Dealing with Rejections

Jun 6, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Books & Tales, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Sheila Lowe

Sheila Lowe is a mystery author and forensic handwriting examiner.

Have you ever read a book that you absolutely loved, but your best friend just shrugged and said, “meh”? Of course you have. And there are doubtless many books that have not resonated with you, which millions of others rave about (think: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo phenomenon, or Gone Girl).

We read through our own personal lens, which is an outgrowth of our personal experiences throughout life. That’s just as true for agents and editors as it is for you and me. So when you’ve just received a rejection of that book you poured your heart and soul into, remind yourself that publishing is a highly subjective business and that rejections reflect personal taste, not necessarily the quality of your work.


Sheila Lowe

Having said that, though, if you find yourself getting the same comments from agents, or critique partners, or other beta readers, it’s time to step back and take an impersonal look at what they are saying. For me, doing so made the difference between staying on the outside looking in and getting published.

My first mystery, Poison Pen, won third prize in a competition. Third place out of 97 entries in mystery wasn’t bad, I thought. And with the prize being submission to two big name editors at major publishing houses, I knew I would be published any minute. I had a rude awakening coming. These editors had judged my work worthy of winning, but now they said it was a “good” story, had “good” characters, I was a “good” writer, but…it just wasn’t strong enough. What? With all those “goods,” what did “not strong enough” mean?book

Hopefully, you’re quicker on the uptake than I was. It took seven years and numerous drafts for me to find the answer. When it came, it was from an independent editor I’d hired to tell me what was wrong. I learned that what is meant by “not strong enough” is that there were too many adverbs sprinkling the manuscript. Those pesky words ending in “ly” point to lazy writing.

You know that annoying advice you’re always getting to “show, don’t tell”? Well, adverbs are the words that tell, rather than show. For example, “What the hell is going on?” he cried angrily. Using a stronger, more descriptive word than the adverb “angrily,” could paint a more interesting image. His face reddened, his eyes bulging like a bullfrog. “What the hell is going on?” Okay, it’s not a great example, but you get the picture. Cut out the adverbs.

Another lesson I learned from that first editor was that my main character, Claudia Rose, was weak. Until it was pointed out to me, I hadn’t realized that Claudia constantly felt guilty, which rendered her less likeable. Readers want our characters to be strong. It’s not that there can’t be moments of weakness, of course, they’re not robots. It’s just that guilt-ridden heroines are not popular

Back to my point. When you are getting rejections, even when you feel like Sisyphus, forever damned to push a boulder up a hill, you must keep on going. I read an interview with well-known author James Rollins, who said that a major publisher scribbled on his first manuscript that it was unpublishable. That book went on to sell over a million copies. See—it’s subjective. Once you have had your work professionally edited so you know it’s up to snuff, keep on submitting it until you find the agent who loves what you do. Every rejection takes you another step closer to success.

I’ll end with some advice from Neil Gaiman. He writes, “(1) if you’re going to be a writer, you have to write. (2) You have to finish things. Beyond that, I suspect all is detail, but I would add to that, that having written it and finished it, you should send it off to somewhere that might publish it, and not get discouraged if it comes back.”

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.

Like her fictional character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in court cases involving handwriting. The author of the acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and Handwriting Analyzer software, she is president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes education in the area of handwriting. Sheila holds a Master of Science in psychology and lectures around the country and in Canada and the UK. Her analyses of celebrity handwritings can be seen in various media, such as an LA Times article where she discusses what the signatures of the Dodgers and the Angels players reveal about their personalities. Her latest mystery is Inkslingers Ball.


  1. Great advice. [And I’d add, join a critique group where kind folk will point out your (my) errors.]

    • Agreed, Maddy. And further, I would suggest the group specialize in your genre. Genre writing has specific rules that won’t apply in literary writing, for example.

  2. Good advice, and Maddy’s comment to join a critique group is spot on. We have to remember, also, that a manuscript rejection is not a rejection of us, as a person or author. Learning from rejection is sometimes difficult, but usually helps us write a better version.


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