Rejection Junction, What’s Your Function?

A long time ago, back in 2005, I had a different novel with a different agent. It was the first novel I’d written. It’s about a pop star who falls in love with an Army Airborne Ranger. Go Army!

Anyway, most everyone said it was well-written, but it did not sell. Why? People had a problem with the main character, for various reasons. Which is not good, ’cause obviously you need people to root for your protagonist. My new agent read it, and told me how she thinks I can fix it, if I want to. Maybe I will. It’s sort of like the movie GET HIM TO THE GREEK meets THE BODYGUARD with maybe a good bit of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT sprinkled in. Except, of course, that the Jonah Hill would be a hot soldier, and the Russell Brand would be the girl, and it’s romantic and screwbally and has far less drug usage. Maybe not even any. I haven’t read it in awhile.

Oh, I should add that I wrote this before all the various pop star meltdowns happened. It’s like I’m the Emma Thompson character in STRANGER THAN FICTION. Hee hee.

Anyway, here are some of my rejection letters from that first novel for your enlightenment. I have ix-nayed all the names here.

I think EVERYTHING YOU WANT is written very well, but for me there is a disconnect between the voice and the subject matter. The voice is pretty quiet and a bit flat, but it’s supposed to be the voice of a young pop princess with this crazy life, dealing with the tragedy of her parents dying. It seems to be stuck in between commercial and literary, in content and style, which is not necessarily a negative thing–it could be a new, innovative way of revitalizing chick-lit–but it’s not right for us. We’re still doing very traditional, commercial chick-lit.
Thank you again for giving me a look at this. I think she is a very strong writer, and I hope you find a good place for her novel!

I’m sorry to report that I’m going to pass.  This is a fun, well-told story, but I’m afraid that in the end we just didn’t feel it had enough of a hook or high-concept to work on our narrow fiction list. She’s got a great voice, but we weren’t convinced that the army angle was enough to make this stand out, and ultimately felt we’d have a tough time positioning this in the crowded women’s fiction category.

I am unfortunately going to have to pass on it.

I actually had another editor read it as well, because I really love Margaret’s writing and think the premise is very marketable. But I have to say that too many elements didn’t gel for me, and overall the storytelling wasn’t what I hoped it would be. Chiefly, I felt that Sera’s relationship with and grief for her parents wasn’t developed enough. I also thought her “fame” wasn’t explored enough. I wanted to know how Sera felt about performing, whether she ever enjoyed it or not, and whether she resented her mother for pushing her or whether she was happy about it. And the “Find Sera” contest didn’t have enough emphasis for me.

I’m very sorry that I didn’t love this enough. But thank you so much for sending it.

It’s cute and she’s adorable, but I’m not in love with it.  I wanted it to be more traditionally military oriented.  I don’t see this story line hitting home with the military audience.  Her story and her platform are not gelling for me.  I don’t think this particular book is the right fit for how we could promote her.

I agree with you that Margaret is a wonderful writer but I feel the novel doesn’t have enough narrative drive, so I’m afraid I’m not going to make an offer for it.

It was a hard decision.  I liked it, I liked the voice, but there was something about the main character that didn’t quite appeal to me.  But it is really really strong, and there’s good pacing to the story.

I just had a conversation with editor Ms. X, who said there’s something about the novel (which she finally re-read) that has grabbed her and won’t let go.  She’s getting another read on it because she worries that the main character is awfully self-absorbed (although she feels this is realistic and that you handle it well), and also that the ending is a little abrupt.  I told her you would be open to working with her on these things, but she says she needs to make sure that other people share her feelings about the book.  She seems both admiring and hesitant.  She also said, “This is very edgy and not like anything we publish.”  (I think what she meant, from talking to her further, is that it doesn’t devolve into a conventional happy ending—which she liked.  She seems to get what you’re doing.)

She asked me what you’re doing next, and I almost sent her the plot summary for HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE that you sent me back in May, but I think we need to work on that a bit and boil it down.  Could you try your hand at that?

She loved the voice but didn’t love the pop star angle.  So they would like to read a couple chapters from your NEW book to see whether they might not like to publish that first and EVERYTHING YOU WANT second.

After this gargantuan effort on the part of my former agent, who had worked with me on the manuscript, the book never did sell. She urged me to find someone more suited to HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, which I did, eventually, in 2008, after many more rewrites and having a baby and working and all that.

So what’s the point? The point is, even if you get an agent who thinks he or she can sell your work, it might not happen. And if it doesn’t happen, then you should have been working on your next book during all this time. So send out your work and sit down and get back to work!

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

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