Tuesday, 28 July 2009


What, you mean you don't love me and every piece of writing I've ever produced? (Actually, I don't love every piece of writing I've ever produced, so that's a fairly easy question to answer). Of course, I've just made the biggest mistake of all when it comes to rejection, which is forgetting that it is NOT PERSONAL. Except when you've run over an editor's tortoise, in which case it might be.

I thought I'd chat about rejections because I've now seen both sides of the fence. I've received them (and sadly will probably continue to do so, thoughif everyone I've got things out to at the moment could see their way to not doing so, I might be prepared to offer a bribe of... a slightly used hole punch, it being what I have to hand) and I've dished them out. Looked at like that therefore, are a few of the key issues around rejection:

  • Why did they reject me? It's what we all want to know. Trite answer no 1- they didn't reject you, they rejected your work. Slightly less trite answer, but only just- you'll probably never know. Most editors don't have time for feedback. It could be anything, from the fact that they aren't in a good mood, to the possibility that all their favourite authors have offered them stories this month in a once in a lifetime kind of deal.
  • Then again, consider the possibility that you sent the piece out before it was ready, or that there was something fundamentally wrong with it. Sometimes you get rejected for a reason. Don't change your masterpiece after every rejection. Do consider checking with your friends/writing group that it actually is a masterpiece.
  • As an editor, how much feedback should I give? The usual answer is "not much", and that's a good answer. But I've been where the writers are, and I usually want to give them something (a clip round the ear, in a couple of cases, but thankfully not many). If an editor is kind enough to do this, there are two rules. Firstly, be polite about it. Do not argue, it won't help anything. Do not tell them that they are an idiot. Do consider saying thank you. Secondly, see the point above, and avoid taking their word as gospel.
  • The other big thing for the editor is how to phrase things. This of course leaves writers trying to decipher the rejection e-mail/letter/scribble on their query letter. The thing to remember is that every variation in phrasing has multiple meanings. If you got a pro-forma rejection from me, it means one of a few things. I might not have been able to think of anything particularly clever to say (it happens a lot). I might have been at the end of a long row of e-mails, and my fingers ache. Admittedly, I might also have hated the fact that you sent me something well beyond even my reasonably broad bounds of taste, and am giving you the polite, formal treatment because I don't want to say what I really think. It's hard to tell.
  • How quickly should I get back to people? The writer answer is "now, right now. Or yesterday. Yesterday is good". The editor answer is "when I have the time, or when the universe implodes, whichever comes first". Actually, neither of those is quite true. As a writer, you don't usually want things back too quickly, because even before you've opened the letter/e-mail you know, just know, that they hated it. Equally, most editors/agents are actually perfectly reasonable people who want to get back to you, but often don't have the time.
  • More importantly, there's a chance they might not have made up their minds. Take the next issue of GC. I've put together some short stories and flash fiction, then sent out the relevant e-mails to those who are either in or not going to be used. There is, however, a third category, consisting of those I don't have space for, those who are borderline (in terms of the acceptance. Their mental state is their own affair) and those I might well want next issue, subject to my above point about all my favourite authors submitting things.
So what does all this add up to, for the writer? I think it goes a little like this: Don't Panic. Also don't be rude. Do be happy if editors tell you how to make things better, but don't necessarily believe them. Above all, DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY.

Except for the tortoise thing, obviously.


Jodie said...

'Do be happy if editors tell you how to make things better, but don't necessarily believe them.' Has got to be the most useful piece of advice, but also the hardest to follow. I always think you must ahve to be the most well developed human being to be a writer because you have to have self confidence and humility equally balenced.

stu said...

Or just flick randomly between them, like I do.

englishcoach said...

Very enjoyable piece! The mark of genius is the idea of running over a tortoise. Lesser mortals might think of a cat that might be likely to zoom out in front of your car, but the tortoise takes it to a new dimension of malice.
Do you have an agent?

stu said...

Not yet, though I'm working on it (hence my sudden interest in rejections)

Lisa Damian said...

Great bit of advice. Also loved the tortoise detail. You always manage to combine practicality with comedy -- Not an easy thing to do, but it's one of those things that keeps me coming back for more.

Christina said...

I'm getting prepared to send out my novel, so this is helpful. ^_^