No, thank you

I got my first literary rejection in June 2005 at a table for two. This was no anonymous letter, either. I was seated on a white folding chair, poorly balanced on a grassy hillside of our writer’s retreat, wearing scratchy slacks and stiff sandals bought for the occasion. The tanned lady flipped through my first five pages with the casualness of a seasoned Los Angeles literary agent, which she was. “I won’t drag this out,” I remember her saying. “It’s not ready. I’m the wrong agent for this.”

Was there a right agent for a work that was not ready?

I din’t know, but I was willing to find out.

Over the next 8 years, I sent copies of my manuscripts to 72 agents, editors, and publishers. Each one, in their own special way, said “Thank you, but no.” Here are some of the most memorable rejections:

  • “We do not feel strongly enough about your project to pursue it further.”
  • “I honestly don’t feel that I could represent your work with the requisite enthusiasm.”
  • “You have a good idea, but I am not the right agent for this.”
  • “Although you propose an interesting book idea, I did not feel I would be the best agent to represent you at this time.”
  • “After considering your material, we have decided your project is not something we feel we can successfully represent at this time.”
  • “That you for letting us review CONTROL GROUP, which we read with great interest. Unfortunately, we have determined that we are not the appropriate agent.”
  • “I’m sorry to say it’s not right for me.”
  • “I’m afraid I must pass.”
  • “While the idea was interesting and thought provoking, the thriller just did not grab our attention.”
  • “I’ve had a good first reading of CONTROL GROUP, so I’ll be reading the novel myself in the next few weeks” [November 2005]
  • “I’ve finally had a chance to read CONTROL GROUP. The premise is good and the background material is solid. In the end, the tone is too Cincinnati—medical thrillers have to be so slick, even if the reality is not.” [December 2005]
  • and finally…
  • “In my view, I don’t think I—or any agent—will succeed in New York with CONTROL GROUP. It does have a surface readability and some tension, too, but I just didn’t get involved with the characters.” [December 2008]


What a long list of literary shortcomings.

And what great feedback!

Had that November 2005 “almost yes” from a major publishing house not been turned off by a tone that was “too Cincinnati”, I would have still been left with a story that was not slick enough, and three years later, still may not have cracked the code of how to get the reader more involved with the character.

No one wants to be repeatedly rejected. No one wants to hear directly to your face: “your writing stinks”. But for my development as a writer, I needed that. I needed to know that I had enough talent to continue writing. I also needed to hear that in those early drafts, my writing wasn’t ready to publish. I needed to learn the writer’s craft first. Those 72 rejections helped me to see that. Not at the time, of course. It took me years to understand what “medical thrillers…[being] so slick” looked like, but by the time my editor in 2015 gave me examples, I was ready to learn the lesson.

I never received the 73rd rejection.

I got my first literary acceptance in April 2012 at the Federal Courthouse. This was no ordinary crime, either. I was seated in a cushioned chair, foreman of the jury, wearing faded khaki’s and soft leather shoes I used at the hospital. The plaintiff was dead, but his estate claimed his civil rights had been violated by the business end of a Taser. While checking my email on break, I read the following message: “We love what you’ve written in the first two manuscripts. With a little work, we think we can make a three-book deal, including Control Group.”