Bad rejection: I'll always think of you as a friend, but I think it's time to move on.
We've all heard that one.
Good rejection: "...she's a terrific writer, and this is a powerful story but so painful to read....So why is it that I can't take this? Do I not have the courage? I can't answer this."
That's a direct quote from one of the rejection letters my agent forwarded to me regarding Into the Fire. The manuscript has been turned down by four houses now, and while I know that's nothing, nothing, a common theme runs through many of the comments. Everyone seems to appreciate my writing, which is is awfully gratifying. The comments from one first reader favorably compares the manuscript's language style and subject matter to Huckleberry Finn, which of course tickles me pink because I love Twain.
But then there's the prickly subject matter: racism, attempted rape, a lynching. If it's half as painful to read as it was to write, perhaps the editors are justified in shying away from the story. But I didn't want a "happily-ever-after" story, one in which one brave boy managed to overturn the racism of his family and an entire town to see justice done. It's not a fairy tale.
So I'm going to do a major re-write. I won't tone down the racism, or the description of the lynching. But I'm going to try to give the good guys a larger voice. I think that some of the more sympathetic characters could definitely be given a larger voice.
But my point: good rejections can encourage you to bring out the best in a manuscript. Let's hope.