Author Anne Clinard Barnhill on Writer’s Rejection, Otherwise Known As ‘A Sure Thing’

I met Anne Clinard Barnhill because we’re both pregnant — BOOK PREGNANT, that is.  We’re members of a small group of debut authors who yammer on and on all day in a undisclosed location and then post publicly on the Book Pregnant Blog, which you can find here. Anne’s such a diverse and talented author with published short stories, poetry, a memoir and a novel — I’m thrilled she is willing to spend time with us here today! 

Please give Anne a hearty WFW welcome — I’m sure in no time you’ll feel like she’s a good friend too!

Author Anne Clinard Barnhill on Writer’s Rejection, Otherwise Known As ‘A Sure Thing’

I’ve been writing professionally for over twenty years. During that time, believe me, I’ve had my share of rejections–none of them were pretty but some hurt less than others. Those with hand-written notes to ‘send us something else’ or a quickly scribbled ‘love this story but it doesn’t fit our current needs’ feel a lot better than the usual form rejections that say ‘Never, and I do mean NEVER send to us again.’ Okay, I didn’t really get any that said that, but it feels just that lousy when those big ‘NO’s arrive. In twenty years, I’ve never met a rejection I actually liked.

But as every writer knows, rejections are part of the writing world. I want to share a couple of my favorite rejection stories–then, maybe you won’t feel so bad when you see that familiar-looking envelop plopped in your mailbox.

The first story takes place about ten years ago when I had an agent who loved my first novel (still in a box under the bed) and wanted to represent me. I eagerly signed the contract, expecting her to keep her promise–to make me a famous writer. I figured I would hear something from her fairly quickly.

No so. I waited And waited. And waited. Then waited some more.

Finally, the Christmas season was upon us and I was decorating the house in preparation for my children to come home for the holiday. About four days before Christmas, I saw a big UPS truck pull into our driveway and carry a fairly large box to the front door. He rang the bell, then retreated to his truck. I wondered who would be sending me a Christmas present. My parents always gave us money so it couldn’t be from them. My kids were coming home; it made no sense for them to have mailed anything. Who could have sent it and what in the world could it be?

I hurried down the steps and opened the front door, grabbed the box and took it into the kitchen where I quickly took a knife and opened it up. I had seen my agent’s name in the return address and was certain this box contained a publishing contract or something along those lines. It would be the happiest Christmas ever. Oh, innocence! Oh, youth!

On the top of a stack of manuscripts was a brief letter. It said, “I’ve tried to sell this to fifteen places. Here are all the rejection letters. Since I can’t sell this book and I don’t like your second one, I am no longer willing to represent you.” Then, stacked all in a row, fifteen rejection letters.

I won’t tell you how I curled into a fetal ball on the kitchen floor and cried for at least an hour. I won’t tell you put that manuscript away for at least five years. Nor will I mention what a lousy holiday we had. What I will say is that was the worst rejection I’ve faced and it took me a good long while to recover from it. Merry damn Christmas!

The second story starts off even worse. I sent a short story to a literary magazine and received my cover letter with “I HATE THIS STORY” scrawled in very black ink across the top. I was so furious, I immediately wrote the editor, thanking him for his no-pulled-punches approach, that every writer deserved that sort of response and some other stuff I fail to remember. I then printed out another story, stuffed it and the letter into an envelope and mailed it that very same day.

I was furious at this man who wrote so cavalierly about my work, as if I, the writer, had no feelings or investment in the story at all. I was surprised and a little frightened when, a week later, I got another missive from him. Only this time, there was a big ‘Yes’ written across the envelope and a check for $65.00. Who knew?

Bottom line, rejections happen and continue to happen. But then, suddenly, someone sees your work and gets it. Love blooms like daffodils in spring and before you can say ‘the hell with rejections’, your first baby is born and out in the world. And that is worth any rejection I’ve ever had.

Anne Cli­nard Barn­hill has been writ­ing or dream­ing of writ­ing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has pub­lished arti­cles, book and the­ater reviews, poetry, and short sto­ries. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like grow­ing up with an autis­tic sis­ter. Her work has won var­i­ous awards and grants. Barn­hill holds an M.F.A. in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina at Wilm­ing­ton. Besides writ­ing, Barn­hill also enjoys teach­ing, con­duct­ing writ­ing work­shops, and facil­i­tat­ing sem­i­nars to enhance cre­ativ­ity. She loves spend­ing time with her three grown sons and their fam­i­lies. For fun, she and her hus­band of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance.

AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, St. Martin’s Press, January, 2012.

COAL, BABY, poetry chapbook forthcoming from Finishing Line Press

AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ: AUTISM, MY SISTER AND ME , a memoir, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007

WHAT YOU LONG FORshort story collection, Main Street Rag,  2009


19 thoughts on “Author Anne Clinard Barnhill on Writer’s Rejection, Otherwise Known As ‘A Sure Thing’

  1. Loved this post. I once had a story returned with what looked like doodles along the margins. Squiggles under some parts and even exclamation marks. It felt like a college student on break for this prestigious magazine felt like playing around. I found it quite unsettling, but the story later found a home with a British mag that has a Nobel winner on the editorial board!


  2. Thanks…I needed that. I’m in the process of querying (and receiving rejections). But your rejection experience would take pretty thick skin to absorb the blow. So far, I’ve received 6 rejections from 18 queries sent. Five were form letters (one even emailed me my rejection twice!), but one was a good news/bad news response. “The writing seems strong,” she said, “but the voice just feels a bit off for this kind of fiction.” I’m choosing to focus on the good news. Thanks again for sharing your story. I never get tired of hearing about writers’ successes and rejections along the way.


  3. dlwebb, keep trying! Never give up! And yes, if you saw me, you would think I was part rhino, that skin is so thick! And Christina–it is a part of it, even for the big, famous writers—Catherine, I’m glad you found a home for your story–see, it’s all about something else–so many things factor in. Thanks for reading!


  4. Thank you for this. I was so heartbroken when my first novel received rejections. (It’s a drawer novel now.) I’m querying my second, but my skin is not Rhino thick…rejection still hurts! Reading this reminds me to stay on track, because it will be worth it in the end. I’m still waiting to find that agent I connect with. 🙂


  5. I’m in the process of querying my WF to agents and received a rejection from one agent twice! I thought, really? Maybe they wanted to drive the point home, but honestly, I got it the first time! Was kind of funny though.


  6. This might be the best story/explanation about acceptance and rejection I’ve ever seen. Thank you for sharing – I’m going to share this with everyone I know who is going through the querying process! I thought I’d had it rough (82 rejections before I finally got picked up) but I see now I had it easy – none of them were as harsh and the two instances you talk about here! Yikes! Good for you for perservering!


    • I think you are pretty awesome, Terri, to perevere over 80 times. THat in itself is a record in fatih. Let’s keep that faith!


      • Thank you, Anne – I wish I could say it was because I believed in myself and my story so strongly, but it might just be either that I was too stubborn/stupid to quit or I’m a masochist. 🙂


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