Rejected? Take It Personally.


I mean, if an editor rejects your story out of the thousands in the queue, and probably also the other 998, then it’s gotta be a personal vendetta, amirite?

Plus you were so nice to them on Twitter, which just goes to show that all those hundreds of faves didn’t even count because editors only buy stories and novels from their buddies and then they get together at cons and all laugh about YOU PERSONALLY while getting drunk on the money you should have made.

Actually, what you should do right now is go pen a nasty response to that form rejection letting them know exactly what you think of them and their shitty mag and the shitty stories they publish:

Or, yanno, not so much.

There are many reasons why a story or novel gets rejected. Making Light have a post outlining the many reasons novels don’t make it through the slush, and I think it’s a good place to get an idea of what’s going on behind those form responses.

Here’s a sample of the thinking, but the whole post (and comments) are well worth the read:

Manuscripts are unwieldy, but the real reason for that time ratio is that most of them are a fast reject. Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:

    1. Author is functionally illiterate.
    2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
    3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
    4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
    5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
    6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
    7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

    1. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
    2. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
    3. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

  1. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
  2. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
  3. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
  4. Buy this book.

Obviously the Tor editors here were talking about novel manuscripts, but much the same holds for short stories, and it’s up to you to be honest with yourself and decide what the real problem is. If it’s a matter of grammar and basic literacy – fix it; if it’s hackneyed plots – READ MORE, and so on.

When you get to the point where you know (and people who are not related to you have confirmed it :P) you’re good, then in an odd twist, yes, your rejections do become personal and yet they hurt less. Sometimes, you get happy about personal rejections. Sure, it wasn’t a sale, but the editor was interested enough to make suggestions, or ask to see more work. No one has time for this, so it’s always a damn good sign.

Once you reach this point you have a better understanding of market, of how the industry works, and how a good story can be the wrong fit for an editor or magazine. This is a beautiful place to reach because the anger is gone. You can simply resubmit your story to another market. And another and another, until it finds its home. Sometimes you come to a realisation that a story you thought was good is perhaps…not so much, and you shelve it. But by this time, you’re writing steadily. You always have several stories in circulation, and new one on the boil.

So take rejection personally. Rejection is a path to growth.  It’s a way to reconsider how your work looks when it reaches editors, if you need to do better research on markets, if you need to work harder on the bones and the scales, if you need beta readers who are more critical.

Don’t take rejection as an excuse to bitch online about editors or markets, or send snotty little responses. It makes you look clueless, petulant, and more trouble than it’s worth to publish you when you do write a decent story.


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