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Anne C. Petty, “Dealing with Rejection”
At some point in your writing career you’ll probably begin to feel thick skinned, maybe even a little jaded, when it comes to rejections. You may even reach a point when you’re willing to let go of those carefully saved slips, letters, and notices – just throw them all out. But before you do that, let’s revisit the usefulness of the rejection to your growth as a writer.
Let’s start with a little pop quiz.
Upon receiving a rejection from a publisher you were convinced was the perfect fit with your work, should you:
A.    Send the publisher/agent/editor an angry screed, detailing how obtuse and boneheaded they are for not being able to appreciate the qualities of your work, and explain that many others who really know their stuff have praised the work.
B.     Tell the publisher/agent/editor how crushed you are to get rejected by the one publisher you had your heart set on, and beg them to reconsider. Ask them to explain to you what needs to be changed in the work to make it acceptable so you can resubmit to them.
C.     Wait 6 months and send it again under a different title, hoping a different editor will read it this time.
D.   Give yourself a moment of anguish and temporarily allow yourself to feel deflated and/or pissed. Then objectively analyze the rejection letter, glean what knowledge you can from it, and move on.
If you answered A, consider this: Editors have long memories, and they share information with other editors and publisher – Do you want them to tag you as arrogant and difficult to work with?
If you chose B, consider this: The editor/publisher barely has time to read your submission, much less edit it for you! And you probably can’t afford their rates, anyway.
If you chose C, consider this: a rejection is a rejection. Do not resubmit unless asked to do so. And yes, the editor will remember your book the next time it shows up. Look for more fertile ground elsewhere.
If you chose D, you’re making progress!  For the record, as a publisher I’ve received A – C type of responses far too many times.
As a writer, what can be gleaned from a rejection letter? You’ll have to develop a knack for reading between the lines. Look for constructive feedback – it might be clearly stated or subtle. Some quick rejections are polite, some perfunctory, but all will tell you something if you pay attention.
An impersonal brush-off usually means your submission is probably not a good fit for reasons of style, subject, or length. Move along, please.
A lame brush-off (“we’re not that into your story,” I’m not feeling the love…”) is just that – lame. You’re better off with some other venue.
A personalized note appended to a form letter is encouraging. Take this as a positive sign, but DON’T send a thank-you reply unless requested to get back with the editor/publisher. It’s just more email clogging their in-box.
A personal letter that’s NOT a form letter is valuable – save those, not just for the contact information that may prove useful at some later time.
Follow up on any suggested leads or advice. Editors are well-connected and may steer you toward a venue you hadn’t thought of. They may even mention your work to someone else, so don’t fail to follow up.
Absolutely follow up on an invitation to submit something else, although your first submission is rejected. This could be your foot in the door with that publisher.
Read the clues hidden in timing: an immediate rejection usually means you missed the mark or misjudged what the publisher was looking for. Move along, please. A longer wait time might mean at least someone’s reading your manuscript.
If you’re a series author, you may get rejections when your editor changes, your books don’t sell at an expected level, or the publisher goes belly-up. Then it’s time to just suck it up and figure out your plan B. Whining or pleading about the demise of your series will fall on deaf ears.
Self-published authors most often get rejections from distributors and bookstores that won’t carry their books. That’s why Amazon (and other e-book publishers) is your friend.
What’s your rejection quotient? Have you gotten a rejection that was the last straw, so much so that it galvanized you to take action you probably wouldn’t have done otherwise? My own worst example was for a poem I’d sent to a writer’s magazine when I was a college freshman. The rejection simply stated, in the editor’s handwriting, that the magazine did not print doggerel. I was so furious, I burned the note. But it sent me in search of the definition of doggerel and ultimately made me a much better poet.
When I was publisher for Kitsune Books, we received an average of 100 submissions per week. Most of those submissions required sending the dreaded rejection message. Here’s why:
My top 8 reasons for rejecting an author’s submission (not mutually exclusive):
Wrong genre (shows the author didn’t do his or her research on the publisher)
Not ready for prime time (author needs a writer’s critique group or basic writing class)
Execution (i.e., style, writer’s voice) – I can usually tell within the first 3 pages if it’s what I’m looking for
Query letter flaws (revelations about the author’s style and/or personality)
Didn’t follow submission guidelines (wrong format, too long or short, didn’t attach what is asked for, not submitted during the reading period, etc.), suggesting this author may be difficult to work with
Trying to cash in on an obvious fad or wave – (sorry, I want to read the story that your writer’s heart must tell, not the book you think will be the next big whatever.)
Too close to something we just did (again, failure to properly research the publisher)
The work is uneven (it’s going to take much more editing than we have time to do – again, author should seek out a critique group)
Here’s a little exercise you may find useful. Put yourself on the publisher’s side of the desk and try your hand at writing these rejections:
Respond to a clueless writer. (You’re feeling charitable, so you offer some basic advice, minus the sarcasm you hear in your head.)
Respond to a competent writer you’ve published before, but the second submission isn’t what you expected. (Should you be brutally honest or try to find a way to ease the fact that you don’t like this new work?)
Respond to a writer who shows promise, but whose submission isn’t quite ready for prime time. (You genuinely want to encourage this writer, even though you have no intention of publishing the work he or she submitted.)
Not as easy as it seems, is it? It’s much less effort to send the “sorry, not for us” brush-off instead of taking the time to explain your rejection to a potential author. In my career as a publisher, I would estimate that 95% of the submissions my press received were unsuitable for one reason or another. I never enjoyed writing rejection notices, because I’ve gotten my fair share of them and know all too well how that initial sharp pain of failure feels when you read the “Sorry, but…” sentence. When I could, I tried to soften that pain with some piece of encouragement or advice.
So take a second look at those rejections in your files and folders to see what useful information you can glean from them, especially if they’re personalized and offer advice or leads to follow. In any case, don’t give up, because that one good lead out of 50 rejections might be the break you’ve been looking for!
Anne Petty’s Bio
Writer, editor, publisher, anime/manga addict. Tastes run toward the dark side.
Anne Petty (Ph.D. in English, Florida State University) has over 30 years’ experience in the
wordsmithing field as teacher, author, editor, and publisher. Anne Petty explores myth, legend, and the world of J.R.R. Tolkien in her online blog and her published non-fiction—Tolkien in the Land of Heroes (2005, Mythopoeic Society Award Finalist); Dragons of Fantasy (2nd ed. 2008); and One Ring to Bind Them All (2nd ed. 2001). Chapters in anthologies include contributions to Modern Critical Views (2000); Tolkien Studies (2004); More People’s Guide to J. R. R. Tolkien (2005); Tolkien and Shakespeare (2007); Good Dragons Are Rare (2009); and Light Beyond All Shadow (2011).
Anne Petty also writes dark urban fantasy/horror fiction. The first novel in her Wandjina series was Thin Line Between (2005, Cold Spring Press/Simon & Schuster), and the follow-up novel, Shaman's Blood, was published in 2011 by Journalstone Press. Due out in 2013 is The Cornerstone (a dark fantasy retelling of the Doctor Faustus legend), and LIMBUS INC., a shared-world anthology created by Anne for Journalstone Press. Recent short stories include “TheVeritas Experience” published in The Best Horror, Fantasy, & Science Fiction of 2009 (Absent Willow Review). Another story, “Blade,” received Honorable Mention in AWR’s 2010 Best Horror, Fantasy, & SciFi competition.
Anne Petty is an active member of the Horror Writers Association, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, the Mythopoeic Society, and the Tolkien Society. She is a founding member of the Tallahassee Writers Association and has been a presenter at writers’ conferences and pop-culture conventions such as Dragon-Con in Atlanta.
In 2006, she founded Kitsune Books, a small press specializing in literary fiction, book-length
poetry collections, and literary criticism.
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