Ah, sweet rejection

October 4, 2009

Sorry about the month-long hiatus folks, it’s been a particularly busy one.

I think I want to talk about rejection today. I submitted a new story to a semi-pro market a few weeks back and this morning it came back with the following neat, impersonal, fairly standard rejection letter:

Thank you for your recent submission to _________.
Sadly, we regret to inform you that we are declining acceptance at this time. Good luck in placing this submission elsewhere.
Sincerely,
The __________ Team

The creation of the story in question took approximately forty hours at the keyboard. Forty hours, that is, if I don’t include the additional ten hours of pacing around the house thinking up the details, five hours of walking down the street muttering to myself like a madman while trying to nail a line of dialogue, four hours of staring mindlessly into space piecing together a conflict resolution, and three nights of restless sleep while I dreamed about the characters doing strange things like shopping for shoes at Pick n’ Save or hiking the Swiss Alps.

After all that hard work, how dare they reject me so impersonally!

Why I oughta…

Of course, I’m kidding. Rejections don’t really affect me much. In fact, I find them kind of addictive. Submitting stories is a little bit like archery. Except that the target sometimes moves, sometimes changes size and shape, and usually demands that your arrow be of a particular style, color, and length before you fire it.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that there are already a hundred other arrows heading towards the target at the same time, all competing for the same airspace and all vying for that tiny amount of real-estate that is the bullseye.

This is sport, people. Enjoy it.

But I’ve met some authors on my travels who have a truly hard time with rejection. Some people have a tendency to take it personally when it is actually anything but. Yes, receiving a rejection could mean that the editor didn’t like your story. Hell, sometimes it may mean that the editor doesn’t like you. But that’s often not the case.

Let’s consider just a few of the possible reasons a story may get rejected even though it was a perfectly good story.

    1. The market closed temporarily just as your story arrived.
    2. The market already accepted a story that was similar in tone, theme, or plot to yours for that month and doesn’t want to double-up.
    3. The market already has more than enough accepted stories for the foreseeable future and is sending out automatic rejections.
    4. The market may have had space for one more story but needed one of a particular length to fill a spot.
    5. The market might have run out of cash for the month and is accepting no more stories.
    6. The story may be beautiful but the editors think their readership wouldn’t connect with it.

Of course, sometimes the blame may lie with the author. If your story isn’t formatted according to the market submission guidelines; if it’s rife with spelling errors; if you’ve submitted a vampire story when they clearly said no vampire stories; if you submitted a horror story to a science fiction magazine; if you sent in your manuscript on hot pink card stock thinking it would make it stand out from the crowd… you get the drift. I’m not going to harp on these things because they’re common sense and if you get rejected for them, well, that’s your fault.

(Incidentally, I’ve been rejected for some of them. Hey, we learn by our mistakes, right?)

So you’ve responsibly made sure your arrow is the required length, shape, color and style. You have the bowstring drawn taught and you’re ready to unleash, but in the distance you can see that target – indistinct, morphing, uncertain…

How can you possibly land that arrow?

Well here comes the good news: there’s no reason to get nervous, no reason to despair, because the landscape in front of you is littered with targets. There are hundreds, nay thousands of places you can aim for. So the golden rule of getting accepted is to just keep on firing those arrows; the statistics are on your side and probability alone says that sooner or later, you’re going to land a bullseye.

~CGW

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