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(Originally written for Creative Pinellas, as a Professional Artist Grantee!)

Fear of rejection? Become a writer! Nothing will cure you faster.

First, you get rejected from agents. Signed with an agent? Congrats! Now you get rejected from publishing houses. Landed with an editor? Sweet. Now you’ll be passed over when seeking out trade reviews and publicity. Book finally released? Now you get to deal with the rejection of public opinion.

I thought I’d take a minute to share with you some rejections of my own. It’s all part of the process. And if you take the stance of: the universe has X amount of rejections in store for me before I hear YES, then each and every one will be thoroughly embraced.

So let’s all point and laugh at my REJECTION COLLECTION!

I’ll start with the first rejection I ever received, for the first novel I ever wrote, “Soliloquies”. It was, sadly, never signed, and I had to go back to the blank drawing board. Maybe one day I’ll take another crack at it.


“Thank you so much for your patience while I read and considered SOLILOQUIES. It is clear that you are a talented writer, and the stakes of this novel were very clear from the onset, creating opportunities for balance of both external and internal conflict for the characters. Unfortunately, despite my initial enthusiasm, I am going to be stepping aside on the opportunity to represent the work.

Because we enter the plot once the catalyst has already occurred, we never get a chance to see who these folks were BEFORE that moment. The are already in their tailspin and therefore not as accessible in their journey. The stakes were of course very high, but there wasn’t any juxtaposition to see how far they had really devolved- and in the end, when Temple emerges, we aren’t left with a true understanding of the arc of her character and therefore of a sense of either justice or outrage that she has survived. Of course, this is clearly my subjective opinion and someone may certainly feel differently. I wish you all the best with this and all of your writing.”


As far as the things go, this is considered an AMAZING rejection letter, because she took the time to tell me what was wrong w the novel, which is rare. This is also the only rejection letter from an agent I’ve received. But don’t go congratulating me just yet. That’s because this particular agent was the ONLY one who was interested in reading Soliloquies. There were approximately 9,135,345 non-responses, which is even worse.

When I sent out Thieves, I received the same amount of non-response rejections, give or take a few. And just like the first time, only one agent wanted to read this one, but it seems I had finally earned my YES. It’s important to remember that every success is only the visible part of a larger iceberg of rejection that no one else ever sees.

Below are a few choice rejections that my literary agent received for Thieves, Beasts & Men on my behalf when shopping it around to publishing houses.


“Thank you so much for thinking of me for THIEVES, BEASTS & MEN by Shan Leah. It’s easy to see why you’re so excited about this project and why there’s been such a great responses: It’s a beautiful, emotionally powerful story about a kind of surrogate motherhood with a tragic ending. Shan’s prose is mystifying—this reads with the simplicity and beauty of a kind of fable or fairy tale. However, despite Shan’s obvious prowess as a writer, I’m afraid that I didn’t quite connect with this novel in a way that I had hoped and struggled with the question of how to really break it out for a big commercial debut. While I’m so sorry to disappoint, I wish you all the best finding the perfect home for THIEVES, BEASTS & MEN and congratulations on the reactions you’ve been getting so far, which are so deserved. Thanks again for the chance to consider and all my best.”

“Thanks again for sending THIEVES, BEASTS & MEN my way. I took a look over the weekend, and I’m sorry to say it’s not the right fit for me. Shan’s a terrific storyteller – I found particular sections very evocative and rich with sensory detail. That said, the subject matter is a bit too dark for my list and I think might attract a limited readership.”

“Thank you so much for thinking of me for this one, and for following up. It’s clear to me that Shan is a very talented writer, and I loved the strong sense of place and the haunting suspenseful aspects of this novel. At the same time, there were elements of the voice that felt a little precious and over-careful to me, and overall I just didn’t quite fall in love. Since you have other interest already, I’m going to step aside – please know that I wish you and Shan the best of luck, and I have no doubt this novel will land in wonderful hands. Thank you again for thinking of me!”

“I hope you had a lovely weekend and thanks for your patience on this! I’ve now had a chance to read THIEVES, BEASTS & MEN and had a few others here look too. Her writing is really lovely, but unfortunately the pacing and plot aren’t quite commercial enough for our list. I’m glad to hear you have an offer, though, and thank you for the look!”

“Thank you for sending me THIEVES BEASTS AND MEN by Shan Leah. I found Shan Leah’s writing to be gorgeous, and the idea to be so intriguing. Ultimately, though, I’m sorry to say that I just don’t have the vision for this project. I’m afraid I have to pass at this time.”

“Thanks again for thinking of me for THIEVES, BEASTS & MEN – I’ve finished up my read and I’ll ultimately be hanging back on this one. I loved the premise and this unique look at motherhood she takes through Adelaide’s relationship with the children. Leah’s prose is beautiful – there’s a primal, deeply atmospheric quality to the book that reminded me of the whimsical approach of Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances, a recent favorite of mine. (And of course, as an NC transplant, the Blue Ridge Mountains always hold a special place in my heart!) As intrigued as I was by the wild children, I struggled more to connect with Adelaide’s voice – perhaps as a function of her more insular life in the woods, I felt a few steps removed from the narration at times while reading. I don’t think I’m the best editor for it, but I’m thrilled to hear about the swift interest, and I hope it’s a big success for you both! I’m also very grateful for the chance to consider – this is exactly the kind of lyrical, unconventional fiction I’m drawn to, and I do hope you’ll think of me for more projects like it in the future.”


And as I mentioned, the judgements keep comin’, even after you’ve already succeeded! Here are some less than favorable reader “rejections”:


“I loved big chunks of this book, but there were a few things that just didn’t work for me, unfortunately. I’m sure it’s hard to write from the POV of a character who doesn’t have language, but the made-up language (the “wild” language) felt like a cop-out, instead of really exploring what it would mean to not be able to put thoughts into words. I’m also pretty ambivalent about the ending. But it’s definitely a strong story, and not every book has to be perfect to be worthwhile.”

“I picked up this book on a whim at Barnes and Noble, and it was honestly pretty meh. With the setting, Adelaide’s way of life, and the mother and children, I felt like this was a story that was supposed to take place in a post-apocalyptic world, but it didn’t. We didn’t learn why Adelaide decided to live the way she did. I was very confused with all of the interactions with the neighbors, and it was just hard for me to focus on the story. I think I’ll forget about this one pretty quickly.”


And my personal favorite, simply:



* * *

Dealing with all the rejection at the onset of my career, while still struggling to find an agent and a path to success, has made me immune. Which is why I don’t mind sharing this with you today! Whenever a negative reader review pops up, the people in my life instantly go into “fix it” mode, telling me that the reader doesn’t know what they’re talking about, they aren’t on my level, etc. The thing is…it doesn’t bother me one bit! At the end of the day, I wrote a book! Fuck ‘em if they don’t get it!

My advice? Collect as many rejections as you can, because it mean you’re DOING something! I’d choose to be a Doer over a Watcher any day of the week.

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