Ten Things About Literary Rejection
Since I will be in the position of rejecting people’s work later in the year, I wanted to post ten quick things about rejection that I think people should know, at least as it regards what I’ll be doing.
1. If you haven’t read Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s seminal “Slushkiller” entry about the editorial side of rejection, stop reading this and go read that instead. Right now. You will be enlightened, and if you’re not, you probably shouldn’t be writing. “Slushkiller” should be given to every single aspiring writer before he or she is allowed to submit a damn thing.
2. The magazine issue I’m editing will feature 12 to 30 articles totaling 60,000 words (more or less). I expect that I will receive more than 30 submissions and/or 60,000 words worth of material for my consideration. Therefore, I expect I will be rejecting a fair amount of material.
3. Writers who do not believe that submission guidelines should apply to them are going to be rather unpleasantly surprised when I disagree. I regard adherence to submission guidelines as an IQ test and assume those who cannot or will not follow them are no more likely to be able to write a good story than a fish can play a tuba. This may be unfair to the writer (and the fish), but not following my submission guidelines is unfair to me (and to other writers who do follow submission guidelines). So that makes us even in the unfairness department. This will weed out a surprising number of submissions. Try not to be one of them.
4. I read each story until it no longer works for me. If that happens before the end of the story, I’m going to reject the piece. I don’t usually know from piece to piece what’s going to work for me. Like pornography or a good melon, I know entertaining work when I see it. But I guarantee you if you think there’s a point at which your story lags, I will, too. Don’t give me the opportunity to decide your piece doesn’t work. If the story works all the way through that doesn’t mean it’s accepted, but it does mean it’ll make it into the pool of stories I’d like to buy.
5. I will almost certainly not be able to buy every single story I’d like to buy. I have finite space and I also have to consider balance for the magazine — I can’t have three stories with the same plot device, even if all three pieces are heartbreakingly good. Therefore, some of the stories I will reject it will kill me to reject — but I’ll have to reject them anyway, and hope that they find another home where they will be loved.
6. You will not know why I rejected your work. I intend to send out form rejections that will politely but briefly note that I will not be able to use the submission. I do not plan to explain the rejection. I recognize that people want to know why their work is rejected, but as a practical matter it would be difficult to individualize each rejection. If you’d like to assume that I loved the piece but was simply unable to put it in the magazine, that’s groovy by me, since in several cases that will be the truth.
7. I am rejecting the piece, not you. As noted above, rejection happens for many reasons, and much good work that deserves publication is rejected for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the writing. The rejection of your submission is not a referendum on you as a human being, or even on you as a writer. It is simply acknowledging that for whatever reason, this piece does not suit my needs at this time. If you take rejection personally as a writer, you will go mad, because every writer gets rejected. A lot.
8. If it helps you to think that the reason I rejected your work is because I’m a fookin’ idjit, I accept and celebrate that decision. Still, try to treat me kindly the next time we see each other.
9. If you were my best friend and you submitted a story I couldn’t use, I would reject it. If you were my mother and you submitted a story I couldn’t use, I would reject it. If you were Jesus at the right hand of God and you submitted a story I couldn’t use, I would reject it. If you were my mortal, hated enemy who submitted a story that knocked me on my ass and fit perfectly with what I was trying to do, I would buy that story in a heartbeat. And then I’d hope you get hit by a bus. Point: The readers of the magazine couldn’t possibly care what my relationship is to the writers. They just want a good read. My job is to make that happen.
10. Whether I reject your story or accept it, I will treat it as I would have my own work treated by another editor. I will assume that every story will work for me until I am persuaded otherwise. I will recognize that the work you’ve sent represents your best efforts. And I will remember that you honor me when you send in your work for my consideration. Thank you. I will try to return the favor.