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Old 03-05-2011, 11:09 AM   #1
williemeikle
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Rejection - And why I still try

Those of us still submitting short stories to magazines and anthologies will sympathize I hope -- this past hour I had three rejections from professional markets.

In these days of instant Kindle gratification, many of you might wonder why I still put myself forward for this kind of knock-back.

It's not for the money, I can tell you that.

But I'm old school enough to still get a thrill over seeing my name in magazines and books alongside writers I admire and have read. For example, I've had stories alongside the likes of Isaac Asimov, Charlie Stross, Jane Yolen, Guy N Smith, Tom Piccirrili, Alan Dean Foster and John Shirley. And coming up this year, I'll be in books with Fred Saberhagen, Kim Newman, Christopher Fowler, Kelly Armstrong and Tanith Lee among others.

That's a kind of thrill I can't get with the kindle books.

So out the babies go again, looking for a home. Meanwhile, those three rejections need salved. Where's the beer?
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Old 03-05-2011, 11:22 AM   #2
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Sorry to hear that William. I too seem to get all my rejections in chunks, as if editors synchronize them or something

I'm still submitting to magazines as well and I have one (and soon two) novels out in circulation. I love the Kindle and other digital devices and will be providing more content for those but I'm still old-school too and would love to land a traditional publishing deal. And get a few more pro sales to magazines that I respect!

And some editors do really help improve your stories as well... On Spec Magazine was great in helping me recognize some flaws in my writing and drastically improved the quality of the stories I've sold to them. So the acceptances, in terms of improving my writing, have been worth the rejections (well... mostly worth the rejections).


Good luck with your next round of submissions!

- Brent
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Old 03-05-2011, 11:41 AM   #3
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Sorry to hear that William. I too seem to get all my rejections in chunks, as if editors synchronize them or something

I'm still submitting to magazines as well and I have one (and soon two) novels out in circulation. I love the Kindle and other digital devices and will be providing more content for those but I'm still old-school too and would love to land a traditional publishing deal. And get a few more pro sales to magazines that I respect!

And some editors do really help improve your stories as well... On Spec Magazine was great in helping me recognize some flaws in my writing and drastically improved the quality of the stories I've sold to them. So the acceptances, in terms of improving my writing, have been worth the rejections (well... mostly worth the rejections).


Good luck with your next round of submissions!

- Brent
Thanks Brent.

This year is my twentieth of sending out short stories. Thankfully I'm getting some pro sales these days, but I shudder to think what the total number of rejections must be. It must be well over a thousand by now. :-)
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Old 03-05-2011, 11:54 AM   #4
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When I realized I was spending as much time trying to perfect short stories as I spent on novels, and getting nowhere, I decided to hang it up and concentrate on novels, my true love.

Writing short stories is quite different from novel writing. Very few people can do both successfully. I know I'm not one of them, so I stick with what works.

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Old 03-05-2011, 12:01 PM   #5
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Awww Honey, that's too bad. My husband has been submitting some stuff, and to us, the worst rejections are the form-letter email that it was deleted without opening because some obscure point of their submission guideline was missed. But since it is a form letter, we dont have a clue what they are demanding.

Just try to remember that the clerk who sent it back is probably jealous and bitter because they dont have the talent for writing that you were blessed with.

And dont give up. That is the only sure way to never get it out there.

I hope the rest of your weekend is nothing but glorious!
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Old 03-07-2011, 10:24 AM   #6
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Just try to remember that the clerk who sent it back is probably jealous and bitter because they dont have the talent for writing that you were blessed with.
That is very likely not true.

Aside from the fact that rejections aren't sent out by clerks, and that "clerk" is not a title of shame, anyway, it just doesn't work that way.

No publisher would employ a "jealous and bitter" reader who rejects stories out of spite. That would be like a grocer employing someone who breaks eggs and squishes bananas for fun. Someone who, in other words, maliciously destroys their employer's stock in trade. A publisher's entire success depends on their ability (which equates to that of their employees) to find the best material for their market. If they guess right, they have the next Harry Potter; if they guess wrong, they have the next ... well, I don't know what it was because it died unread in the remainder bin. But they're all trying to pick the very best they can, not reject it because they're "jealous" of how much better it is than their own writing. That would be cutting their own throats, and neither the employee nor the employer would last in the business for long that way.

Many of the people I have seen claim that others, from fanfic reviewers to big-name publishers, dislike their writing out of "jealousy" simply suck. Sorry, but there's no less harsh way to put it. So many, in fact, that when someone says "I can't get this published because everyone is so jealous of my talent" my first thought is they're probably one of that group. If they claim their talent is divinely bestowed, I can almost guarantee it. People who are good do get published. That's what publishers do for a living. They may guess wrong about what their market wants to buy, or whether a particular story is right for it ("nobody reads books about talking animals"), but their motives are mercenary, not emotional. In other words, they don't think a story is too good, they think it's not good enough. And in my experience, for all the famous counter-examples we can all point to, 99% of the time they're right.

Publishing is a viciously competitive business. If publishers were in the habit of rejecting good work (that is, work that would sell -- in a commercial endeavor, there is no valid definition of "good" aside from "what customers will pay for") then some publisher would spring up who bought all those good stories and cleaned their collective clocks. I find xkcd 808 very telling. Basically, we have to agree that either companies make rational decisions or that capitalism isn't ruthlessly profit-focused, because there is no alternative involving profit-seeking companies deliberately making decisions counter to their own best interests. And that's at least as true of publishers as it is of anyone else.
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Old 03-14-2011, 06:59 PM   #7
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Worldwalker, I don't believe that publishers reject good work on the basis of jealousy, but I'm not sure that anyone really knows "what customers will pay for" until after they pay for it. Then it's obvious. And sometimes "what customers will pay for" is, as far as I can tell, really awful writing.
And once buyers get their books home, how many people actually read them? Have you ever joined a book club? Everybody buys the book. That's the easy part. Most of the members of my book club never got past chapter three. I'm convinced that book readers and new book buyers are two completely different demographics. For example, I read books by the teetering pile. I get them from the library, from friends and family, from second hand stores, in ebook format if they're cheap, and sometimes from the bookstore. If I bought them all new, I'd be on the run from creditors.
Now, back to the attitude of publishers, editors, agents and writers discussing other writers: snippy, contemptuous, but with polite form letters.
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Old 03-14-2011, 10:34 PM   #8
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...I'm not sure that anyone really knows "what customers will pay for" until after they pay for it.
They might not know for dead sure, but they can take a pretty good guess. They'd be out of business if they couldn't. That's the big difference between people who make it in publishing and people who don't: their ability to pick winners. Or sellers, in this case.

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And sometimes "what customers will pay for" is, as far as I can tell, really awful writing.
Sadly, that is all too true.

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And once buyers get their books home, how many people actually read them?
That doesn't matter to a publisher. For all they care, buyers could all want Twilight to support the short leg on the couch (that's a lot of saggy couches) ... but they don't care. As long as the book sells, they're happy.
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Old 03-15-2011, 03:53 AM   #9
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A publisher's entire success depends on their ability (which equates to that of their employees) to find the best material for their market.

I've been in business & agree with what you say but publishers who don't spend a little time to educate authors about their needs & preferences are reducing their future stock in trade.

In my view it would pay dividends to give a short explanation of the books failings. This could be just highlighting shortcomings by ticking boxes on a form letter rather than an uninformative form letter of rejection. That way there is more liklihood of having a healthy supply of quality submissions.
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Old 03-15-2011, 08:50 AM   #10
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It's a buyer's market. There are more manuscripts being offered than any given publisher could possibly buy. They have no need to teach authors how to write because there are plenty who can do so already, and who will do so. I'm sure if publishers find the supply of authors drying up, they'll do more to improve the quality of the ones submitting to them, but right now, the problem is one of excess, and there's no business reason for them to enumerate why any given manuscript doesn't meet their needs. There are plenty that do.

Taking it to extremes, publishers could improve the future supply of submissions by running writing classes in all the schools. They don't, though, because they don't need to. They have all they need already, so they have no reason to add an additional expense.

Also, there's the matter of opening the door for rejected writers to argue, argue, argue about whether those reasons for rejection really apply to their manuscript. There is all the potential drama when two different editors reject two different manuscripts and the authors of one or the other compare notes. There is the potential of attracting legal problems (which should be laughable, but in today's climate, it's not). There are, in short, innumerable down sides, from the publisher's point of view, to saying more than "no", and very few up sides.

Also, there's the matter of honesty. While I've never read slush for a living, I have seen examples of what comes in unsolicited. If you want a good example, read 10 random fanfic stories from one of the better (that is, less trendy) fandoms. Those check boxes would be things like "make your story not suck", "make your story notreally suck", and "burn your story and hide the ashes; you cannot make this not suck." Snark aside, from what I've seen of slush, the vast majority of manuscripts are rejected for things that it is not a publisher's job to teach a writer, and which, if the writer is unable to learn on their own (and before submitting it) leave open the question of whether this person should be a writer. The ability to read submission guidelines and submit to publishers of the appropriate genre is something of a shibboleth. Yet people do send romances to science fiction publishers, science fiction to literary publishers, literary novels to thriller publishers, thrillers to non-fiction publishers, biographies to fiction publishers, and so on. Incessantly.

So that gets back to the slushpile reader needing to take more time for any given manuscript. Instead of "yes" or "no", tossing it in the accepted pile or the rejected pile and moving on to the next, the reader would need to take the time to quantify exactly what is wrong with the story, both in absolute terms and in relative terms, and make sure it's defensible from the inevitable angry reply, and possibly from legal action as well. From the publisher's point of view, that's spending money to no good end. Remember, they don't need to teach potential writers how to write; there are enough people who already can to fill up their publishing schedule. And there's no guarantee that such a person, once educated, would submit to that publisher anyway. They might be working for free to assist a competing business. In short, there's nothing in it for them.

As badly as publishers can get things wrong outside their area of expertise (DRM in particular) they do know how print publishing works, and how to do it. They've been doing it for centuries. They send the form letters they do because that works for them, in a business sense, and they are businesses, with any business's need to maintain supplies and markets, and make a profit somewhere in the middle.

(by the way, except to the advertising industry, "quality" is a noun)
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Old 03-15-2011, 10:55 AM   #11
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I've been in business & agree with what you say but publishers who don't spend a little time to educate authors about their needs & preferences are reducing their future stock in trade.
I think that's the point of submission guidelines. If you can't follow the guidelines, it's should be an obvious "no". Take, for example, this little gem I came across last week. I was given a short stack of resumes and asked to go through them and pick 3 that I'd like to interview in person for a job in my accounting department. One of them had written that he/she was "well-versed in Quicken Books software". Now. Quickbooks is a thing. Quicken is a thing. Quicken Books is not a thing. Instantly moved to the reject pile. If they can't even tell me what software they're proficient at, I have no faith in their abilities. (The resume also said this person was "detail oriented". Yeah.)
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Old 03-15-2011, 12:36 PM   #12
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Exactly.

Being able to apply correctly for a job -- whether it's sending in a multi-page CV or filling out an application from one of those pre-printed pads of them -- is the first step in proving you're capable of doing the job. If you can't get that right, the prospective employer has no further interest in you. They're not going to teach you how to write a better resume, or even how to write your name in the proper box on the application (yes, there are people who can't even get that much right); they're just going to toss it in the "bounced" pile and move on to the next of the big stack in front of them.

Every time you try to sell to a publisher, you're applying for the job of writer. If you can't demonstrate that you're at least minimally worthy of that job through your application -- your query, your manuscript, etc. -- they have no further interest in that application. They're not going to teach you how to write a better application any more than the person who sent queentess that wince-worthy resume.

One of the basic rules of applying for any job (including "writer") is that the person reading your resume, application, etc., is looking for a reason to reject it. No, they're not looking for a reason to accept it. They don't need to. Once they reject all the obvious failures, they can consider which of the handful remaining they actually want to investigate further. But the first step is weeding out the easy rejections. So a critical step in getting any job is not being one of those easy rejections. Not putting your name in the right box (or in the case of writing, not following the submission guidelines, submitting to the wrong market, etc.) will sink you before you start. If you're not even willing to work that much, they want you to go away and stay away, even if they're more polite than that about it.
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Old 03-15-2011, 01:30 PM   #13
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Just try to remember that the clerk who sent it back is probably jealous and bitter because they dont have the talent for writing that you were blessed with.

And dont give up. That is the only sure way to never get it out there.

I hope the rest of your weekend is nothing but glorious!
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That is very likely not true.

Aside from the fact that rejections aren't sent out by clerks, and that "clerk" is not a title of shame, anyway, it just doesn't work that way.
You're more correct Worldwalker, but I don't doubt for a second DixieGal enjoys life more (than either of us, I imagine). Hers is the rarer talent. Here's another xkcd you might find enlightening.
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Old 03-15-2011, 01:39 PM   #14
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But what if one enjoys pointing out how wrong people are?
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Old 03-15-2011, 02:07 PM   #15
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But what if one enjoys pointing out how wrong people are?
I know I do, but I'm still betting she outlives us.

There are those few mean old codgers that do nothing but drink and smoke and hate and still live forever, but I think to get there, you have to be so mean the devil doesn't want the competition in the afterlife. It's a pretty high bar.
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