Being Rejected

I got a very nice rejection email today.

I submitted a short story of mine entitled “Ascension” to be published in an upcoming anthology. They held the story for quite a while, then just yesterday I receive a lovely, personal email stating in part:

“Our apologies that it took so long for us to reply to you—we had far more submissions than we ever hoped, and yours stood out in a sea of worthwhile pieces. Thus we held onto your story until the editorial team was absolutely convinced of our choices. Alas, “Ascension” still wasn’t quite right for the collection. We loved, loved, loved this story, and we hope very much to see more from you when we reopen for submissions.”

How do you get upset with that? (Well, aside from, you know… being rejected and all.)

As a publisher myself (you’ve purchased your copy of Legends of Sleepy Hollow already, right?), I know how uncomfortable rejections can be. People have sent their baby to you and they are on pins and needles, hoping and praying that you’ll like their work and validate their existence. But sometimes…. well… their work is just…. so…. bad!

A lot of places just send out a form letter.

“Dear Author. Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it’s not what we’re looking for right now. Best of luck in the future. The Publisher.”

And that’s fine. It lets the author know that their work was read by a computer program that sifted through the grammar and vocabulary to see if it was even worth passing on to the human overlords. And it wasn’t. Sucks to be you.

Others get really desperate, and you can smell the guilt oozing off the page.

“Dear Wonderful Writer. Thank you so very much for allowing us to read your marvelous story. We wanted to like it, we really did. And we tried. Because it’s really good. Honest. If it were a perfect world we’d totally publish it. But, well, you know… with the whole Syria crisis… and climate change… it’s not a perfect world. Please don’t hate us. We feel really bad having to say no (and by the way, we’re saying no, hope you understand) and wish there was something we could do. But our hands are tied. It’s not our fault. And it’s not your fault, because you’re a great writer. It just didn’t work out between us. Please don’t go off binge-drinking or anything, OK? Send us an email every now and then to let us know you’re OK? Please? Sincerely, The Publisher.”

That way, you know your story has been read by someone with very low self-esteem who really needs a hug right about now.

Me, I tried to be constructive in my rejections. I told myself before I started that I’d send some sort of personal note when rejecting a story. It’s the least I could do. Having been on the other side, I knew how important it was to at least feel like my work had been read.

For the first few rejections I made, I held to this. Complimenting them on the parts of their story I liked, making suggestions or explaining what it was about the story that didn’t work for me. But the submissions kept coming in. And coming in. And coming in. And some of these stories were just plain awful. I mean come on, people! I wouldn’t have submitted some of those things to my third-grade teacher, let alone a professional (as far as they knew) literary outlet. It’s cliche to say people should use spell-checker but… come on! Use spell-checker for Christ’s sake! You don’t even have to do anything! Do you have a bunch of words in your story underlined with squiggly red lines? That means they could very well be spelled wrong! Open your friggin’ eyes!

There were a number of times I really, really, really wanted to send this rejection email.

“Dear Person How Pounded a Keyboard Randomly With Their Meaty Fingers. Are you kidding? This is a joke, right? You’re not seriously hoping I’ll print this garbage, are you? Did you even read it yourself? I tried, because that’s sort of my job, but I couldn’t get past the first fifteen or so words without vomiting all over my computer. Look, I’ll be blunt. You suck. The story sucks, yes, but more than that, you suck. If you honestly think this story is the best you can do, you should not be writing. Anything. Not fiction. Not non-fiction. Not a grocery list. I would go into detail on what was wrong with your story, but I have a life. And you, quite obviously, don’t. Best of luck with the whole ‘breathing’ thing. I’m guessing it might not come naturally for you. Oh, and just in case you haven’t picked up the hint, I’m rejecting your story. I’m rejecting you. Because you suck. Sincerely, The Publisher.”

But I didn’t. Instead, I generally sent something like this.

“Dear Author. Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it’s not what we’re looking for right now. Best of luck in the future. The Publisher.”

All of this is simply my way of acknowledging the very nice people who rejected my story in such a kind, humane way. They did it the right way. Probably better than I would have been able to do.

Ironically, I’d already marked down that the story was rejected by them last month, and submitted it elsewhere. Huh.


Author: neilsendavid

Author of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom and Beyond the Doors.

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