Rejecting Folks

Shameless sellout: For today only, The Black Wind’s Whispers and Marching Time have had a price cut to dirt cheap. Get it while it’s hot.

I made a promise to myself that, as an editor, I would always send a personalized rejection email to people informing them why they didn’t make it. Sometimes it’s quality. Sometimes it’s circumstances beyond their control. But I’d always tell them why so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes if at all possible.

At the moment, I’ve kept this promise. It’s painful for myself and the people who get rejected, but they have to know. I remember what the early parts were like, getting meaningless rejections. But I also know that as the number of submitters grows in future projects, I won’t be able to personalize every refused piece.

As it stands, this promise has been put to the test. Already, the number of rejections are starting to climb and more are surely on their way. I’m sure sooner or later there’s going to be someone who has got to fight me on the decision. Thankfully it hasn’t happened yet. Most of the people I’ve dealt with have handled their rejections with professional integrity.

The secret I’ve noticed is to always include a few good things to say about the work involved and try to be compassionate if honest. Point out what they’ve done well and where they need work. Tact takes energy and effort, but it sure beats making enemies.

Well, it’s not something I hope to get good at… but can’t hurt.


Never Get Comfortable

I started to write some bit about “what it means to be a writer”, prefacing the idea with it being my current philosophy on it. Then I realized, “Who am I kidding?” I don’t feel accomplished enough to claim that yet. I don’t even feel like a writer.

It’s easy to think about your precious successes, but what about your failures? People always try to say something about not letting the past bug you. Or that it’ll tear you down. But trying to get published is reality’s way of reasserting Murphy’s Law.

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

-Murphy’s Law

The most common thing I am told is that my story does not quite fill their needs or isn’t quite what they’re looking for. Many rejections go on to remind me that they receive hundreds of stories despite a very limited number of slots.

A fresh reminder that Murphy’s Law is in effect can make the unseen obstacles incredibly clear. You could have a phenomenal story that is well polished, with grammar and spelling that are sharp, good characters, great plot and memorable prose. And despite these confidence inspiring aspects:

  1. The general theme of the story might not quite fit what the publisher is looking for.
  2. Someone else happened to have a similar idea and got their story in first.
  3. The anthology has to be cancelled (it happens.)
  4. Your story is sharp but you forgot to check the manuscript requirements, so you get rejected on a technicality.
  5. A number of better known and better followed writers submit stories, and their reputation allows them stronger consideration.
  6. The slush readers have a mixed collective reaction to your story.
  7. Your story is the 13th best for an anthology of no more than 12. Unfortunately, those dozen authors get their acceptance contracts in.
  8. A trait of the story goes against the maturity rating (ie too much blood.)
  9. Your story is good but fails to stand out among 3,000 others they receive.
  10. The publisher changes their mind, rejects all stories and continues to only use work produced by their in-house writers. They welcome your submissions but really have no plans to publish them.

Every possibility of rejection is a sobering reminder of the challenge. And little by little, I can’t help but feel some of the cynicism I’ve detected from reader the blogs of established writers. You or I might have a few dozen rejections, but they could very well have hundreds.

And professional writers can even seem to jealously guard the keys to the kingdom. The shining new author from nowhere can be a threat to what they want to do and what they’re already doing. I’ve spoken before about the benefits of writers cooperating. But there are bottlenecks where competition is inevitable.

Yes. During submissions, you are competing. Though unseen, you are fighting dozens, hundreds, even thousands of other writers who are just trying to get one more notch on their Amazon publishing list. It’s hard. It’s rough. And I don’t think anyone can get to the top unchanged.

You’re pushing your way through mobs of little recognized or unknown writers who have varying degrees of talent.

You’re being pitted against medium-weight authors who have dozens of stories in various anthologies or even novels.

And afterwards are the big names. Names who have cult followings. Authors who have important publishing houses on their cell phones. Writers whose work is being fought over in Hollywood, or will be once they’re gone.

And there’s only one real constant.

Nobody likes competition, especially when everyone is a dark horse.