Yesterday I did my usual Saturday quarter-mile trek to get the mail (large steel rural mailbox, trek made in the afternoon since weekend mail doesn’t come until 3 PM at the earliest, checking mailboxes on either side so as to find mail-to-me-in-wrong-box and move mail-to-others-in-my-box-back-to-where-it-belongs) and opened the box to find a huge white package.

Normally, huge white packages in the U.S. mail mean either that secondhand books have arrived, or that someone has sent me curricula to review.

This particular huge white package was something else. The cover letter said, “Thank you for submitting your manuscript to X Publishers. Your manuscript passed the initial readings and was sent on to a senior editor for review. Unfortunately, we are not able to publish it, but you should know that very few manuscripts are sent to the senior editors. Yours was among them.” Then there was a postscript. It said, “We apologize for the delay in responding. We are attempting to revamp our policies so that we are able to respond more quickly to submitted manuscripts.”

So guess when I submitted this manuscript? Seriously. I didn’t even REMEMBER so I had to go look it up.


Yep, seven years later I got a rejection notice. Yep. Seven years. I’m SO tempted to make a biblical analogy here.


But I won’t.

I’m also seriously tempted to tell you who this publisher is, but I’m straining my discretion and NOT doing so. Plus I cannot at all remember, given that it was seven years ago, why I submitted this MS myself instead of sending it to my agent. But since it was a novel, as opposed to my usual history/literature beat, I’m guessing that I felt a little insecure about its quality and decided I’d try the impersonal hard route rather than the personal, potentially humiliating (as in, “Why are you asking me to hawk this embarrassingly bad manuscript around?”) route, even though my very competent agent would have undoubtedly gotten the publisher to issue a yes-or-nor in less than…seven years.


There are two possible morals to this story.

1. Get an agent. Make use of your agent. Ignore all those publishers who say that they read unsolicited MS. They do, probably, eventually.

2. Develop eternal patience (a.k.a. FIND ANOTHER BREAD-AND-BUTTER JOB).

Showing 12 comments
  • Kendra

    No kidding! That’s too funny!

  • Ev.

    lol That’s great!! You should send them a thank-you note, thanking them for their kind and TIMELY response 😉 hehe

  • Staci in MO

    Seven years? Wow.

    So, did they send it in your SASE, or had the rates increased too much since then?

  • Jill, OK

    You know, as someone who has been trying to get a novel published, I sooo appreciate hearing this.

    I’m trying valiantly to accomplish your #1 suggestion (but no *good* agent wants to represent someone who hasn’t had a novel published…even though no publisher will read your MS without an agent), and as far as #2…I’m reminded of some advice I read about freelance writing (my other endeavor)…”Marry someone with heath insurance”.


  • Sean

    While you *should* take some satisfaction in the knowledge that your manuscript got upstream, like a dying salmon, from the slush pile to the senior editors, seven years is….I can’t even think of the right word: Inexcusable? Comical? Allegorical? All of the above?

    Thanks for sharing that one.

  • Paul Halsall

    Well good luck with the publication. I read some of your published chapters and was, frankly, amazed that you think Abraham was a historical individual.

  • Susan

    I’m frankly amazed that you comment on this and ignore Meskiaggasher, Narmer, Gilgamesh, Minos..ah, well, this is usually a pointless argument. .

  • adrian mckinty

    Google wont pick up the comments so just for us tell us the name of the publisher or even give us a clue.

  • Steven E. McDonald

    Aha. Wouldn’t happen to be a three-letter name would it? (I know at least one publisher with such a horrible track record in response to slush….)

  • Susan

    Ah, Steven, you posted the clue before I could get to it.

  • Dave

    I’m enjoying reading this blog instead of working on my first novel, and now some commenters here have nearly swayed me on this Easter morning that getting a first novel published is a dead dream, but I’ll keep writing in the hope of a miracle.

  • Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

    I laughed at this post, but there’s nothing funny about it really. 🙁 Yet I want to say that yes, the moral of the story is to get an agent. And, you can get an agent without having published a previous novel. And an agent *can* get you a book deal. It happened to me (after trying for longer than that publisher took to get back to Susan) and if you don’t give up, it can happen to you. But patience and hard work are key, along with a little bit of luck.

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