Sting of rejection

So I had submitted a book to my publisher, and at first she liked it, but upon further reading, she rejected the story, Numbers Game, citing a lack of conflict. I was taken back, I have to say. I’ve published five e-books so far with Republica Press, and this hadn’t come up before. Perhaps I was due.

Let me say here I am not complaining about RP — they’ve been great, and helpful, and they are free to reject manuscripts.

I couldn’t help but puzzle over it, naturally. This was a story that had gotten good feedback and positive reviews on every site I’d posted it on. My editor may feel it lacks conflict, but in all the feedback I received, no one ever said so. It makes me wonder who’s right, if anyone. Like anything else, I’d imagine one person’s perceived lack of conflict (a point with which I disagree, more later) is another’s just-right-amount of conflict.

It is true that there isn’t much in the way of melodrama or histrionics in this story. No one dies, no one is kidnapped, no one is asked to replace their identical twin in the interests of national security. It’s just about two people who come together. One is a 32-year-old woman, Sara, fresh off a break up — her boyfriend cheated and then left her for a woman ten years her junior. The other is a 25-year-old hockey player, Dmitri, native to another country, who finds himself attracted to a woman he wouldn’t have expected to.

There are issues and conflicts. First, of course, is the age difference, which is more of concern to the woman. I think that’s most often the way that situation would go. However, after much thought and discussion with a good friend, she decides to take her chances. Still, she’s a grown-up — she has a job, rent to pay, responsibilities at work, things like that. The guy is a young hockey player; he makes a lot of money, is used to having much of his time be his own, and isn’t terribly experienced at relationships.

Dmitri becomes jealous of a slightly older, American teammate — youth can be insecure. Sara’s sister can’t let the age difference go; you’ll want someone closer to your age, she says, refusing to believe it can work. Sara gets furious with her sister’s objections, and herself for believing them. Sara’s in charge of a project at work that requires more and more of her time; Dmitri can’t imagine what’s that important. When she tries to balance work and her relationship, he feels she makes the wrong choice. When it comes to love, he doesn’t see the same shades of gray that she does.

To me, this is plenty of conflict, and likely closer to the types of struggles we all face in relationships. True, there are no cars careening around curves or off cliffs, no serial killers lurking around the corners, and no in-your-face screaming matches. But is that the only kind of conflict you can have in a romance? Can’t you have something more low-key, and more realistic?

Perhaps the answer is yes, you can, but don’t expect it to sell. 😉 I’m all for escapism, and enjoy stories where opposites clash and then come together, or where people look past what’s in front of them until it whacks them in the face to get their attention. Miscommunications are common in real life and books, and can often be funny, too, when you’re looking from the outside and you know it will get resolved. On the other hand, I also like a quieter story sometimes, one that’s more “real.”

I put this question (well, roughly this one) to a forum thread, and the answers ran in favor of sending it to other publishers. Certainly there are lots of them out there, and it’s the rare author who’s picked up by the first one.  Even JK Rowling, one person said, was rejected 27 times. (Ack!) I guess later, I’ll see who else likes it, or who rejects it. But I probably still won’t know who’s right about all this.

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17 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Susan on November 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Personally I loved Numbers Game and felt there was enough conflict in the story. I hate that publishers think they know what we the readers are most interested in reading. This is evident in the books of authors that I once loved that now put out mediocre books because of the publishers. I’m talking about NY Times Bestselling authors that I know and have discussed this very subject with them at length. My advice to you would be to self publish it at B&N or other sites like Smashwords. Barbara Freethy recently self published several of her older books and is once again at the top of the NY Times Bestselling list. Her secret….she didn’t jack the prices up on the ebook versions like many of the publishers feel is so necessary. Good luck! I’m hoping to see Numbers Game published.

    Reply

  2. Posted by donalde on November 30, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    personally I think your publisher is making a huge mistake. I am sure that RP will regret their decision once it does get published. I have read the story a number of times and enjoyed it more with each reading and when I saw that you had taken it down to get it published I was looking forward to being able to buy a copy of it for my collection.

    Please publish the book through another source. and if i could suggest another one of your stories to concider having published The Cost Of Loyalty. I think that story is deserving of being concidered for publishing

    Reply

  3. oh don’t worry too much about it! 🙂 if you believe in the story, just send it to someone else…have you tried Ellora’s Cave? they are quite good 🙂
    it sounds like a beautiful story, and one that people could relate to
    xx

    Reply

  4. Posted by blue on November 30, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    imo, nobody’s right or wrong…sometimes, no matter how objective one wants to be, one cannot help personal tastes/perspectives/opinions/preconceptions get in the way.

    you’re right, the conflict in the story is low key and the market today is clamoring for in-your-face confrontations OR something that leans more towards romantic suspense..*shrugs* it’s the one trending now and i’m sure the editor is just going with what their market is asking for right now…sometimes, it’s all about timing, as you know…

    personally, i found the story quite relatable and loved reading it…so goodluck with other publishers 🙂

    Reply

  5. Posted by Lady Falcon on December 1, 2011 at 12:09 am

    It’s publishable…it has to be. Any story that has a character in it which makes me want to jump into the book or screen and b!%chslap them…well, its a well written story. Good writing is supposed to elicit an emotional response from the reader IE: makes you laugh out loud, or cry, or gets you angry, or horny :-).

    I like the “real world” conflicts in the story…making a relationship work is hard and full of conflicts from the ridiculously small to the monumental.

    Try another publisher or even better self publish. I have no advice in this area as I have never tried to publish anything. Good luck and keep trying.

    Reply

  6. Posted by CYH on December 1, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Numbers Game is a great story. But what is just as wonderful is today as an author you have choices. I agree with Lady Falcon self publish the story. Readers like me have already told it’s a wonderful story. We are your real audience not the editor. You’re such a great writer don’t second guess yourself — self publish and write more stories faster 😉 your audience is hungry for more.

    If you’re nervous about self publishing I suggest you check out Dean Wesley Smith’s blog.[www.deanwesleysmith.com] He talks a lot about the the new world of publishing.

    Good Luck!

    Reply

  7. Thanks to everyone who commented. I want to underscore that I am not criticizing RP, I’m just musing about the experience. I like the story myself, although I think almost any story can always be improved, and it’s important as a writer to be open to those ideas.

    For the moment, I’m putting this aside. With the holidays and all coming, there just isn’t time to give this the attention it needs. But after — who knows?

    Reply

  8. Don’t give up. Sometimes a simple straightforward story is the best. Stick with it.

    Reply

  9. What a surprising turn of events!

    I’ve read “Numbers Game” at least twice. You’d think that if its plot was missing conflict that I would have drifted right off the ice (can’t help myself) before even finishing it the first time.

    It’s been awhile, so I’m a little foggy on the story, but isn’t this the one where the boyfriend resents how much time the girlfriend’s job at the museum demands? Your RP editor must live a charmed life if hers doesn’t include that kind of very real, gut-wrenching conflict. It may not be the Little Match Girl, but it’s a source of anguish for those of us trying to keep all the plates of our lives spinning in the air.

    Personally, I liked it especially among your stories. I hope you can get a different publisher to pick it up.

    GimletEdge/AKA mzcue

    Reply

    • Thanks very much. NG is not done — I’m still unsure as to whether to look for another publisher, or put it up myself, but as I said, the decision will have to wait until after the holidays. But thanks, and I’m so glad to know you liked it!

      Reply

  10. I hope that you do publish it. I liked the story alot. I would buy it if it was available for purchase. It leaves me wondering if they will have a happy ending though.

    Reply

  11. Well, at the risk of spoiling, yes, they did get back together. But then, I have a feeling everyone knew that. I like my HEAs.

    Reply

  12. Love your writing Eve. My advice? What the publishers aren’t smart enough to spot, publish it yourself. As good of a writer as you are, it will sell. Still looking forward to you “Make a Wish” story being available as an e-book. If its a 99 Cent one, I will buy a number of them for gifts and to loan out. It’s one of the best short stories I ever read. All the best to you and yours in 2012

    Reply

  13. Posted by Charlene on January 3, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    Please tell where I can find Numbers Game I’ve been looking for it since I came across it and read the first chapter but it was with Anatoli I think that’s how you spell it if I’m wrong sorry but I cant seem to find the story anywhere please let me know if you took it off.

    P.S. love your stories on LIT

    Reply

    • Charlene, thanks for the kind words. Numbers Game isn’t available anywhere at the moment. I’d like that to change, just not sure how. Various writing plans have been shuffled and put on hold because life gets in the way. I’ll let you know when I things change.

      Reply

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