Sunday, September 8, 2013

The rejection letter that changed everything

By Karen Harrington

A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success. - Bo Bennett

Years ago when my children  were ages one and two, I received a life changing phone call. I was mopping the floor at the time and Sesame Street played on the TV. “We’d like to publish your novel!” said the voice on the phone. Those are the words every aspiring writer longs to hear. I’d been waiting to hear them all my life.

I dropped my mop.

One year later, I was ecstatic at the release of my first adult novel, Janeology, published by Kunati Books. And one year after that, Kunati Books closed. My novel went out of print almost as fast as it came out.

I got busy writing a new novel. Around the time I finished the new work, I got a nice letter from a reader of Janeology. “After the mother is sent to a mental institution, what happened to the little girl?” the letter asked.

Interesting question, I thought, and then pushed the idea aside. After all, I still had to polish my other novel. And get an agent. Who had time for interesting questions?

After sending out scores of queries and collecting scores of rejections, I got what I now refer to as My Favorite Rejection. The agent loved the writing, but said, “I don’t know who would buy this.” It was that agonizing rite of passage every writer I know has crossed. It happens when an agent says “this is close, but not quite there.” And then she added a sentence to her rejection that made it unforgettable: “The solution for you is easy. Just write another novel.”


I said a lot of mean things to my computer screen.

This happened close to November, which is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’d participated in this month-long challenge before and decided to write that “easy” novel and get the agent’s voice out of my head. I cast about for an idea and decided that, like the reader who emailed me months back, I, too, was curious about what happened to the little girl in Janeology.

Fueled by a fair amount of indignance and a lot of caffeine, I wrote about a spunky, word-loving, twelve-year-old girl finding hope and courage despite living in the dark shadows of an infamous, mentally ill mother.

That novel turned into what is now SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, which was released last month by Little, Brown Books. Many writers cite the one story that is their “heart” book. SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY is my heart book. 

Of course, now I have a different perspective about that agent and her irritating rejection. Her advice turned out to be one of the great gifts of my life. Ultimately, she gave me confidence by suggesting I should keep writing and not give up. I think that anytime someone offers that gift to a writer, she should take it and run!

Now, because I owe a lot to writer friends who’ve supported and inspired me (including the writers here at The Lucky 13's) I share my rejection anecdote in the spirit of encouragement. Just in case you are thinking of giving up, don’t.

Don’t give up until you’ve found the right story. DO NOT GIVE UP. You might be at the point where the advice “just write another novel” is frustratingly necessary. You might be on the verge of writing your heart book.

So if you're at an impasse in your writing career right now, just write another novel, okay? (Feel free to shout at the computer screen now. It helps. Then get to work.) 

Also, consider participating in this year's National Novel Writing Month Challenge. Take a look at this long list of published authors who have also participate in NaNoWriMo.


Visit Karen Harrington at  Check out her book on Indiebound,  Amazon, or Barnes & Noble

At my first book signing for
Sure Signs of Crazy


  1. Nice post! I will think of this when I start thinking about throwing in the towel -- again. The books sounds terrific. I will definitely be checking it out.

  2. Good perspective! Glad it worked. ;)