We who are authors and artists are notoriously thin-skinned. When we are young in the profession and still consider our works to be the equivalent of our perfect children, we bleed profusely when you admit you didn’t really enjoy what we wrote (or sang, or painted). Some of us handle this kind of conversation with grace and dignity, and others not so well.
But what if the unloved thing was the best thing we ever wrote?
It does happen.
I get ten rejections at least for every one acceptance, but usually many more. I get so many that I hardly even notice them nowadays. I just keep the revolving door revolving. After all, if you don’t submit your work, you won’t get any acceptances.
When I first began shopping my work out, I would feel crushed upon receiving a rejection. However, when I look back at those efforts, I can clearly see why those particular pieces weren’t accepted.
First, I had no idea what a finished manuscript should look like. The internet wasn’t a thing yet, and I hadn’t heard of William Shunn or his instructions for how to properly format a manuscript. I knew my finished story had some problems, but I didn’t understand what those problems were or how to resolve them. I naively assumed an editor would fix them, because that’s what editors do, right?
I wasn’t as well educated as I thought I was. Typos, dropped and missing words, long, convoluted sentences, and hokey dialogue—all found their way into my first efforts.
I began to get past that stage when I found Orson Scott Card’s book, “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.”
I still didn’t understand everything, or even most of anything. But I was on the road to learning more about what I didn’t know. Books on the craft of writing began to fill my shelves, and I took classes and went to seminars.
Nowadays my work is submission ready and as clean as I can make it. Sometimes my work is accepted, and believe me, I celebrate. Most of the time it is rejected, and not because it is bad. Most of the time, rejection means that I submitted something that wasn’t what the editor was looking for.
Editors usually have a certain kind of story in mind when they put out an open call, and only a few of the landslide of submissions will be accepted. Those that are accepted are the few that perfectly fit the editor’s original concept.
What I’m going to say next has been said before, many times. Sometimes we receive a form letter rejection that boils down to “Sorry, but no.” It isn’t personal, so don’t brood over it. Those kinds of rejections are bad only because they don’t tell us why the piece wasn’t acceptable.
Sometimes we receive a little encouragement: “Try us again.” That means exactly what it says, so the next time you have something you think will fit in that anthology or magazine, send them a submission.
I know this makes no sense, but when an editor explains their reasoning in a letter, it is very likely that some phrase will be like a knife to the chest for the author. This is because it’s a rejection and may contain detailed criticism.
I once got a rejection from an anthology along with a note that said the subject of my quest had been done before. I was a little surprised and hurt because I felt that comment was vague and meant they didn’t even bother to read the story.
I could have responded childishly, but that would have been foolish and self-defeating. The truth was the type of quest it involves has been done before. I felt that my story was original in its presentation, but it didn’t ring that editor’s bells.
I hauled myself off to a corner and licked my wounds. Then, I sent that editor a response thanking them for their time. An editor’s bluntness is valuable, so I will someday rework that tale with a different twist.
We live in a world that is always observing us. We are judged by the way we act and react in every professional interaction. If you’re in a writing group and your work isn’t as well received as you thought it would be, don’t respond to a peer’s criticism without thinking it through.
Even worse, if you fly off and send a flame mail to an editor, you risk doing irreparable damage to your career—you will be put on that editor’s “no way in hell” list.
Also, please don’t go bad-mouthing that editor on Twitter or Facebook. All that drama is just plain embarrassing, and unprofessional.
It’s easy to forget that editors are also authors. They are involved with the same forums in all the many social platforms you are, so be careful of what you say online. Editors are just like the rest of us, and they’ve experienced their share of rejection.
When an author has a public tantrum, the innocent bystanders remember it. Snide tweets about other authors, awkward Instagram photos, or Facebook rants don’t show a person in a good light.
I shouldn’t have to remind anyone of this, considering all the noise about Facebook and our personal information, but how we interact online with others is public information and is visible to the world.
We must always consider what an interested reader will find when they Google our author name. Our online interactions at Goodreads, Twitter, and in every other public forum will be available for eternity.
What should you do if your work is accepted, but the editor would like a few revisions?
If the editor wants changes, they will make clear what they want you to do. This happens most often for submissions to an anthology. Editors know what their intended audience wants. Trust that the editor knows their business.
Make whatever changes they request.
Never be less than gracious to any of the people at a publication when you communicate with them, whether they are the senior editor or the newest intern. Be a team player and work with them.
Negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. I keep a file of my rejection letters/emails. Most are simple: “We are not interested in this piece at this time.” Some have short notes attached with the words, “Try us again in the future.” Some contain the details of why a piece was rejected, and while those comments are sometimes painful, they are the ones I learn from.
Rejection is the most common kind of response an author will receive, sometimes for years. How we react to it is where each of us has the opportunity to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. My next post will be on making your short-story manuscript “submission ready.”