you’re planted. The seeds have been planted, you establish roots, and you will grow stronger.

Graduating!

Leveling Up

I learned this again when my husband received his first assignment as a Pastoral Assistant.  We moved into a small apartment, and I immediately began applying for teaching jobs. I was rejected more times than I can count and thought “Why? What do I NOT have that others do have? How could anybody say no to me?” Again, I cried and was angry that I’d spent so much time and energy creating my portfolio and studying for the 4 teaching exams I was required to take and pass. But I pushed through and finally landed a position where the hours were extensive and the pay was less than what I could be making elsewhere. However, it was in my field of education and the lessons I learned and the friends I made were the most valuable, and I fell in love with teaching all over again! A seed was planted in me to teach the youngest age group of toddlers, roots established moving up to PreK Lead Teacher and sending the students off to Kindergarten, and the blossoming came when we moved to Florida so my husband can be ordained a priest and I finally became a Public School teacher! 

Trust and Go Forward

Rejection is something that is human and happens to us all. At the end of the day, if there is only 1 spot left on a team and there are 100 people who yearn for and want that spot, 99 of us are going to walk away and bloom elsewhere. Christ says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” I learned to lean on Christ and take His hand, and let Him lead me to a place where I will succeed and bear fruit. Christ sees and hears it all, rejection especially. It is hard and hurts for days, weeks, and sometimes years. He wants us to feel loved and wanted, not rejected. It’s almost like Him saying to us, “Yes, you really wanted to go to that school/wanted that position. There are others waiting for you.” The words “You bloom where you’re planted” remain with me. Gardens don’t take one day to bloom; they need water, soil, and somebody with a green thumb to tend and nurture them as Christ does for us. We have our hearts set on attending that top school and scoring that amazing new career and promotion, but as Christ’s branches, we might bloom elsewhere and many times in places where we never thought we could grow.

About Caroline

My name is Caroline Pavlakos, and I originally hail from Brooklyn, NY, but now live in the sunshine state of Florida. My husband Fr. Andrew and I serve the parish of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in New Port Richey, FL. We’re the proud parents of our beautiful baby boy, Kostantinos, who is almost one year old, and I enjoy spending time at the beach, baking chocolate chip cookies, and shopping. 

Go for Broke: Break the Rules – Bev. Cooke

It took four years and three tries before “Street Kid, Subway Cat” was ready to send to send out. The story was based on my brother-in-law’s experience of befriending and domesticating a feral cat who lived in a New York City subway station. He named her Gidget, and we met her on a visit to my brother-in-law. Well, if you can call a middle of the night tromp over my calves and a panicked flight when I lifted my hand to pet her as “meeting” a cat – because she was the definition of “scaredy cat.”

The book about Gidget and her adventures had gone from a picture book, which felt too cloying and sentimental, to a young adult novel that was too short on both words and plot to a mid-grade novel that felt about right. I sent it to my dream publisher, took a deep breath and began to wait.

The editor emailed within the promised time, which is unheard of in the children’s literature (kid lit) market; it’s almost an unwritten rule they’ll take practically forever, but even so, she rejected it. But, again breaking unwritten rules, the editor explained her reasons. She said the book was neither one thing nor the other. It didn’t feel like a mid-grade. Some of the subject matter was too mature and it begged for more plot and conflict, or it needed to be shorter and simpler. She suggested that I either make it a picture book or a young adult. But thanks for submitting, and we’d really like to see more of your work.

I took my courage in both hands, said a quick prayer, and picked up the phone. I got through to the editor with no problem, another first in the kid lit market. Normally, editors only talk to writers whose books they’ve accepted, not to us wanna-bes. We discussed the rejection in more detail. I decided to go for broke and ask the big, forbidden question. In kid’s lit, you NEVER, EVER, EVER ask the editor to reconsider a rewritten rejection. Never. It’s one of the real, written down in stone and cast in concrete rules. You suck it up and send the story elsewhere. But, I figured, what did I have to lose? The press had already said no, and they had said they liked and wanted to see more of my work. So I asked: if I rewrote the book as a young adult, taking her suggestions, would she reconsider it? It took some persuasion, but finally, she agreed.

I sat down to the work. During the rewrite, Gidget, the inspiration for the book, came to live with us. As fearful as ever, she found a refuge under my desk by the hot air register and took up residence while I wrote about her alter ego’s adventures.

She dozed there, warm and comfy, as I broadened and deepened the story, discovered new characters and lived in that world so strongly that finishing work each day felt like more like entering a fictional world than returning to real life. I felt as though I knew Candlewax and Little Cat, the two main characters, better than I knew myself. I finished it, sent the manuscript in and began, again, to wait.

Again, within their stated response time, the editor called. Another rule in kid’s lit: editors only phone you to offer you a contract, never to reject. When I heard Ms. Editor’s voice, my hope surged, and my hand on the phone trembled – this had been a rule breaking experience so far. Was this phone call going to break another one? I could see the news flash: Editor calls to reject author’s novel! Story at 11! But while Candlewax, Little Cat and I might have been rule breakers, Ms. Editor wasn’t, at least this time: she offered me a contract. The book was released as Feral because, Ms. Editor said, she, the author and every character in it were feral rule breakers.

About Bev. Cooke

Rejection is a fact of a writer’s life, whether you’re sending out your first or 100th manuscript. Bev. Cooke knows this from personal experience but even so, she’s been lucky enough to have several things make it into the world. Her latest efforts are included in the women’s devotional, Darkness is as Light, edited by Summer Kinard and published by Park End Books. She’s working on her fourth Akathist and a fantasy novel for mid-grade Orthodox kids. She and her husband attend All Saints of Alaska parish in Victoria BC, Canada and are the
minions of Sampson, the household feline.

Rejection Letters: 5 Types and What They Mean

You work hard on your manuscript. The setting and characters are fresh in your mind, so clear that you have memories as if they are real people and places. You have the writer’s constant urge to TELL the story, to put words on paper that other eyes and hearts will see. It is so important to you that the publisher grasps what you communicated and finds it worthy.

But sometimes, that doesn’t happen.

There are many reasons why manuscripts get rejected. Sometimes, the writing isn’t good enough, but there are other more complicated realities. In a recent conversation, someone shared a comment they’d heard from a friend in the publishing industry. Not all good books are “good publishing.” For better and worse, publishing is a business. Personnel, paper, and presses all require financial support, and publishers need to publish books that sell. Publishers should absolutely take responsibility for their impact on market forces and their opportunities to influence culture. But they still can’t operate at a loss. What they can sell might not be the book you can write.

To survive as a writer (and as an adult human), you will develop emotional coping strategies. It’s my hope that your professional strategy will benefit from these perspectives on rejection letters, drawn from my experience and that of writers who kindly shared their favorite rejection letter with me for this post.

What kind of rejection letter is it?

Rejection letters come in many forms, but they seem to fall into five categories: total silence; generic, no details; personal, some details; second chance offers; and second chance rejections.

I personally have received all five types.

I also have 9 published or contracted books.

It’s important to remember that a rejection letter often tells you as much about the publisher as it does about your writing. If Charles Dickens submitted A Tale of Two Cities to a publisher of action hero graphic novels, he too would be rejected. The Bible is the only book that can truly be said to have the whole human world as its audience, and even that statement would be argued by millions. With that in mind, let’s consider the five types and what they mean.

Total Silence

Many publishers, especially the larger ones, note in their submission guidelines that they respond only if they are interested in pursuing publication. That means the vast majority of authors will never hear back. At all. The guidelines often tell you how long to wait before giving up. “If you do not hear from us in 6 months, you can assume we are not interested in publishing your book.”

So, you mark the date on your calendar that is 6 months from when you hit send, and when that date arrives with no response, you can consider yourself rejected.

This is unpleasant, but it’s a measure of the publisher’s size and of the avalanche of submissions that came in before and after yours. Some publishers that consider unagented submissions do so by adding them to a large file, where they remain unread except on those occasions when the publisher commands a staff member to dive into the large file and retrieve anything suitable for whatever project is afoot. The large file is deep and wide. The odds are not good. And the publisher does not have the time or personnel to respond to the thousands of authors whose manuscripts lie therein. Hence the policy of silence.

Generic, NO DETAILS

This type is a polite form letter. It comes from an actual human being, and it indicates that someone read at least a few sentences of your manuscript. Or the proposal. Or the entire proposal and a portion of the manuscript. They do know what you’re offering, and this is a time-saving way to say “Thank you, but no thank you” without troubling to spell out why.

Here’s an excerpt from an actual rejection letter I received from a small-to-midsize traditional publisher.

We have completed our review of the manuscript. We appreciate the time and creativity you have put into this work; however, we have decided not to accept this submission for publication, as it does not fit our current editorial needs.

This is from a Christian publisher, and you can see the writer took trouble to be kind. More often, generic rejection letters are like this one (also real).

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, at the moment we do not have room in our publishing schedule for it. 

This is still polite, but be honest – they would have room in the schedule if they wanted to have room in the schedule.

Generic rejection letters tell me one of two things: either I misjudged the publisher’s interests (“current editorial needs”), or the writing is not strong enough or appealing enough in their view to justify the effort and expense of publishing it (“we do not have room in our publishing schedule”). Publishing schedules do fill up. Thousands of manuscripts are submitted to thousands of publishers every year. But it’s a publisher’s job to sift those thousands, searching for the gold dust hidden in the sand. Sometimes, you just don’t sparkle the way they think gold should sparkle.

Personal, Some Details

If you’re lucky, the publisher will tell you why you are being rejected. This is a gift. Read their words and take them to heart. You may disagree, but don’t fail to value the glimpse of your writing as someone in the business saw it. Almost always, you can learn from a professional who takes the time to coach you.

I’m delighted to share a sample of this type provided by a published author, who we’ll call David Taylor. David recounts the following experience which occurred while David was querying agents for a fiction manuscript. David writes:

I was querying with my second novel and having no luck when a Manhattan literary agent with an impressive list who had the first 50 pages requested a full. Two weeks later, I received a three-paragraph critical rejection that pointed out my main problem: “You’re a strong writer with a compelling story. Reading on, we were disappointed to find that you kept us at a distance.”

A three-paragraph critical rejection is amazing. It’s a mini-critique group just for you, and it’s a sign that although you are being rejected, the agent or publisher thinks you show enough promise to be worth coaching.

Think hard about the advice you’ve been offered. Will it help you achieve your goal for this manuscript, or is it simply a more detailed explanation of why you should apply elsewhere? In some cases, you can incorporate that advice and submit your revision for a second chance.

Second-Chance Offers

On occasion, a publisher will reject the manuscript in its current form but extend a second chance. They’ll explain what it would take for the book to succeed and give you the option to make those changes.

As with David’s letter above, your next step is to decide if you want the second chance. What are you being asked to do with your manuscript? Will the changes improve it, or do you feel you’re being pressured into something that doesn’t match your goals?

If you decide to try for the second chance, follow the directions. You’re asking the publisher to reconsider, so you need to prove you can be coached and that you’re capable of producing what they want.

This process can take patience and a sense of humor. My first children’s chapter book began life as a short story that I submitted as a picture book. The picture book was rejected, but the editor thought the story might work as part of a collection of short stories for children. I wrote and submitted the collection. The editor responded that the acquisitions board didn’t want a short story collection; the board wanted a chapter book of the same length with one story arc through the whole book.

I considered banging my head on the wall.

Instead, I pulled one of the stories from the collection and expanded it. That story was finally accepted for publication.

Second-Chance Rejections

A second chance doesn’t guarantee acceptance. Your revised submission may prove to the publisher that you aren’t a good fit for their market, or that you haven’t taken their direction in the way they hoped. The person who read your manuscript the first time may no longer work there, or someone else may have submitted a book they like better in the meantime.

This type of rejection is final. You had a chance, and it didn’t work out, and they don’t want to see a third version of your book. Respect that. Look for another publisher, consider self-publishing, or sit down with coffee and quiet to rework your manuscript.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll get good feedback in the final rejection letter. I recall one such letter I received about a decade ago. The editor offered a second round of criticisms, some that had not been mentioned the first time and therefore were not addressed in my revisions. The letter closed with some tough love: “I have no doubt you have another great book in you. This may not be it.”

What can we learn from rejection?

Rejection is not final. It is not the only possible opinion of your work, but neither is it worthless. Don’t let it kill you, but do let it teach you. In time, you will learn to distinguish between usable criticism that can improve your writing and rejection that simply means the publisher or editor is not your intended audience.

My friend Phoebe, a published author and established blogger, gives the best advice on submitting writing for publication. “I always keep in mind a fallback option,” she says. Decide before you submit the manuscript what else you can do with it. What’s the next publisher you will try? Where else can you use that writing – on your own blog, a friend’s blog? If you have a plan, it will remind you that rejection isn’t final. It’s the next step on your path, and you’re ready for what comes after it.

Bev. Cooke, another published friend, will be sharing a story on this blog soon about a rejection that led to something better. Rejection is only final if you let it shut you down. Don’t fear it. Take it in, break it into parts and analyze what it means and doesn’t mean, and then proceed with your plan.

Never forget that rejection is part of the writing life. Walk through a bookstore, staring at the loaded shelves, and murmur to yourself, “This author got rejected just like me, and now she’s published. This one, too. And this one. He got rejected, and he kept going. I can too.” It’s encouraging, and it’s also true.

I’d like to close with a wonderful rejection letter shared by Steve Robinson. He even sent a photo of the letter, which he framed and hung on the wall.

Steve says:

I still have my first rejection letter framed (and my first acceptance letter). The book sat at Multnomah for months going through rounds of meetings before I finally got this. I was appreciative of the “complimentary rejection” because it told me I was on the right path. Most publishers just send a “form rejection” with no input unfortunately. (It eventually got published as “Lord of the Hunt and Other Tales of Grace).

That’s how to make meaning out of rejection. Be grateful for the criticism, and read between the lines so you know when you are on the right path.