Not Such a Bad Thing: When Rejection Helps

I know I’ve written about rejection before, but this time I’d like to discuss specifically a positive aspect to this dreaded of all writerly issues.  Most rejections give you no reason why your work isn’t welcome at a particular magazine or journal, although if you look closely at your submission after a brief hiatus you can probably figure it out on your own.

Sometimes the publication receives more submissions than it could possibly review.  Some are really good but others are just a tiny bit better, and there’s not enough room for everyone.  Sometimes they’re a sloppy mess, or not suitable for the publication.  Sometimes it is the writing, or the story.

The rejection every writer wants is the one that says why.  I just got one.  I can’t tell you how happy it made me to read this:

Dear [name I was hoping would be on a check],

Thank you for sending us [story].  I have reviewed the story and decided not to purchase it. The story is well-written but unfortunately, the premise is a very common one and your take is not much of a departure plot-wise from many we have seen before. From the title, I assumed there would be [disgusting horror thing] and despite the great
atmosphere and tone, its arrival was all I could think about, ruining any sense of tension.

Please keep us in mind for a future submission.

Thanks for submitting,

[Extremely kind editor who took time to write an actual critique vs. a form email]

Not having submitted to this particular market I don’t know if this editor takes time to write a note on all his rejections (I highly doubt he’d have time).  This is the crème de la crème of rejection letters.

Why?  Why was I so happy to read this when it’s so overwhelmingly critical?

Because this person took time to tell me what was wrong with my story.  He praised my writing, the atmosphere and the tone of the story.  That means I did some things right.  He wanted me to know that those weren’t the reasons the story was being rejected.

By telling me what was wrong, he gave me something to work on.  Not on this particular story; I probably won’t resubmit it anywhere else without rewriting it completely, since these are pretty big problems.  When I’m as famous as Stephen King, maybe it will show up in the appendix of my biography.  Har har!

I may be reaching here, but it sounds like he’s telling me that my story sucks but I don’t.  How do I know that? This line:

Please keep us in mind for a future submission.

The door is open a crack here.  He didn’t like this, but if I wrote something better that didn’t telegraph the ending and was genuinely original (in horror, that last is a tall order), he might be willing to look at it.  I already know what I need to work on.

Why aren’t more rejections like this, you ask?  Time is a major factor.  Editors and their assistants and readers see so many submissions it’s impossible to critique each one, so generally most get a form letter.  I’ve read over and over in editors’ true confessions on the Internet that yes, the slush pile is indeed full of crap.  And it takes time to look at even the first few lines.

The problem for most well-crafted and polished stories is the available slots for the work have shrunk in number, but the number of writers competing for them has not.  In fact, thanks to the economy, it’s increased.  A ton of people think they can write a story or an article and sell it for a buck or two to anyone.  It doesn’t work that way.  And being well-written doesn’t guarantee a work will be published, even if it has no structural problems.

Writers have to develop a thick skin.  It’s extremely hard to put your work out there.  Art is personal, whether you’re the subject or not.  Rejection hurts, there’s no doubt about that.  In order to improve, you have to learn to listen for the positive things and when people critique you, take the bits you can use to make yourself better.

This is all very discouraging until you think about the fact that a rejection like this means someone thought you were worth encouraging.  You owe it to yourself to keep trying, keep learning, keep writing. 

Have Fun at Work on Talk Like a Pirate Day!

YARR!  Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy bilge rats!

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19.  Every year on this momentous occasion, would-be pirates dress up, scoff a tankard o’grog and dance the hornpipe in celebration of a bit o’ silly fun.

How did this holiday start?  Well, me lubbers, click on the link near the crow’s nest of this article for a detailed explanation of why people are running around saying things like “Ahoy!” and “Avast!” today.  It’s mostly for fun, and we all could use a pint o’ that!

How do ye celebrate this day of days, ye be wonderin’?  Ye talk like a pirate, that’s what.  And act like one, iffen ye can get away with it.  But what if you’re at work, as ye may be next year, when the holiday falls on Monday?

If yer captain isn’t too scurvy of a tyrant, ye can answer the phone with a hearty “ARRR!”  If he’s a whip-crackin’ slave driver, ye could stage a mutiny. Or ye could keep it on the QT, among yer shipmates (coworkers).

Some ways to enjoy Pirate Day at work:

  • Make up a pirate name and insist everyone call ye by it.  Find one here!
  • Call people things like “bilge rat,” or “knave.”  Everyone will think yer nuts, but that’s part of the fun of it!  Look here for some language help.
  • Wear something piratey to work.  Fer the menfolk, a casual dress environment means ye can wear a Jolly Roger t-shirt, a bandanna or an eyepatch even, if yer cap’n don’t have a peg leg up his arse.   A hoop in yer earhole will lend a seafarin’ touch.  If yer stuck wearin’ business clothes, a skull tie pin or somethin’ subtle be yer best bet.  Wenches, ye can wear a frilly ruffly blouse and skull earrings, or some epic hoop earrings if ye like.  Add some boots and black pants with a scarf for a belt and ye have a nice pirate outfit that don’t look like yer gonna walk the plank.
  • Add pirate clip art to all yer emails.
  • Eat lunch at a buffet that serves things like chicken legs, fried fish, mashed taters, and hearty breads and desserts.  Pirates ate a-plenty when there was plenty to have.  Pack ye a big, meaty sandwich and some chocolate coins for sweets if there’s no galley nearby or ye can’t jump ship.  Throw in some oranges so ye don’t get scurvy!
  • Read Treasure Island on yer break.  Gotta keep up the image!
  • Describe things in nautical terms.  Like “The Chumley account is three leagues from bein’ complete!” or “”Hoist the mainsail, and let’s finish our slog before Happy Hour!”

Use yer imagination, lubbers, and if ye come up with some other ways to make the daily deck-swab on next year’s Talk Like a Pirate Day a rip-roarin’ party, post ‘em in the comments.  Shovin’ off now.  Enjoy, me hearties!

A Positive 9/11

Today, September 11, 2010, is the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, USA.

For my readers across the world, I thank you for the support you lent to stranded Americans the day of the disaster who were unable to get home.  I thank all people in countries other than mine who sympathized with us, cried for us and prayed for us.  Some of you know what terrorism is like on a daily basis; for us it was an ugly and shocking wake-up call.

The aim of terrorists is not to kill, but to demoralize by using fear.  Each person who shows kindness and tolerance to those not of their race, creed or culture takes a step to eliminate terrorism.  If we become fearful or angry because of someone’s color, clothing, sexual orientation or religion, the terrorists win.  When we talk about burning another faith’s holy book, we fall directly into their hands.

Despite what some people would have you believe, Islam is not an evil religion, nor does it preach hate.  God does not hate gays (there are gay animals–look it up) and you should not either.

Do not use the Lord God to condemn others because they are not like you.  Black, white, gay, straight, young, old, we are all human.  We are the same more than we are different.  We all want enough to eat, a safe place to sleep and to be with our loved ones.  We all bleed red when we are cut.

Any time you hurt someone because of hate, YOU are the terrorist.

Today, do something that will crush hate.  If you don’t know how, try one of these suggestions.

  • Embrace someone you never thought you would.
  • Learn something about another culture or creed.
  • Educate yourself on a subject you don’t understand.
  • Speak with someone different from you and find common ground.
  • Thank a service member, a firefighter or a police officer for all they do to protect and help others.
  • Smile at someone who seems to need it.

The goal is not to win; it is to bring everyone together.  Only then will fear and hatred recede. Do not feed them.  Starve them with your openness and generosity.  The world needs you for this purpose.

Be a friend, not an enemy.  Be human.


Someone told me off recently.  Big time.  I think I mostly deserved it.  It brought to mind two things writers would do well to think about.

The first is image. We have a mental image of ourselves:  how we look, our behavior, how we sound, what other people notice about us.  Very often we’re wrong.  We tend to think of ourselves as better than we are, more generous, justified in our rage, and that our drama matters.

Truth?  No.  one.  cares.

You may be a consummate professional, always polite and well-coiffed and perfectly groomed all day long, always doing and saying the right thing.  I’m not you.  I’m a creative person and very loosey-goosey and will never be a tight, buttoned-up corporate type.  Neither can you do what I do, or be me.

That doesn’t mean I can’t think of you with respect and treat you accordingly, whether you are my brother, my sister, my boyfriend, my girlfriend, my boss or the person who bags my groceries.  It doesn’t mean that if you are disrespectful to me that I owe you a harsh word, either.

In the Internet age, everything you write and say in interviews and video of you and things people say about you are out there forever.  People who don’t know you will be buying your books, your art or seeing movies you wrote or acted in.  They will base their opinion of you on whether they like your work, but also on what other people are saying about you.

That leads me to the second, insight, and the title of this post. We know when we’ve done wrong.  We should, anyway.  I think today a lot of people have forgotten what shame feels like.  It’s a nasty feeling to think that you are not the kind of person you thought, or that others don’t like you.  It’s easy to take that and run have a pity party with it, but that’s not productive, nor is it correct.

A mistake is a learning opportunity.  How did it happen?  Why is someone angry with you?  Did you act without thinking?  What we do affects others, and we don’t always realize that right away, but the reaction we get can tell us much.

I accidentally cut someone off in traffic one day and waved a big “Sorry” at them.  They still honked and flipped me the bird.  Fine, if you feel that way.  I didn’t mean to.  But if ticking you off made me more aware of my lane changes, then I’ve learned something.

If someone tells me something about myself that I need to hear, it might make me feel like the ass end of a snapping turtle.  Can I grow from it?  HELL YES.  If I allow it.

Writers deal with rejection and criticism all the time.  I could easily take my rejections personally and never submit or query again.  Will I be a writer this way?  Yes, but never a paid one.  If I analyze my mistakes and see where I went wrong, my next query or article or book will be better.  If I’m rejected because of my attitude, then I only have myself to blame and I’ll never make it.  Same in life; who’s going to want to spend five minutes with me if I’m a complete bitch?

You can’t control what other people do.  You can control your temper—if you choose to—and you can control what you let yourself take from rejections, mistakes and your own choices.

If you have a poor image, writer or not, maybe it’s time to get to work on it.  You won’t have to worry about hiding anything if you clean up your mess and what’s more, if you own it.

My friend David said on Facebook, “I follow the 80/20 rule. If eighty percent of the time you’re a sweetheart, then who cares about the twenty percent when you’re less than perfect?  But if the eighty percent is cranky/bitter, then time to shop for new friends.”

My reply?  “If you are an eighty-percenter, time to get your head out yer ass!”  Or time to take my own advice.

Interview: Chuck Sambuchino’s How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack

There’s a new book coming out September 7 that I am dying to read.  The cover looks like this:

I think he's looking at me...

The author is a favorite blogger of mine, Chuck Sambuchino.  He’s been a wealth of information for all us UNPUBs out there.   I found him through Writer’s Digest and never looked back.

Chuck looks like this:

Gnome defense expert and publishing advice giver. Top that, Van Damme!

In his own words:

Chuck Sambuchino is the author of HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, a humor book coming out Sept. 7, 2010.  He is also the editor of GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (2011 edition in stores August 2010) and runs a large blog on publishing:  Besides that, he is a magazine freelancer, playwright, husband, owner of a flabby dog, cover band guitarist, and all around chocolate chip cookie fiend.

Anyone who likes chocolate chip cookies can’t be all bad.  Chuck was gracious enough to grant an interview to this blog.

Tell us about the book.  The cover is hilarious.  It looks like a spoof of the 1976 book Gnomes, by Wil Hugyen and illustrated by Rien Poorvliet.  I loved that as a child.  Is this a gritty reboot?  Were you attacked by a gnome?  Should I rethink buying a gnome statue for my garden?

The cover is a spoof of the old book—good catch.  It’s not a reboot as much as something else entirely.  But yes, I would rethink that gnome purchase if you want to stay alive.


Humor writing is not easy for a lot of people.  Funny is very subjective.  Do you have any tips for writers who might like to do this type of work?

Obviously, the concept of the book is key—but there needs to be good content in the book, as well. My editor said it well when she said that people will pick up the book because of the title and cover, but they will only buy it if they flip through some pages and are impressed.  Besides that, I would try to build a platform and network of friends any way you can.  With the big publishing blog I handle (, I have developed a decent platform to reach readers.  It isn’t necessarily a “humor platform,” per se, but it is a platform of some kind.

Your blog contains a great deal of information for new writers.  We thank you profusely for the help you’ve given us. Working in the business yourself, you’ve undoubtedly been well-prepared for publishing your own book, but is there anything that surprised you about the process?

Several small things. For example, a large portion of the original text ended up on the cutting room floor to make room for lots of photos—that part surprised me, but the end result is better for it. A surprising thing for me was how quickly the book came to life.  The publishing industry moves sooooo slow, but this book went from initial discussions with the editor to being published in 10 months, and that’s lightning.  I am very fortunate for that.

Marketing is getting pretty important for writers. Any hints for novelists in particular on their platforms and establishing a presence?

Bribe TV anchors to interview you and get involved in some kind of political scandal.  Besides that: Become involved in writers groups and organizations.  Join a local group, the MWA, the RWA, SCBWI—whatever you like.  And you can always develop a platform that has nothing to do with your writing.  For example, if you start a popular blog on yoga, when you have a novel to sell two years from now, you will have some kind of platform in place to read people who may buy the book.  You need friends who will help you spread the word in their small circles just as you will do for them.

Money is seriously lacking in every industry these days.  Advances are shrinking, editors are being laid off and it’s harder than ever to even get a manuscript past the round file.  Can a fiction writer really make a living anymore?

Well, it’s not likely if all you want to do is sell fiction.  A successful writer needs to wear many different hats—they need to write fiction, teach classes, write articles and freelance edit.  You need to remember that it’s OK to write some things for love and other things for money.  David Morrell, a popular thriller writer, once told me that only 250 people make their living solely from writing fiction.  You have to do other things to pay the bills.  But yes, you can make it work and make a full-time living writing.

What do you see for the future of publishing?

Not sure.  My specialty is helping people get their work published and finding an agent.  As far as the looming transition to e-books and such, I’m already kind of burnt out on people taking wild guesses on all that, and any guess I take would be beyond wild.  (Note to self: Write novel and title it Beyond the Wild.)

Just for fun, what’s the weirdest question / comment you’ve ever come across on your blog?

Following an agent interview, I do remember one comment that was something along the lines of “If this agent can’t sell books, she should model in Playboy because she’s that beautiful.” I think it was about 20 minutes later that the agent frantically e-mailed me to ask me to remove the comment.

Thank you, Chuck!  Everyone, get thee to a bookstore or Amazon and buy this book.  It looks like a hoot.  God knows we all could use a laugh these days!