January 15, 2010

The Art of Rejection

The stats are against us, there's no denying that. You enter this business and you're setting yourself up for a bloody nose anywhere between 70% and 95% of the time, depending on the level of markets you choose to sub to. Write sci-fi exclusively for Asimov and Clarkesworld and the like and you're going to be disappointed 97/98% of the time. Ready for that?

Rejections are awful, obviously. They get you doubting not only a story's quality but even yourself as a writer. "What am I doing?" you ask yourself. "Sending out trite, formulaic crap to be shot down - there must be something better I can be doing with my spare time!"

There are several reasons a story (or even a writer!) is rejected. Editors make a big deal out of saying "it just didn't fit our project" and this is undoubtedly true a good deal of the time. But, but, sometimes the writing is just poor. The storyline predictable, the dialogue wooden, the adjective/adverb dial turned up just a little too much - and a thousand other things besides. In short, it's badly written.

If a writer has a history of publication, they can write, so the problem is more likely the story itself. Good writers write awful stories. It happens. They get an idea into their head and won't be shaken from it, however many times it's rejected and however many times friends brush faint praise upon it with words like "yeah, it's got something...maybe work on the end a bit" which translates as "I value our friendship and cannot bring myself to tell you how Hell-scrapingly bad this is - if you send me yet another, 8th, rewrite, the eye-poking device is coming out of the drawer!"

So then what to do when you do get a rejection. First rule is never, ever reply to the editor. Ok, you can do so but only 24 hours later and only to say something along the lines of "Thanks for considering me." Never ever go into rant mode. I almost did once, then thought better of it. An editor had been ultra uber mega petty and I almost did the same: it's a very strong, satisfying temptation. In today's world of twitter, facebook and endless blogs, your reputation will go down fast than the Titanic should you get into a slanging match with an editor. Remember this: you can't force somebody to like either you or something you've produced. Suck it up and move on!

What about the story, though? Some good stories undoubtedly are rejected because either it wasn't a good fit for the anthology or the editor was having a bad day or has odd tastes or whatever. If you truly believe in the story, it has to be worth at least two or three submissions. After that, it's probably time to get the message!

If the editor gave any detailed feedback, read it, take it on board. Maybe that character is flat, maybe the ending really does suck big balls. If an editor comments on a particular feature that lets the whole down, that's great! You can work with that, make changes. Consider that type of feedback to be a rewrite request, if not for that market, then certainly for another.

There are so many markets out there - you can always sub a story "down a level". If that pro-payment site didn't want it, that 2c-a-word might! And if they don't, wouldn't you prefer that non-paying e-zine to have it rather than it sitting in your "Yet To Place" folder on your laptop for the next six months?

In short, don't give up on a story but don't flog it to death either. Take a step back (with colleagues) and think about what could be improved with it. And if absolutely nobody wants it, well you can always wear a funny Santa outfit and read it out on Youtube. Your mom would watch it. Possibly.

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