Guest post: Rejections Slips and other Ciphers by Melodie Campbell

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of rejections, is brought to you by short story, humour author and novelist and interviewee Melodie Campbell.

“Much as I love history sex and violence…” Rejection Slips and other Ciphers

All writers share one experience in common:  Rejection.  Yes, that single three-syllable word can pack more punch than a swat team of grammarians in a first year college class.  I’ve known grown novelists crushed by the impact of a lone one-page letter in a returned SASE.  (You can tell by the thickness of the envelope that it ain’t holdin’ no contract.)  In New York, it is rumored that spurned essayists have been seen to (gasp) forgo imported and guzzle down domestic in their haste to heal the pain.

Rejection is the hurtin’, cheatin’ country song of the writer’s world.

We all know that tune.   Usually sung off-key, by editors who can’t do what we authors do, but have the power to keep us out of print.

Rejection slips serve only one useful purpose as far as I can tell: they prove to Revenue Canada and the IRA that we are indeed working writers and deserve all those measly tax deductions.

But wait – is there more?

In case you missed it, there is a hierarchy of rejection slips!  If you write for a living, or merely for the loving, you will undoubtedly have a collection that cries out for classification.

Keep them. Treasure them.  Devote a drawer to them.  (Better still, a steamer trunk.)  Make your own list of rejection translations and get to know the lingo.

Here’s my list, to get you started:

  1. “…unfortunately, it does not meet our requirements at this time.” This means No.  Allow yourself ten minutes to rant, and then try another market.
  2. “…does not meet our current needs, but we would welcome seeing more of your work.” Hey – you’ve reached them!  Maybe they can’t use this piece, but they like your style.  Send more.  Persist.  Be relentless.  That’s how I first got into Star Magazine.  I wore them down.
  3. “….if you would consider revising, I would happily have another read of it.” Go, go, go!  Whenever an editor gives direct encouragement, run with it.  Act immediately.  Revise and re-mail.  Invite her to dinner.  Walk his dog.  Do what you have to.  But don’t lose his interest.

I cherish personal replies from editors, not only for the time they take to write, but also for the hidden messages within.  Some are priceless.  Here are a few gems from my personal file (er…trunk):

“…not for us, but I think the ‘Idler’ uses satire.” That’s right, pass it off to the competition and hope it sinks ‘em.  The ultimate publisher power play.

“…we found your novel an interesting and compelling work, however…” Shucks.  I should have known they don’t publish ‘interesting and compelling’ works.

And my own personal favorite: “…much as I like history, sex and violence…” Well, gee, that’s interesting.  But exactly how does this relate to my returned manuscript? By the way, what are you doing Saturday night?

That was great, thank you, Melodie!

Melodie Campbell has over 200 publications, 6 awards, and was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards.

She is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.

Library Journal says this about Melodie`s third novel, The Goddaughter (Orca Books)

“Campbell`s crime caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans.  Wacky family connections and snappy dialogue make it impossible not to laugh.”

I then invited Melodie to provide an excerpt from The Goddaughter: We got through the border with no problem at all.  Of course, it’s much easier getting through borders without a semi-frozen dead body pretending to be asleep in the back seat.

You can buy The Goddaughter: and

And A Purse to Die For: and

Follow Melodie’s comic blog at and visit her website


If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with fantasy novelist Ginny Atkinson – the five hundred and sixty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

24 thoughts on “Guest post: Rejections Slips and other Ciphers by Melodie Campbell

  1. Alison Bruce says:

    My most pathetic rejection was when I was 21. My novella was rejected by 3 magazines. (No one told me that magazines don’t generally accept novella’s from unpublished authors.) I gave up trying to get published for I won’t tell you how many decades. It took almost fifteen years of professional freelance writing and editing, editing other peoples work as a micro-publisher and an order from my terminally ill sister to try the waters again.

    I figure, if I had been a bit more thick skinned back then, I’d be rich and famous now. 🙂


    • Melodie Campbell says:

      Alison, this mirrors my famous (infamous) HBO story. In 1993, when I was writing comedy, I was offered a spot writing pilots for HBO. I turned them down (who had ever heard of HBO?) This goes on record as the stupidest decision ever made by a person not legally inane.


      • Alison Bruce says:

        I am not that Alison Bruce. We both write mysteries (and are both freelance writers as well). We both have two kids (girl and a boy in that order). and we both live near Cambridge. In my case, Cambridge Ontario.

        Which reminds me of one of my funnier rejections. I sent a query to the other Alison Bruce’s agent. Shortly after, someone mentioned that they saw me on the agent’s list of clients. I wondered why I hadn’t been contacted and discovered there was another Alison Bruce mystery author out there. The agent didn’t want a second.


      • morgenbailey says:

        Why did I think it was you? I know there are two of you (I’ve interviewed you both) and clearly something about this told me it was you not the UK one. I’ve just read the inscription, which mentions her husband’s name (which I know), so if I’d read that first… doh. Need an early night, clearly. 🙂


  2. John Brantingham says:

    I’ve had a ton of rejections, but my favorite letter was “I acknowledge the talent in this story, but your words, Sir, belong in the gutter.”

    My fault completely. I should have researched my market before sending something that might offend.


  3. Marja McGraw says:

    Melodie, You just crack me up. No wonder I enjoy your writing so much. One of my favorites was when someone said the book was too long at 400 pages. Uh, the book was barely over 200 pages, but oh well… Maybe it felt like 400 to the reader.


  4. sirsteve says:

    I don’t have a funny line for a rejection, but i once sent an email query to a publisher at 9:45 pm. Not 30 minutes later, I get a rejection. 30 minutes! First I was wondering what the publisher was doing at the office so late. then I wondered about the phrase ‘we seriously consider each submission’. Really? How serious could you be in 30 minutes?

    The other funny bit was i received two rejections almost a year after I sent them, including the second one that arrived after the book was already published by someone else!


  5. Jane Risdon says:

    I laughed so much, thanks for this Melodie. It reminded me of all the reasons Record Labels used to give when ‘passing’ on an artist. They amused and amazed me as they would get the artist do do this or that to make their work more acceptable for their company requirements, ‘because they loved them and just needed this or that tweaked,’ and then when the poor kids had messed so much with their image, music and whole reason for playing, they’d become strangers to themselves, the President of A&R (artist and repertoire) would turn round and say something like ‘we have to pass this time as it is not quite what we are looking for. Your original demo got us interested but now….well, let’s see how you develop – go and get fifty million fans and sell loads of music and when you are famous and making money we can come in and ‘help’ you’ – or similar rubbish. Needless to say if I was involved I would never change an artist just to please a load of would be musicians and songwriters, who ran labels because they had failed their own careers! Same thing really…same reasons and same excuses. Write what you want to write not what someone dictates you should write just to get them to contract you…today there is no need. Thanks ladies, wonderful post Melodie and as usual, you are a star Morgen.


      • Jane Risdon says:

        It really is and that is why I get it all. Even down to marketing and building a fan base, keeping a fan base and all the aggro you get when finding an artist, guiding and moulding them and – well, everything really. spent my life in Music and every time someone tells me something about publishing I totally get it. Glad you found it of use. Do let me know how you get on. Thanks for replying. x


  6. morgenbailey says:

    How wonderful. Just been out with my two lodgers at the pub (I know! I went out to something not writing-related!… although there was a pub quiz on with a crime round and we did pretty well :)) and came home to all these lovely comments. Thank you so much, everyone. It’s made my evening. Off to bed now. Up in 7 hours to take lodger no.1 to work…


  7. morgenbailey says:

    My rejections (28 in total, I’m rubbish at sending things out) aren’t particularly memorable other than one magazine suggesting I read their guidelines when my letter started ‘As per your guidelines’ and another saying ‘Have you ever read our magazine’ (yes).


  8. JoAnn Ross says:

    Funny lines, not from rejections, but notes in the margins of copyedits. “I can’t find the Silicon Valley on any atlas.” And “This is not how time travel works.”

    As for rejections, I once received a rejection from the Las Vegas, New Mexico Optic, in a town that had a population of around 13,000. The editor said she couldn’t imagine every publishing anything I’d ever write. Which was a bit crushing. Still, a few months later I was writing every week for Arizona’s largest daily paper, then went on to publish somewhere around a hundred novels for most of the major publishers. Before selling my first novel, I had twelve rejections on nine completed books in one year. Then I sold three books — to HQ and Penguin NAL/Signet between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve of that same year. Lesson: Never give up. 🙂


    • Melodie Campbell says:

      Wonderful comments, JoAnn, thank you! I love the Silicon Valley one (was this person living in this world??) and the time travel: Well, editor-darlin’, if you do know how time travel works, can you please let us paranormal and sci-fi authors know? We might be able to make a few bucks…

      You have a stellar publishing history, and one that I am going to point to in my Crafting a Novel class.


  9. John M. Daniel says:

    My favorite rejection came from the National Endowment for the Arts. It turned down an application for a grant–but it was meant for another writer whose name was also John Daniel. I laughed until I received the correct rejection, this time meant for me.


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