Rejection, Rejection

According to The Grinder, my short fiction stats for this year are:

  • 75 submissions
  • 3 acceptances
  • 67 rejections

And that’s pretty average for me. I tend to submit my stories to magazines whose acceptance rates are 1% – 3%. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of stories the editors of those magazines prefer, so there’s much fingers-crossed submitting which results in rejections at least once a week.

I should be used to rejection by now, right?

Well, yes and no. Submitting is an act of hope, and having that hope dashed always stings. But I’ve seen many discussions on the types of rejections and their advantages/disadvantages, so I thought I might add my two cents.

Form Rejections

Fast Form: a quick no-thank-you rejecting your story in a matter of days (or sometimes hours).

People sometimes get offended if they get rejected that quickly, but I understand that the first slush read often takes less than 10 minutes, and I appreciate a quick no. If we’re not compatible, let’s not waste each other’s time.

Semi-fast Form: up to 60 days.

This is the average and my attitude depends on the Grinder data. If I see a mountain of submissions and the red wave of rejection progressing slowly, but steadily, I’m happy to wait. But if there’s a limited period for submissions and the rejection wave is not moving after its end, I get grumpy and feel my time is being wasted.

Slow Form: over 60 days.

There are cases when I’m OK with this: if there’s a long submission window, and the editors state in advance they’re not going to reply before it closes (this is typical for anthology calls). Or if the market is only open once or twice per year, so everybody submits at the same time and they get hundreds of submissions.

However, if there are no hold notices and my story is in the queue for more than 60 days, I start stalking the Grinder to see if the queue is moving. If I get to 90 days without a reply, that market loses its spot on my list of priorities. And if all I get after 90+ days is a Formy McFormface, I’m disappointed.

Personal Rejections

I’m not a fan of personal rejections. Some writers like to get a feedback on their story and learn why it was rejected, but as it is often quite subjective, I prefer to skip it. Most personals I got ranged from mildly confusing to downright offensive, showing me that my story simply didn’t click with the readers. I very rarely found it useful.

However, there are two types of personal rejections that I appreciate:

Quick, Positive Personal

This is usually a form with a sentence or two added by the editor saying what they liked about the story. Not very useful, but extremely kind. There’s one editor who writes such lovely comments in their rejections I want to track them down in RL and hug them.

Slow, Thoughtful Personal

This one is rare, and, despite its usefulness, it tends to hurt. It means the editor took the time to read and analyse your story and send you the feedback that can actually make the story better.

I appreciate it, but it makes me feel I was close to selling the story but blew it because I wasn’t good enough.

Reject that pathetic loser!

This year, I also had the opportunity to co-edit Ghost Orchid’s anthology “Beyond the Veil”, which – for the first time in my life – put me in the position to reject (and accept) stories.

I’ve learnt that rejecting stories is messy. When reading other people’s work, I tend to doubt my competence all the time. Who am I to judge if this is good or not? Do I get this story or do I completely miss the point the author wants to make? Does it fit my vision of what it should look like?

The bottom line is – words are an imperfect tool for depicting the worlds we built in our heads. What you mean to write – or what you think you wrote – and what I get from it can be two very different things. It’s wonderful when the writer’s intentions match the editor’s expectations and a great synergy happens. But when it doesn’t, I’m left wondering how close or how far a story is from what I want and need.

It all boils down to my personal judgement in the end. If the story is reasonably well-written and if it fits the theme, then the difference between an acceptance and a rejection is my personal feeling. Do I like this story? Do I find it original, challenging, thought-provoking, shocking? Does it fit the other stories I’ve chosen? How does it make me feel?

I understand this is both good and bad. It’s bad because there’s probably nothing wrong with the story and some other reader might love it. It’s good because – well – there’s nothing wrong with the story and some other reader will love it.

So, when an editor says “it’s not you, it’s me”, it’s true. I used to think this was a lie, I believed there must be something inherently wrong with my rejected stories. But being the one who rejects taught me it was really much more about the editor’s expectations and needs.

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