Writing rejection letters is an art form most writers know about from the receiving end, while trying to get a book published. I have received quite a few of those in my quest to find a home for my first collection of short stories, ON THIN ICE.

Some of those letters really seem to be aiming at maintaining a positive atmosphere and were without a doubt written with the intent to keep the door open for future queries from the author. I would like to name those publishing houses, as beacons of hope for doubtful authors, acknowledging their editing departments’ great consideration. These publishing houses encouraged me to keep on trying, even in a rejection letter. It can’t be an easy task for an editor to read hundreds of proposals or samples a day and to have to reject most and still be positive. It might just spoil their love of reading, one might fear.

When I had a twenty second chat about finding a publisher or an agent with the judge of last year’s Okanagan UBC.OUC/CBC short story contest, Annabel Lyon, she recommended approaching the small publishing houses, as I am a new, unagented author. These houses might be willing to go out on a limb for an author they believe in. I have followed her advice.

Goose Lane Editions of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada is high on my list of favourites. The editor’s artful letter of rejection sounded like I almost made it onto their list. She started her letter off with her assessment that my collection had a compelling premise, with inherent appeal (so I’m thinking she must have read my query letter, the outline and a sample of my book). The letter then went on with a reasonable explanation why it’s not possible at this time to take it on, with even sort of an apology that they are just a small publishing house with a small fiction stable and that “it” (my horse) would not be a good fit. She apologized and wished me the best with finding a publisher for my work. I liked her and I am compelled to try this publisher again some time in the future.

New Star Books of Vancouver, B.C., Canada is another publisher that made an effort to shelter my ego from the pain of rejection. The publisher wrote that he had a look at my book proposal (so that is good. It did not end up unread in the scrap pile.) The publisher gave me a variety of reasons why book proposals generally are not accepted, such as: it’s not the kind of thing they publish; or it’s not entirely successful although it would fit; and sometimes they pass it up as it doesn’t compel them and it would be possibly suitable for another publisher; and sometimes they are intrigued, but they can’t publish everything they like. He apologized for sending a form letter needed to respond in a reasonable time. This letter leaves me puzzling which of the indicated causes might have affected my proposal for a short story collection, possibly all of the above. Who knows?

I read quite often on their websites that publishers expect an author to know their stable in detail and what kind of work they publish. Who can read that many books, especially if you have a family or a full time job? Anyway, I have started mentioning similarities of my work in some form with the books from their stable in my later queries.

Random House

Although this large publishing house does not accept any unsolicited manuscripts or queries, I wrote them anyway, not expecting a response. I referred in my query letter to one of their books (Olive Ketteridge by Elizabeth Strout) that I think is closely related to my short story collection ON THIN ICE: its structure, a similar scope and subject material and that not all stories are about the main character, although they are interrelated.

To my surprise, they sent me a decent rejection letter. The editor even referred to the main protagonist of my book by name, and commented that Adrienne has the potential to be an interesting character with a fresh voice. Unfortunately, the house was not sufficiently enthusiastic about my proposal to put it on their list. I felt encouraged by that letter, even delighted that the editor went through the trouble of mentioning the name Adrienne.

Then there was McClelland & Stewart, a large publishing house. As their website indicated, they require a query by email first and they will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. In response to my email within 2 months, the editorial department requested three stories/chapters of my book, which I sent right away as requested. I am waiting with baited breath since October 2011 for their response. They did apologize in advance for the long wait time, as they are backlogged with submissions. I felt quite hopeful that such a large publishing house did not throw my initial query on the scrap heap. Nevertheless, I now think that I have to face the fact, that if they really liked it, I would have heard from them by now. Or, would no news mean good news?

Anansi Press
A small publishing house (5 books per year), returned my query the quickest of all, within 5 weeks, and the editors requested a sample of my work of up to 25 pages by snail mail, which I sent in September 2011. I am still waiting for their reply. They thanked me for an opportunity to review my novel and left me hopeful for a positive result. We have a saying in the Netherlands: small but exquisite (klein maar fijn). I hope that Anansi Press will prove to be fine for me. This house published the recent award winner The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt.

Those are my favourites. I have submitted queries and/or samples to 26 publishing houses and 3 agents since Dec 2010, and am still waiting for a response from 16 editors/publishers.
I have to admit that I did submit to publishers that demanded no simultaneous submissions, with the rationale that I just don’t have enough years in my life left to wait for more than half a year for one response before I submit to others.
Although the market has changed rapidly in the last two years, with many authors self-publishing/e-publishing their works now, the bulk of the authors are still approaching agents to represent them or the traditional publishing houses unagented, as reported by Joel Friedlander from his observations at the San Francisco writers conference 2012 on his blog In spite of the slow response from many authors, publishers are catching on and are looking at the success rates of e-books; they started approaching those authors  for a lucrative deal when they are successful on the e-book sites.

That’s why I still have submitted to traditional publishers, but I am running out of patience. If a Canadian publisher does not pick me up soon, I will just go with ebook publishing. I have run out of Canadian publishers and have started sending queries to American publishers.
After having read Joel Friedlander, Bob Mayer, and other blogs on publishing, and read up on the stats, etc. I have come to a decision. As soon as my manuscript returns for the last edit from my privately hired editor, I will proceed with an ebook. My favourite at the moment is In the meantime, my second novel is almost finished as a first draft. To be continued…

This blog post was written for those who have a finished product in their desk drawer or/and want to know how a first time writer has been faring in this world of confusion that is the publishing gig.

About BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten

My name is Johanna van Zanten. I am a baby boomer, interested in writing and connecting with other writers and readers to engage in discussions and information sharing, to share a point of view about current global issues, writing, and publishing, diversity, immigration, travel, music, life, specific baby boomer issues, and dating/relationship issues. I have written a novella, ON THIN ICE about baby-boomer Adrienne and will link this blog with the information website for this novella. Right now, I am trying out the blog.
This entry was posted in Agents, Author circles, Canadian publishers, Creative fiction, memoir writing, Publishing, Short story, the Netherlands, Uncategorized, Writing life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Lisa says:

    Johanna I have seen this seed blossom into a book and am excited to read about your journey , and process in getting your book out there. I’ll be proud to have a signed copy. Thanks for this blog as I will keep your information for guidance if I should ever write . Maybe now with a broken leg I have time as you mentioned! Keep up the great work. Your ideas for your blogs are always interesting and you have such a brilliant way with words. I still hear your accent when I read! 🙂 cheers!

  2. Thanks so much my good friend for your continuing encouragement.
    I hope that having a broken leg will lead to something really exciting for you to discover, while you are chair and house bound for a good part of the time and your leg is healing.

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