Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Let’s Talk Rejection

RejectionI’ve spent the last two days at Darkover in Timonium, MD and I’m having a blast. I’ve made lots of new friends and had some terrific conversations.

(It makes me realize even more that there is *never* enough time. What I wouldn’t give for a little space-time anomaly to give myself a few extra days to socialize.)

This is my first year at Darkover, and I vow I’ll be back. I wish I’d known of it sooner.

So, why do I want to talk about rejection?

Yesterday I presented my “How to Submit Short Fiction for Publication” seminar during the convention. I was prepared with handouts and book props, knowing that I wouldn’t have the projector screen and access to the internet I usually do for demos.

I talked briefly about where to find markets and encouraged folks to look at submission guidelines when sending in work, and then I asked attendees if they had questions. I wanted to make sure that I answered all the questions people had, rather than stick with my prescribed script in the short time allotted.

But that meant we didn’t cover some items from my presentation in depth…one of which is rejection.

And I believe that if you talk about submitting work for publication, you should also talk about rejection. The two go hand-in-hand.

So, for those who attended yesterday (Thank you for coming!) here’s my take on rejection…just some things to keep in mind.

If you submit work to be published, you will be rejected. The first few rejections sting, especially when an editor points out a perceived flaw in the work.

The trick is not to take it personally. There are a lot of factors that play into rejection besides the quality of the work:

  • The editor was looking for something specific
  • Your story didn’t meet the editor’s criteria (and keep in mind: beyond the guidelines, you didn’t even know what those criteria were!)
  • The editor recently accepted a similar story for publication
  • The editor had too many “same genre” stories on hand already (for example: Fantasy and Science fiction is chock full of fantasy, but not enough science fiction submissions this month–and you just sent them another fantasy)

Two more reasons not to take it personally:

  • The editor’s not rejecting you – he doesn’t even know you.
  • It happens to everyone…here are some famous examples of rejection:
     
    • Carrie by Steven King: rejected 30 times
    • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – rejected 26 times
    • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig – rejected 121 times!

Sometimes there’s a silver lining to receiving a rejection: you’ll receive comments from the editor stating why he rejected the piece. Be joyful! Comments from editors are rare. The fact that an editor took the time to jot down a few sentences about your work means the writing is good. Evaluate whether the comments jive with your vision of the story. If they do, make the changes and send the story back out. If they don’t, send the story as-is to your next market of choice.

If you receive a standard, “form” rejection, send it out immediately to the next market on your list.

Keep writing. A day of writing prose is better than not writing at all. And keep submitting your work. Persistence pays off. Continuing to send a story out should eventually result in publication.

What should you do with your rejections? Some people burn them, other file them, Steven King pounded a nail into a wall and hung his rejections on it until the weight of them pulled it down.

I get more electronic rejections than paper these days, so the nail trick isn’t an option (without effort) so I log them into a spreadsheet. After the first 100 rejections, I bought my critique group a round of coffee (we meet at the local donut shop) and again for each 50 rejections thereafter. Getting a rejection still isn’t easy, or fun…but looking forward to coffee with my friends isn’t such a bad thing.

4 comments to Let’s Talk Rejection

  • My biggest problem with rejection is that I talk myself out of submitting to many places that my story doesn’t seem to “fit”, especially after the first five good choices reject it.

    What I guess I need is someone that will read a short story and prepare a list of places that the author should submit it to for publication. Anyone know of (or offer) such a service?

    • Hi Carl! I don’t know of anyone who offers such a service. I never make my “marketing list” more than five deep when it comes to short stories, but markets come and go. I suppose that after the first five choices reject your story, there might be some new markets to be found? This would be especially true of anthologies. You could try that route.

      Of course, you might consider that you may be second-guessing yourself when it comes to markets that your story might “fit.” Why not expand your search to a few markets you may have discounted in the past? (I’m not suggesting you send a mystery story to a romance market – I’m thinking that maybe a fantasy magazine would accept an SF story if it had certain fantastic elements. In other words, give the editor the benefit of the doubt.)

  • Reseguide

    Nicely written, it is not that usual to read stuff that is worth reading nowadays 🙂

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