Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Rejection Project - Kim Williams Justesen

Kim Williams Justesen
One of my all time favorite people has one of my all time favorite rejection stories. Today I bring you, Kim Williams Justesen.


I've been writing for close to 20 years now, and I've collected a variety of rejections in that time. I've received letters that were formal and came in the mail, post cards that were more generic, but also arrived in my mail box, and then as the internet grew in convenience and popularity, I received email rejections as well. I used to save my rejections in something I called “The Gilded Box” – a cardboard box I’d covered in gold paper and stenciled the words “One Step Closer” on the top. At first it comforted me to feel like I was a real author getting real rejections, but as the box filled, it began to depress me, and eventually I threw it away.

By far, for me, the strangest rejection I ever got turned out not to be a rejection at all. But that's how it started. I had written a YA novel called The Deepest Blue. The process of finishing that novel is another story for another time (it took nearly five years), but in the spring of 2010, I began submitting it. It went first to the publisher of my middle grade novel, My Brother the Dog: Tanglewood Press in Terra Haute, Indiana, and to my editor Peggy. She held it for a few months, and on June 1 when she had finished reading it, she called me.

"Your writing is solid, and I love the story, but this is an emotional story with a male protagonist and I think the market is too tough to carry that right now."

I understood what she was saying, and I even agreed with her, but I was banking on the fact that it would take close to two years for this book to be released, and I hoped by then the market would have turned around. With that thought, I began submitting the book elsewhere. I collected about 35 rejections from agents and publishers who all said the same thing that Peggy had - the market wouldn't carry this type of story, and until the market turned around, they weren't willing to take the chance.

I shelved the book and decided I'd look at it again later. In the meantime, I finished another YA novel, A dystopic speculative project, and I began working on a horror novel that I coauthored with a former student and friend. A very turbulent and challenging year passed, and I was doubting myself as a writer, but I kept writing and soon finished revisions on the new YA. In the summer of 2011, I was ready to submit it. Naturally, I contacted Peggy first. It was July of 2011. I also began submitting to agents and other publishers, just in case. I had about 10 rejections collected and I was beginning to feel doubtful and insecure again. It was December 1 when I heard from Peggy.

"I'm sorry this has taken me so long," she said over the phone. "I have some good news and I have some bad news, and I have a question. The bad news is, I like the new story, but I think I need to pass. The dystopic novels are on the downward slope, and I think it's not a good time for that one." She paused for a moment and despite my disappointment, I hung on for what might come next. "The good news is, I'd like to rerelease My Brother the Dog with a new cover and a new title and see if we can breathe a second life into it."

Naturally I was thrilled! We had both agreed that the book didn't get a fair shot at things initially for a number of reasons, and anything she wanted to try was a great idea to me.

"Now I have a question. Where is The Deepest Blue?"

"It's on a thumb drive," I said, a little bewildered.

"No, I mean, is it at another publisher? Is it under contract somewhere?"

"It's on a thumb drive, in my office."

"Good," she said. "I want it. Don't accept any other offers until I send you a contract."

She and I talked about the changing market, that she still felt the book was a risk, but she loved the story enough to take the risk. She told me that in the last year she had received hundreds of manuscripts that were emotional stories with a male protagonist, and that each time she read one, she would find herself comparing it to The Deepest Blue, and the comparison always fell in my favor. She said the story stuck with her, and she felt it was time to bring it out.

It occurred to me that her offer to publish The Deepest Blue had come exactly 1 1/2 years after I'd received her initial rejection. I'd never heard of this happening before - though no doubt it has to have happened to someone. Anyway - I received the contract within a few weeks, and in September of 2013, the hardback copy of The Deepest Blue was released and the launch party was held at the King's English bookstore.

So many things go into an editor's decision to reject a book, and so many times we as authors have no idea why. I'm grateful to have had an editor who was willing to share the insight into why this story was being turned down, and why it was being accepted.

Born and raised in Utah, Kim was the kind of kid whose mom had to come in and take the flashlight away so she would stop reading and go to sleep. She has always been an avid reader and writer. Years of Public Relations work kept her writing on the job. Then, when her third kid came along, she decided to stay home and try her hand at writing professionally. In 2003, Kim earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the prestigious Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the rest was - as they say - history. 
     In addition to writing, Kim loves being out of doors, whether it's in her garden picking raspberries, in the mountains camping or snowshoeing, or traveling to her favorite beach in North Carolina. Kim has taught writing and English courses at local colleges, and has presented various workshops on writing. She is the mother of three kids and grandma one grandkid. She has three cats and one dog, and one day she wants to have a pet snake!

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