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. 

2 thoughts on “Not Such a Bad Thing: When Rejection Helps

  1. Congratulations! Any personal contact from an editor means you were close, really close… follow the “instructions” and your next one will probably sell.

    btw, a thank you note might be nice.

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