I’ve gotten plenty of rejections, so I think I can speak with some authority on this subject, and I plan to.
This post was inspired by yet another story about a writer who confronted an editor. I’m going to call the writer Blue and the editor Lonesome.
“Why’d you reject my story?” Blue demanded.
“Well because [reasons],” Lonesome replied.
“Oh, fine! So you think that [long set of reasons that had nothing to do with the editor’s comments.]”
I’m sure there is a lot of angst and backstory to this that we’ll never know, and on Twitter I only read the editor’s side. But I came away with a certain conclusion.
I must never do this.
There are times to follow up with an editor. For example, if the rejection says, “Your story ‘Lonesome Blues’ is just not right for us,” and you never sent them a story called “Lonesome Blues,” you should probably follow up.
You might be thinking that the editor is an idiot for rejecting your story. You read the magazine they work for and you’ve seen stories in there that are nowhere near as good as yours; or, you can tell from the letter that the editor just doesn’t get your story, and once you explain it, they’ll understand and want to publish it.
Well, this is hard to absorb, but it’s true; no, they won’t.
Let’s take a look at things that drive the impulse to respond.
They print stories that are nowhere near as good as yours.
Think for a moment. Basically, you are championing your work by saying, “You’ve published way worse stuff that this!” Is that really the approach you want to take?
Yes, maybe they have published stories that you found silly, shallow, poorly written, over-written or whatever. The terribly written story you read in last month’s issue may have been purchased ten months previously. You are always competing against the pool, and for all you know, your story was in the running with a half-dozen future Pulitzer Prize winners. You just can’t tell.
Maybe a published story sucks, and it was an invitational story, or a story submitted by an established writer to meet a contractual requirement. Money’s been paid, the writer has a name, and the publication is probably going to print the story for business purposes, even if it isn’t that good.
Maybe the editor thinks the stories are great and yours are not, in which case this might not be a market for you.
Send your story to the next market on your list.
If they just understood your story, they’d buy it.
If they didn’t understand the story, one of two things is going on. The first thing might be that the story is flawed.
It’s unimaginable, I know, but as a thought exercise, let’s just pretend that your story does not explain itself; that it really needs more work. Explaining it to the editor is not going to fix the problem. Consider revising the story. Look back on the notes from your first reader or your writers group, perhaps especially from the folks whose comment you dismissed because they just “didn’t get it.” There might be something of value for you there. Once you revise it, send it to the next market on your list.
Console yourself when this thought: in the future, when you are accepting an award for that revised story that you sold to another market, editor number one will be sitting at home thinking, “Curses! I let that one get away.”
The second possibility is that the story’s fine and the editor truly just doesn’t get it. You explaining the story isn’t going to help. That editor’s opinion is still that the story doesn’t work (the proof is that you had to explain it). This editor is not a match for that story. Send the story to the next market on your list.
The editor is obviously racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever and is reacting to my work from that place.
Sadly, that may be true, and again, writing back to them isn’t going to change that. If you believe this, they aren’t the market for you. I happen to think this is a problem; editors who are unconsciously racist/sexist, and don’t understand stories that come out of different cultures, use language differently or have a different sensibility. Participating in discussions about this, raising the profile of this issue, and using resources like Facebook, SFWA and Codex to find markets that are consciously working to broaden their own horizons seems to be the solution. And, send your story to the next market on your list.
Rejection is hard. Sending out work is hard. It helps to develop some kind of a coping mechanism; friends are one. Depersonalizing the rejection is another. Someone on Twitter (of all places) tweeted about “collecting rejection tokens,” and I’ve appropriated that one. It’s just another token. It’s like a game and when I collect enough tokens I can trade them for something… maybe an acceptance. The facts are, the way you get published is by sending out your work, so keep doing it. And a by-product of sending out your work is rejection. So, collect the whole set. Rage in private. Mock the editor with your friends in private, and send the story to the next market on your list.