I recently got a(nother) rejection for one of my manuscripts. I’ve really struggled with this one because of all my stories, it’s the one that I feel is the most ready to hit the shelves. Yet it gets no love, and no feedback on why. I’ve picked the thing apart, looking for big picture items, recurring issues–anything to explain why it keeps getting rejected. And then it occurred to me. Maybe the manuscript itself isn’t a problem. Maybe the problem is in my perception of my manuscript.
See, my story is a sweet historical fiction. Not edgy or dark.
I’m embarrassed to say that it took me more than a few tries to type that sentence. Why? Because while sweet is okay, it’s often used interchangeably with saccharine, sugary, and bubble-gum, which are not. Because much of what’s popular and successful today is dark and edgy, which my story most definitely is not.
But here’s the bottom line: if I want to find the right agent and publisher for my story, I have to know who to target. In order to do that, I have to know exactly what kind of book I have. In order to do that, I have to be able to define my story objectively and honestly.
Moving forward, I will continue to look for agents who like historical fiction, specifically those who have recently acquired historical fiction projects. But I will also be looking at what kinds of stories they’ve acquired. If they’re all dark, my story probably won’t appeal to them.
So know thy story, fellow writers. Don’t apologize for having written a sweet story, or one without vampires, or a western instead of a dystopian or an urban fantasy. Embrace your story and you’ll have a much better chance of finding the perfect home for it.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Francesca Amendolia says
I have a MG urban-fantasy in the same boat. It’s getting form rejections — yet I know it’s not crap. And just to make sure I’m not insane, I’ve given it to (several) beta readers and my critique group and BEGGED them to tell me what’s wrong with it — no praise! I say. Just rip into it! Tell me why it’s not getting requests! Tell me nooooow!
Unless they’re all really scared that I will come after them with sharp pins and are therefore lying through their kind teeth, there’s nothing really wrong with it. Which is lovely to hear, but I still want to know WHY.
Perhaps I need to target better. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe.
Or maybe — it’s not the right moment for this book? Maybe sometimes writing a good book is just not enough. It has to be a good book – at a good time.
So sorry about the rejection. They stink!! There are a LOT of dark and edgy books out there but I see the sweet ones getting published to. Maybe look at their dedications and see who agented the writer. Could help you pinpoint things. Good luck with your search!!
Adventures in Children's Publishing says
Love your attitude and professionalism. I think those close but no feedback rejections are the hardest to deal with, but sometimes they also force us to pick up the manuscript and look at it in a different way. Not an “is it good enough” or “do I love it” kind of way, but an “is there any way at all it could be stronger” way. I recently went through that and after tearing my hair out, I realized that conflict and tension weren’t the same thing–and there were places where the story lacked tension. As I went in to revise, I discovered layers I hadn’t put on the page. Things I knew about the story and didn’t realize I hadn’t overtly written. Those ambiguous R’s pushed me to examine the story in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I am so glad!
What I’m trying to say is that I believe there is a market for everything, but sometimes things happen for a reason, too. This may be the proverbial window opening for you. Maybe there’s an opportunity in your manuscript waiting for you, or a new agent who’s perfect for you that you wouldn’t ordinarily have thought of submitting to. The right thing is coming, just hang in long enough and believe in yourself!
Kelly Hashway says
Good luck in your search. Just a small tip: make sure you don’t query agents and editors who have books that are too similar to yours. They don’t like their clients to be in competition with each other.
Garry G. says
I’ve had a similar thing happen with a short story. I’ve got replies from three editors all of whom said they personally really liked it (plus many more form-rejections), and that it was well written, but couldn’t publish it because it didn’t fit.
Although it is easier to accept rejection for a short story than for a much larger work, it still bites hard when you know something is good but can’t find a home for it because of market trends.
You have my sympathies for your, sweet, problem.
Kelly H-Y says
You’re so right … no apologies are necessary! Your story will sell once it finds the right home!
Melody Jackson says
I known this is a little late in the game but: Thank you! 🙂 Thank you so much for this post! I love to write sweet stories! However, I have been discourage when I see what they have out there now and how many agents may not be interested in it.
Becca Puglisi says
My beta readers have had some general toning and tightening suggestions, but nothing major that could explain why it’s not being accepted. Angela (the Magnificent) had some awesome ideas that I incorporated, but still..no agent love. So I really believe it’s a matter of finding the right agent.
Thanks again for all the support!
Terri Tiffany says
Don’t give up. If you believe in this story–it will eventually find a home. Sweet is good–there are a lot of sweet historicals out there:))
I assume you’ve already had some writing buddies look at your ms. and give feedback? Since the editors aren’t giving you a clue, that may help.
There’s nothing wrong with sweet. Actually, now you’ve got me wanting to read it!
Awesome site, btw. I not only followed, I bookmarked it so I could find your thesauruses.
The CRITTER Project and Naked Without A Pen
Stina Lindenblatt says
I was happy to see this post because my story is dark and edgy but with hope (the kind of stories I love to read).
But no one can live on a diet of dark and edgy alone. We need the balance. So there’ll always be a demand for your kind of stories, Becca. 😀
My story is realistic humorous so no paranormal twists or wizard battles. Yes, we definitely need to see who wants these kinds of stories.
Good luck to you!
Pk Hrezo says
I know just how you feel. My last 2 mss have been literary contemp and have both been rejected because the pacing wasn’t fast enough. But they’re not plot-driven stories, they’re character driven. Both are 70-80k words, so they’re not excessive. It’s just the taste of the agents. The stories didn’t move fast enough for them. Yet, beta readers loved them. Argh!
I say stay true to yourself and your story and the right agent will come along eventually. If not, there’s always self-pubbing!!
Ah, sweet misery. I’ve written nine non-fic books, all published. I am dying to write fiction, so what’s my muse send my way: paleohistoric fiction. I had to write it. No one wants it. I so enjoyed writing it.
I feel your pain. Can anyone spell ‘self-pub’?
Cynthia Chapman Willis says
What a wonderful, heartfelt post. And such great advice. The world needs sweetness. Wishing you the best of luck as you find the right home for your story.
Have you sent it to betas? What have they said?
Jan Markley says
You are absolutely right! There is nothing wrong with a sweet story. Not everybody likes vampire stories. There is a market for sweet stories – keep it sweet. ;-j
Tricia J. O'Brien says
I love your advice to embrace your story. I’m doing that with my current project. I have fun writing it, even though it may be a hard sell–a funny fairy tale. We’ll see. In the meantime, I love my story and I’m glad you love yours, too.
Carol Silvis says
Great comments! You are right to write the book you love. Be true to yourself and your writing voice. That’s the way to eventually land an agent.
Mary Witzl says
Plenty of sweet things have happened throughout history, and there are bound to be plenty of readers who want to read stories about them. I hope you find the best possible agent for your ms — one who thinks ‘sweet’ is romantic and charming, not saccharine and flowery.
Lisa Gail Green says
Such a great point! DO write what you love. but also know your market, and where your book fits. Keep querying!!! I’m sure you will find the perfect agent for you!!! It’s only a matter of time.
Myne Whitman says
Keep querying, and if you don’t have a critique group or beta readers, you may want to get some. All the best.
Holly Ruggiero says
I like sweet too. It must be frustrating. Great post.
Karen Lange says
I agree. You will find a place for it! For the record, I like sweet! 🙂
This is exactly right on. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the wanting of the thing that we forget how *important* it is to find someone who not only wants it, but loves it. *hugs*
Becca Puglisi says
Wow. I almost didn’t write this post because I thought it was too specific to my own journey and others wouldn’t be able to relate. Again, I say Wow.
Thanks so much for the encouraging words. You all ROCK!
Good luck in your search, I know your frustration. I have had several full requests- all come back with the not-so-helpful, “I just didn’t love it enough.” *sigh*. Although, I am on the opposite end of the spectrum, I refuse to apologize for a MC who is so very NOT sweet. Some people just aren’t all that nice, but it’s been a struggle… Hang in there, the right agent IS out there!!
Hoping you find the right one at just the right time. I like sweet! :O)
The Writing Runner says
Absolutely! Your book is what it is, and if you’re happy with it, you just need to work toward finding an agent who will be THRILLED to see it for what it is! 🙂 Good luck in your search and don’t stop trying!
That is definitely advice that I needed today. BTW – I love sweet stories. If you ask me there’s too much angst in the world.
I’ve read sweet is making a comeback, so…persist.
I can relate. My Regencies are sweet. No apologies. There are many readers who like that, including me. 🙂 All the best!
Teralyn Rose Pilgrim says
Do you need a beta reader? I’m in the beta stage of my novel, and I’m on the lookout for readers. My book is a historical fiction that takes place in ancient Rome. If you’re interested in swapping books, you can contact me at teralynpilgrim @ gmail .com, or you can read more about the book at http://teralynpilgrim.blogspot.com/
Mary Vensel White says
You might consider adding a Christian element to it…there’s always Amish romance, which is actually a pretty hot market, so I hear. Best of luck with your project. I agree that sometimes it’s frustrating to have to label something for the market. Personally, I don’t think readers are that exclusive in their tastes, which explains “crossover hits.” People will follow a good story, period
Perseverance shall triumph, or words to that effect.
I’m going to try using a line from my second book to sell it, just because a) it fits the MC situation like a glove, b) it is a great line, c) I don’t know what else to do!
Here is to hoping.
“if I want to find the right agent and publisher for my story, I have to know who to target. In order to do that, I have to know exactly what kind of book I have. In order to do that, I have to be able to define my story objectively and honestly”
Well said! And SO true.
Lenny Lee* says
hi miss becca! loving your story and believing in it is loving your self and believing in your self. for sure you gotta keep trying and youre gonna find just the right agent and then there gonna be sweet stuff all over the book shelfs.
…hugs from lenny
May your dream agent be just around the corner.
Bish Denham says
Sigh! I think we need more sweet and less sour. Damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead!
Lisa Yarde says
Coming out of self-imposed lurkdom to wish you good luck on future submissions. It may sound trite but that’s not the right agent for you. It can’t be that they’re all looking for dark, which doesn’t always translates as edgy. As a fellow writer of historical fiction, I feel your pain.
Try submitting the manuscript to a couple of RWA (Romance Writers of America) local chapter contests. The local contests are good at providing feedback whereas RWA’s national contest only gives a score.
Also, as far as finding an agent goes, Avon publishing tends to publish sweet romances. With a little research you could find agents who represent some of the first-time writers who were recently published in your genre.
A third option is to attend the RWA conference in NYC this June/July. You’ll get the opportunity to pitch your manuscript in person and meet quite a few agents. There should be more agents and publishers at a NYC conference since they won’t have to travel far (except by taxi).
I strongly recommend the contest route. It is a great way to get specific anonymous feedback.
MG Higgins says
Thank you for this post. Excellent advice.
Jacqueline Howett says
I agree with Angela, that is just one persons opinion. Don’y listen to it…
Oh look! your good angel just turned up on your other shoulder.
Amanda Hoving says
I have a short story like this that I LOVE, but that keeps getting put back into my cabinet o’ misfit ideas. Someday. Someday. (sigh) Best of luck to you!
I so agree, Becca. It will find a home. And thank you for the reminder for all of us to do that…embrace the stories we believe in.
Angela Felsted says
I think it’s great that you’ve written a sweet story. Now I want to read it.
Angela Ackerman says
Amen, Becca. Great post, and something we can all relate to. And for the record, it’s a great story, well written and the characters are ones you can connect to. I think whoever lands this one will be lucky indeed. 🙂
Angela <---fangirl for all Becca's stories. I've learned so much from her!
D U Okonkwo says
I hear what you’re saying here. A good idea may also be to look at agents who like Southern fiction, though not historical per se, but maybe they’ll look in that area too?
Best of luck and don’t give up! :o)
Good luck with finding an agent. I do not write edgy or dark either and probably never will. Soon, I am hoping the reading public will get tired of vampires and be ready to move on to something else.
Lindsay N. Currie says
I agree withyou 100%. Just because a manuscript doesn’t seem to fit the concept of what’s hot right now, or what is trendy, does not mean we should put it on the back burner or feel that it’s a lesser work. If we believe in what we’ve written and feel passionately about it, chances are. . . someone else will too:)
Good thoughts this morning. I’ve been wondering if either of my two YA fantasies – the one already written, or the one still in the works – will ever appeal to anyone, as they have no vampires, no angels (fallen or otherwise) … in fact, have nothing that seems to be so popular these days.
But they are the sort of story I prefer, which means there must be at least a few out there who agree, right? And if so, it’s just a matter of finding the right agent. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement!
(Oh, and I always prefer sweet historicals – though not sickly-sweet, myself!)
Matthew Rush says
Well said. Thanks Becca!
Laura Pauling says
Hey, Becca. Thanks for being honest. I have several friends in the same position with a historical fiction. It’s a hard way to break in, but not impossible. One of my friends had a recent breakthrough on her rewrite though – she really brought out the inner conflict (based on a primal theme – like love) from page one and upped the conflict too – so while reading I connected right away and forgot it was historical fiction. Best of luck! Keep querying!
I had a similar problem recently. I took a structure class and was getting some really strange comments about my ms. Comments I hadn’t heard from people who had actually read it, then my cp pointed out to me it’s the way I talk about it. I was focusing on the wrong aspects.
Anne Gallagher says
Oh Becca, can I totally relate. I’ve written a sweet historical romance. Which has its own market yet, my book has more to it than “just” the romance. The Regency plays a major role behind the characters, there is intrigue and broken hearts, and it comes in at 90K. Nary a vampire, paranormal experience and NO sex to talk about. Talk about not being able to find a market.
And yes, even with all that it is still my favorite genre to write. This is book number two in a series. They say fasion comes back every ten years or so. Let’s hope it does in books as well.
Roberta Walker says
I love sweet 🙂
This is why I love Query Tracker so much, and I’ll be re-making my lists as soon as this rewrite is finished and polished. I have some things in my novel that might be considered ‘old and done’, but I hope my slightly different perspective and the right agent will take it farther than a file in my hard drive!
Pat Posner says
Great post, Becca; one I feel I could have written.
I had some ‘nice’ feedback on my ms but, ultimately, it was felt to be too quiet. Which, I guess, is another word for sweet.
Goodluck! I hope you will find the perfect agent and publisher for your sweet historical fiction! 🙂 I haven’t read much sweet stories. Almost all are dark. So this will be a change!
Elaine AM Smith says
That is sad. Not enough internal or external conflict? There has to be agents who could place something different – less angsty. It obviously has an important place in your heart – so keep faith with it.
Have you thought about turning it into a script?