Rejection. It is quite possibly the dirtiest word in the English language. The average human being will undergo some form of the R-word approximately 3,127 times over the course of their lifetime, according to made up statistics. For writers, the R-word becomes the reoccurring billboard on Career Highway, with ‘NO’ dressed up and posed in various attitudes in bad fluorescent lighting; ‘Your piece wasn’t the right fit’, ‘We appreciate you thinking of us, BUT…’, ‘We are unable to give you an offer at this time’, and sometimes “Both myself and my assistant are considering legal action against you for wasting our valuable time with your relentless tripe” (visit oddee.com’s “10 Funniest Rejection Letters” for more).
Any editor will tell you that it isn’t personal; they aren’t R-ing you as a person, they are just R-ing the way you choose to express your person. Just because you write boring science fiction doesn’t mean that you, yourself, are boring… or so they would have you believe. So how does the sensitive writer avoid the slings and arrows of the editor’s pen and make it into at least a ‘maybe’ pile? John Scalzi, the author of the blog post “Ten Things About Literary Rejection” says that “I read each story until it no longer works for me…Like pornography or a good melon, I know entertaining work when I see it.”
It’s nice to know there’s a process. John does, however, reference Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s article “Slushkiller”, which provides basic manuscript characteristics contributing to rejection. Number one on the list is that the author must be functionally literate…seems easy enough. Number eight is a bit more biting; “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”. And even if you can accomplish making your problems worth the read, you still might be rejected on the basis of number eleven, the publishing “…house isn’t going to get behind it”.
If the editing process is just as subjective as the art of writing, how is it possible to know what kind of writing will get published? How can you give everyone what they want and still keep something for yourself? As a currently unpublished writer, the author of this post doesn’t have the answers to these questions. You, the reader might be asking a question of your own; why is this person qualified to give me advice on becoming successful in this craft? The author of this post doesn’t have an answer for that question either. What the author does have is a guestimate , a shot in the dark, an angler fish in a deep sea trench; the successful writer is adept at drawing on personal observations and experiences in order to create a work that produces a sense of truth identifiable to the reader. It is absolutely personal. However, because writing is such a direct reflection of personal thoughts and ideas, the difficulty lies in being objective about one’s own work. Just as a mother is often the last to know she has an ugly baby, so it is with writers and their word babies.
Take this post for example. Were “reoccurring billboard on Career Highway” and the following personification really necessary? Was “angler fish in a deep sea trench” effective or clearly trying too hard? The author and perhaps one other reader might find these additions amusing, but readership doesn’t count if it’s only you and your mother. Part of being a successful writer is learning when something works and when it doesn’t and having the wherewithal to change it.
If you received a rejection letter in the past few weeks from the Sequoya Review, take heart. The literary staff members are by no means trained professionals; they are really just a band of ambitious writers elbowing for space on the page themselves. What they do have is a commitment to making this edition of The Sequoya Review the penultimate (or as close as they can get anyway). It is the absolute truth that the caliber of the submissions made for some knock down drag outs during the editing process. So instead of plotting your hateful revenge on the staff, take comfort in the fact that someone might have endured a wicked atomic wedgie in support for your piece.
Rejection is the name of the game. Everyone knows you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. A lesser writer might now include a message of hope in a few cleverly constructed anecdotes, like Gone With the Wind being rejected by twenty publishers, or an editor telling F. Scott Fitzgerald, “You’d have a decent book if you got rid that Gatsby character”, or maybe even Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team. However, this fledging writer is learning to work smarter, not harder, and that less is sometimes more. So instead, just this: