By Georgeanne Irvine
Rejection letters are a regular part of most writers’ worlds. Although I’ve been fortunate to have many manuscripts published over the years, I have also received my fair share of those disheartening notes that can ruin even the best of days. Ironically, most of the rejections have been for the book I think is my most creative and clever: Critter Crap from A to Z.
In my January blog, I mentioned that I’m ready to give my precious animal poop book another go, so I dug out the files containing my Critter Crap query letters as well as the dozens of rejections. The earliest query I could find was from 1984, before computers, before the World Wide Web as we know it today, before my office even had a FAX machine. My letters to the various publishers were better than I remembered and actually quite entertaining. Most of the letters closed with a “sincerely,” but two in particular were obviously sent to editors with whom I must have felt a special connection. Who in the world would EVER close a letter with “Yours poopily”? Really! Or, sign one “George the Zoo Doo Lady aka Shite Kween.”
What really made my journey into the R-Files worthwhile, though, were the rejection letters. I received form letters with the title of my book handwritten at the top of the page; my original cover letter with a big, red “NO” on it; and returned manuscripts without accompanying correspondence, which I assumed meant “No.” I was surprised to find that many of the rejections were personal notes from editors. Some notes were genuinely funny, and one in particular was so rude that it was funny. Below, I’d like to share some of those letters that helped getting a rejection hurt a bit less.
From the president of Ivory Tower Publishing in Watertown, Massachusetts:
Thank you for sending us your “Critter Crap” book. It is a delight and you write so well that I hate to turn your book down. I’m afraid, however, that the little gift stores who make up our customer base would be cool to the subject. We already have a “Shit List” and “Fart Book” and from a marketing viewpoint, we should stop right there.
From Fireside Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, which eventually became the publisher of my Zoo World children’s book series:
Your "Critter Crap" proposal is one of the more unusual book ideas to pass my way in quite some time. It provoked the full range of reactions as it made the editorial rounds. At this time, Fireside is not having a great deal of success in marketing humor titles, and we are therefore not soliciting proposals. Although your idea is special, I am returning your proposal herewith.
Personal letter to my then-agent from Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, California:
Thank you for sending along Georgeanne Irvine’s "Critter Crap from A to Z." Unfortunately, although Ten Speed Press has a history of publishing irreverent looks at bodily functions, it does not seem that this project is right for us. Thank you for always keeping us in mind, and best of luck placing Ms. Irvine’s work with the right publisher.
A rejection note from a literary agent in New York:
Thanks so much for letting us take a look at "Critter Crap." It is indeed weird, gross and funny. Unfortunately, as we discovered the hard way this past fall, those three ingredients do not necessarily spell success. Our book was titled “The Bean Report” and it is the definitive work on farts and farting. Although our editor felt we did a bang-up job, we ran into all kinds of resistance along the way and the book did not do well at all. Having learned our lesson with “The Bean Report,” I’m afraid we can’t, in all good conscience, encourage you in your efforts to get "Critter Crap" published.
From Barricade Books in New York:
Your material was passed along to me, which I read with amusement. Unfortunately, I’m returning it to you without an offer.
This last year, we published a small book title, “How the Animals Do It,” which we also thought was quite amusing. It is illustrated with charming cartoons showing how animals have sex. It turns out we were the only one who thought it was amusing and we’ve had a very difficult time even getting it into the bookshops.
I don’t want you to have the same experience as we did, so I’m returning this to you and wish you the best of luck with it elsewhere.
And finally, my personal favorite—a handwritten note from the president of Mustang Publishing in New Haven, Connecticut:
Ms. Irvine –
Of the few thousand proposals this company has received, yours is, without a doubt, the most awful.
Sorry to be so blunt, but this is just a gross, horrible idea.
Stick with the children’s books.
In spite of all the rejections, I’m still determined to keep trying. I am holding out hope that somehow, somewhere, my quirky Critter Crap from A to Z manuscript will find a publishing home. But, if that doesn’t pan out, I think I’ll write a book about rejection letters I have known.
San Diego native Georgeanne Irvine has devoted more than three decades of her career to raising awareness about animals and wildlife conservation. By day, she is associate director of development communications for the San Diego Zoo, where she has worked for 33 years. George is also the author of more than 20 children’s books plus numerous magazine, newspaper, and Web articles. George’s most recent work is the coffee table book, The Katrina Dolphins: One-Way Ticket to Paradise, which is a true story about 8 dolphins from an oceanarium who were washed out to sea during Hurricane Katrina and dramatically rescued.