The Secret Language of Rejection


We had an amazing thread going in the Duck Pond, last week. We were talking about ‘quiet’ books.

You know the type. Gentle, nuanced, often deep. The kind of books that leave a mark, make you think. Perhaps even make you clever…

Manuscripts (whether adult fiction or kidlit) often get rejected on the grounds that they are too quiet.

Our Facebook discussion around this topic led me to writing this blog post.


But today, I want to go deeper.

Brene Brown made me do it…

Here’s what she says in her book Daring Greatly:

The problem is straight forward. Without feedback there can be no transformative change. When we don’t talk to the people we’re leading about their strengths and their opportunities for growth, they begin to question their contributions and our commitment. Disengagement follows.


Holy shit!

Forget leaders.

That’s exactly what happens to writers (and illustrators) when their work gets rejected WITHOUT FEEDBACK.





Pencils snapped. Chairs kicked. Manuscripts tossed in the fire.

Creatives want and NEED feedback because without it there can be no ‘transformative change’. Without it we’re floundering. And if we flounder for too long, we give up.

Now, I can’t give you every single reason why your work might have been rejected but I can sure as hell talk to the ‘too quiet’ rubber stamp.

You see, in my experience, ‘too quiet’ sits nicely on a spectrum.

What I’m going to say next might be hard to hear, but trust me, it will help you look at your work more objectively. It will help you get some clarity and it will help you do better next time (if that’s what is needed).

Also, I’ve had this happen to me. I’ve had manuscripts (picture books in particular) rejected because they’ve been deemed too quiet.

I bear the quiet scars, my love.

And I’ve had to toughen up. Get real. Learn more. Figure out how to ‘fix’ my own work.


Back to the spectrum.

Let’s start at the arse end of the spectrum.

There are times when a publisher uses the term ‘too quiet’ because they’re being polite.

The hard and brutal truth can be that the work is just too bloody boring.


I said it.

Fuck, that hurt.

But it’s true. In publisher parlance, too quiet often equals boring. What they’re saying is, nothing happens in this story and I nodded off while reading it.

I once wrote a story about a kid who went shopping with her mother and was bored stiff and wistful.

That story came back to me clearly stamped too quiet.

It could have been such a pretty Picture Book. Oh yes, I could see the delicious retro illustrations all laid out before me. I was favouring a 1950s vibe with mothers in white gloves, stylish hats and kitten heels…

But it still would have been bloody boring because nothing happened.

A boring book about being bored.

What was I thinking?

Not much, obviously.

I didn’t take the time to make something happen— something significant, interesting, out-of-the-box or otherwise engaging.

I didn’t take the time to craft a sturdy narrative arc.

I didn’t try hard enough.

And that put me on the arse end of the too quiet spectrum.

This is a story coat hanger
Discussing narrative arcs inside the Scribbles Academy.

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The other end of the too quiet spectrum is the literary end.

Sometimes a manuscript is utterly beautiful. Without any artifice whatsoever it takes your breath away. Without employing any of the usual devices and narrative high jinx, it forces you to think deeply; it leaves a profound mark on your heart and your psyche. You finish reading and emerge thinking, what just happened? Where have I been?

Trouble is it’s too clever.

Too literary.

Too high falutin.

Moreover, and more importantly from a publisher’s perspective, it’s too risky.

Literary fiction is a hard sell.

A very hard sell.

It almost makes me wail to say that out loud but it’s true.

So, it could be that your work got rejected because it’s too quiet IN A GOOD WAY.

If you think that’s the case, if you really believe it, then don’t give up. Keep circulating your quiet story.

But start a new project, as well.

Don’t put all your eggs in one erudite basket. Sometimes a literary story can make a good second book. Start more commercial, establish a little audience, then hit ‘em with something more challenging later on. #careeradvice101

Now, between the arse end and the literary end of the TQS (you like that?) we find the ‘just needs a few tweaks’ point on the spectrum.

This is the point that gets glossed over, forgotten or quashed by that ugly, pragmatic too quiet rubber stamp.

But it’s the point on the spectrum that I, as a teacher of creative writing, am most interested it.

Teachin’ not preachin’ inside the Scribbles Academy

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You see, if you suspect your story falls on that point of the spectrum, you’re in luck.

You know why?

Because it can be fixed!


If all your story only needs a few tweaks— the tightening of some narrative threads, an upgrading of the protagonist, a few intriguing story-questions, a richer subplot, then you, as an enthusiastic, dedicated writer can learn to do that!

With experience and education, you can take that story back and you can whip it into shape!

You know what else?

A lot of this learning, this deep education, comes about subconsciously or unwittingly.

It comes about as you write, write, write.

It comes about as you immerse yourself in the craft for the sheer thrill of it; not to ‘fix’ yourself or upgrade your talent but because you are spellbound by the entire process of creative writing.

Every word you write takes you closer to the writer you want to be. I will never stop saying that!

Later this month when the Scribbles Academy opens, I’m going to talk more about this stuff. I’ve marked ‘rejection’ as one of the topics for our first live call.

Rejection needs to be spoken about. Our experience of it should be shared.

Rejection needs to be teased out, raked over and pondered from all angles.

Above all, rejection needs to be unmasked and normalised.

The last thing I want is for you to disengage!

Your creativity and your creative dreams are incredibly precious. They must always be nurtured and respected. They’re what make your life sacred—and that’s why I LOVE helping you embrace them!

Jen xo

Don’t miss out! Discover the joys of the Scribbles Academy! Jump on my mailing list and I’ll keep you updated. (We open for our ONLY 2020 intake on Friday July 17, so you’ll hear from me again REAL SOON!)

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