Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Rejecting - A View From The Other Side

Submissions for EXTINCT have picked up as we get nearer the deadline, which is awesome. Thanks!

What I'm finding harder than I thought is sending out rejection letters.

Now, if you've been following the blog you'll know I'm pretty straight-forward. I'll tell you right out and honestly what works and doesn't work in my opinion. For the short story subs, I'm taking time and trying to articulate my reasoning in a few paragraphs in hopes that the feedback will help craft a stronger story, whether you resubmit it here or submit a revised version elsewhere.

I have no trouble writing up that feedback. What makes sending that feedback out different from the feedback I offer on queries is that queries are an artifice. Writers don't choose to write a query because they want to (well, OK, some of us do, but we're in the minority). Writers, however, write short stories because they feel motivated to, because they need to, because not to write stories is not to breathe, not to feel, not to live. It's far easier to suggest a writer hasn't quite mastered the skill of query writing because no one stands up and says, "I want to be a great query writer some day." But when you have to write a rejection letter and suggest an author needs to master the basics of storytelling or grammar before they can hope to compete on a professional level at something they want so desperately, it's soul-sucking on a whole different level.

I recently submitted a short story to Beneath Ceaseless Skies and was very thankful to read an exchange in the forums that makes offering revision advice -- and accepting it! -- a little more palatable.

One writer, W Knight, said: So far, every story I've submitted to BCS has been rejected. That being said, I've taken the advice offered in those rejections, revamped the story and managed to sell them elsewhere.

Editor-in-Chief Scott Andrews replied: You are not alone--stories that have been rejected from BCS have, upon revision, gone on to sell to such great venues as Realms of Fantasy and to win Finalist status in the Writers of the Future contest.

I'm not saying my advice or reasons for rejection will be as brilliant as that offered by others, but now when I write my rejections, I think how thrilling for me personally it would be if any of those writers were to stretch themselves just a little more and find happy homes for the stories they revise.


fairyhedgehog said...

It would almost be worth getting a rejection from you for the sake of the feedback.

vkw said...

Here is the problem with rejections and criticism, we've been taught that it's a bad thing.

In my mind, it's not. Criticism gives a second opinion about how things are going. Criticism is an opportunity for growth, development and, in some cases, even self-confidence. (This occurs in situations when you realize the person critizing you doesn't know what they are talking about).

Rejection is an opportunity to do better or find something better.

I imagine, however, it can be difficult.

kyle said...

Frankly, I *love* it when I get a rejection letter with comments on my story. Not as much as I love the acceptance letters, of course, but still, I love it!

If the editor has pointed out a flaw that can be improved, that helps me improve. And nobody -- not even Ursula K. LeGuin -- should be writing without striving to continually improve.

If the editor has pointed out a "flaw" that indicates that the editor just doesn't care for this type of story, that's important information for the next time you submit to the same editor. Call it market research.

I know there are writers out there who get belligerent and argumentative when editors give them feedback (and I've encountered a few in workshops as well), but I sincerely hope they're the exception and not the norm.

To me, the most soul-crushing rejections are the generic form letters that just say, "No thanks and good luck."

Orlando said...
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Orlando said...

It becomes difficult when a rejection comes with no explanation. I realize how difficult it can become to read, edit, and offer feed back to every entry due to time restraints, but hopefully that's when assistants come in. Not sure in your case Phoenix if you have one, if not this portion may not pertain to you.

It is easier for the aspiring author to see where he/she needs to improve the novel and their skill. On the other hand I do realize it is not the job of the contest holder to teach or otherwise take you under their wing, although it would be like a dream come true.

On the other hand it may be a good idea for the aspiring author to find a critique group. I have heard horror stories about some of them, and I realize the ones on the internet may charge you a fee. I have heard wonderful stories about critique groups as well. Tuff choices for us, but like in any trade we need to purchase some tools to complete our work, in writing we also must purchase some tools which well assist us in our writing.

These contest are one of those but not the only choice. The fact that these contests are available is wonderful. If they were not available we would have even more difficult choices. Let's use what has been afforded us with the positivity in which it is provided.

Phoenix: Don't take it as a negative that you have to send a rejection notice. If accepted properly by the author it will be a positive outcome to improve their craft.

Phoenix said...

I know I appreciate feedback, too. I like at least knowing WHY someone says no, even if I don't agree with the reason.

Kyle, I have to disagree about a form rejection being the most soul-crushing. I don't want to share it in a post, but I had a good cry over the following rejection (next post) that I got this past Sunday. This is not the first one I've gotten that basically says it isn't me, it's them. Those pretty much undo me :o(

How do you respond to something like this except with copious amounts of chocolate, ice cream, and the adult beverage of your choice?

Phoenix said...

I'm not at all surprised that other agents have called for this manuscript and my thanks for disclosing that fact at the outset. It's really rather good - it flows very well indeed, with your character development and plot pacing all coming across exactly as they should and your story building from the off. I was certainly hooked! Excellent stuff all round.

That said, hand-on-heart I don't think I'd be the best agent for this particular book - my editorial contacts centre around the more obviously genre areas of the market and I think SECTOR C would be best placed towards the mainstream thriller market rather than the genre one. I also think it's a book that will sell far better (easier) in the US than in the UK - and even though we have many direct routes into US publishing, I tend to prefer to try my home market first.

So, although I do think this is potentially a very exciting project, I must regretfully pass in favour of one better suited to harness that potential. I have no doubt whatsoever that you'll get a deal for it in due course.

vkw said...

That's a great rejection letter Phoenix!

Here's the positive points: more mainstream than genre, (that means bigger market and more agents, a professional thinks it's great story, (awesome), better in the US audience than UK (bigger market!), and hey and an honest agent that says he/she will market a UK writer first.

It's like you applied to work at a convenience store and the manager said, "love to hire you but you would do better working for Trump tower."

And, maybe you can remember this person when your book is ready to be released to the UK.


vkw said...

P.S. do you think it would be okay to write the person back, thank him/her for the critique (I would definately encourage you to send a thank-you) and maybe ask if he/she could recommend an appropriate agent?

What the heck . . it's worth a try.

Orlando said...
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Orlando said...

All rejection hurts, especially if you have your heart set on it. Crying is okay too, whatever it takes to let out your pain. But, don't dwell in the negative of the rejection letter after you've gotten it off you chest. These rejections are as painful as the injuries our protagonists have sustained. And just like our protagonist we need to stand against all odds and fight to obtain our goal.

So, indulge in the copious amounts of chocolate, ice cream, and the adult beverage of your choice, mine is vodka and cranberry juice, by the way. Have a good cry if you need, and then get up the next day, tuff as nails, ready to fight again.

Whirlochre said...

The only way to let people down is matter-of-factly — which is why rejection always seems so cold.

fairyhedgehog said...

It's so hard being rejected but I think I might take some comfort in knowing that I'd got a damn good novel there, even if that particular agent isn't willing to take it on.

And yes, mountains of chocolate are needed.

kyle said...

I can sure understand why your initial response to that rejection was depression, Phoenix, but it's actually a great rejection letter. Agents are under no obligation to tell you that they think the novel is good, so I'd clearly take this to mean that the novel IS good. But having worked in marketing for more of my life than I care to admit to, I really respect it when someone says, "This is a good product, and I can't do it justice." What that says to me is that you will find an agent for this one, and when you find an agent who believes in it and has the contacts to sell it, it will sell. (It also says to me that you shouldn't sign with the first agent who puts out an offer. Do a little research and make sure they can actually target the mainstream market, because mainstream fiction does a lot better commercially than the stuff buried on the "science fiction and fantasy" shelves, and if this agent is right that there's a strong crossover market, you want to be taking advantage of that.)

So, to make a long comment short ("too late"): You go, girl!

Phoenix said...

vkw: I absolutely thanked him already. I may go back to him later, but I'm really a chicken at heart. I used up all my courage earlier this month asking for an author quote for another novel (she's reading the ms now!).

Orlando: Thank you for your words of encouragement. And yes, much chocolate and ice cream was consumed.

Whirl: I suppose that's why we all need supportive crit partners who can help keep things warm.

FHH: Thank you!

Kyle: I'd be happier about this rejection if other agents hadn't said they thought I'd get representation no problem, just not them. Those were very validating at the beginning of the agent quest, but now, as I near the end and the pool of agents left is fast drying up, it's pretty frustrating :o(

Ah well. That's what Amazon publishing is for, I guess ;o)

Sylvia said...

I've decided to cut out the middle man:

Journal of Universal Rejection

Phoenix said...

Sylvia: Love the link. Perfect for anyone just starting out who's afraid of that very first rejection!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Divine Miss P, I can see you sitting there, it is at night and cold and dark out. You are at your computer, covered in cat. You feel some force ripping your soul out of your left nostril with a rusty coat hanger. That has got to be painful and lonely. Giving or getting - rejection.

I'm all for self medicating during excruciating moments.

Seriously, in agreement with VKW, we are taught from early days rejection is bad. Very hard for anyone to put it in a positive place.

That letter is a badge of respect. Congratulations. Someone wants Sector C. You don't know who, that's all.

fairyhedgehog said...

For some reason I seem to see all the spam that comes through on this blog! If I see Anon I'm always tempted to delete unread (and I wish I had this time!)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Sorry, FHH!

Thanks for letting me know. The emails get put into Blogger's spam folder and I didn't know everyone who'd subscribed to the comments of the post the spam is coming through on could see it too.

What I think I can do is set up the site so that any comments on a post that's 2+ weeks old need to be moderated. That should reduce the spam on YOUR side.

Thanks for letting me know!

fairyhedgehog said...

Lexi Revellian had the same problem. It's a real issue with Blogger - if they mark something as spam they should treat it as spam!

I moderate all comments on posts over a week old and I think I catch most of it.