Negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. When we submit our work to a critique group, we will get feedback, some of which will be perceived as unfavorable. The writing life is a rough playground. Some of us handle rejection or a thorough critique with grace and dignity, and others make an uncomfortable situation worse.
We are emotional creatures. When we are just starting on this path, getting an unbiased critique for something you think is the best thing you ever wrote can feel unfair.
But it isn’t. No one writes perfect work all the time, but we have our moments of brilliance. It’s just they are moments, and some areas of a good work-in-progress will need revising and line editing to make it shine. A writers’ group can help you find the weaknesses in the overall story arc.
I have received my share of criticisms and rejections. At first, it hurt, but after a while of growing, I began to see what my fellow writers were trying to show me. I also began to understand why my work didn’t win prizes or get accepted into publications.
When I look back on my earlier work it is clear that I had no idea what a finished manuscript should look like. Nor did I understand how to get it to look that way. I didn’t understand how to write to a specified theme.
I didn’t understand how vital a strong, unifying theme is when an editor assembles the works of many authors into one book or magazine. That lack of knowledge on my part was why my work was rejected.
In those days, I always received a standard rejection that boiled down to “Sorry, but no.”
In my experience, boiler-plate rejections are bad only because they don’t tell us why the piece wasn’t acceptable. You never know whether the piece was merely not what the editor was looking for that day or if it is something they wouldn’t take for any reason.
When my work doesn’t make the cut, it’s because I have misread what the editors wanted, not quite nailing the theme as firmly as other writers did. Or, maybe what I thought was a great plot was cliched and boring, or perhaps it was too farfetched.
The key to peace of mind is to understand that most of what you write will NOT resonate with everyone you submit it to. Even if your writing group loved it.
If you put two people in a room and hand them the most thrilling novel you’ve ever read, you’ll get two different opinions.
Good rejections offer a little encouragement. “Try us again.” That means exactly what it says, so the next time you have something you think will fit with that anthology or magazine’s editor, send them a submission.
For me, the best kind of rejections are those that follow a story being optioned for an anthology, and then for one reason or another, the editor releases it back to you. Yes, it is disappointing when a story that was optioned doesn’t get printed after all, because money is nice. But they are good, because the editor liked it enough to option it, and if you handle that disappointment with grace, they will probably print the next story you send them.
I know it doesn’t make sense, but the more an editor writes in a letter about why they have rejected a piece, the more likely the author will be hurt and angry. This is because it’s a rejection and may contain details about why it wasn’t acceptable for that publication.
I once got a rejection from an anthology in the form of a terse note with one handwritten sentence, signed by the editor. “This subject has been done before.”
I was surprised by the curtness of the note, but after a moment, I realized that was just this particular editor’s way. He’s a busy man but took the time to send me a note instead of a form letter.
The single blunt sentence was a bit off-putting, but I learned a lot from that particular rejection. I have to try harder to imagine original situations instead of trying to write what I think will sell. I have to write from the heart and not worry about whether or not I’m writing a commercially viable story.
I could have embarrassed myself and responded childishly, but that would have been foolish and self-defeating. When I really thought about it, I realized that particular plot twist had been done many times before. I thanked him for his time because I had learned something valuable from that experience.
I still love the concept of that story and the characters, but it’s an unmarketable story the way it was written. I have that tale in a file, and someday I will rewrite it, but with a more imaginative quest for the plot.
We must have a care about the way we behave. We are judged by how we act and react in every professional interaction. If you respond to a peer’s criticism without cooling down and thinking it through, you risk irreparable damage to your career.
You really don’t want your name to be a prominent entry on that editor’s “no way in hell” list.
An editor’s personal response that is a rejection means they have read your work and gone to some trouble for you.
DO NOT respond to the letter with a flame-mail, and DO NOT bad-mouth that editor or publication in your favorite writers’ forums. Editors are also authors, and they have friends who are authors. They may be involved with the same forums and all the many social platforms you are, so have a care what you say online.
They’re just like the rest of us—and they’ve experienced their share of rejection. If you respond publicly and unprofessionally, innocent bystanders will remember you and won’t want to work with you either.
But what if you received a request for revisions? Don’t be insulted! Celebrate and get cracking. Make those revisions. Do what that editor has asked and make no complaint.
When an editor wants changes, they like the work but can see how it could be made stellar. Be a professional and work with them. You might learn something.
Finally, never be less than gracious to the editor when you communicate with them.
Treat all your professional contacts with courtesy, no matter how angry you are. Allow yourself some time to cool off. Don’t have a tantrum and immediately respond with an angst-riddled rant.
Sometimes we forget that how we interact online with others is public information and is visible to the world. When an interested reader Googles our author name, our online interactions and petty tantrums on Goodreads, Twitter, and every other public forum will be available for eternity.
Be respectful, even if the magazine or anthology you were rejected from is a minor player in the publishing world. Don’t say, “Well, that editor’s a nobody.”
Every famous editor/author begins as a nobody. All editors receive work that must be rejected.
How you respond to criticisms and rejections is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground. If an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, it’s appropriate to respond with a simple “thank you for your time.”