As a writer, dealing with rejection is something you need to cope with if you want to get published. However, sometimes I found myself in the position where I had to reject an offer and withdraw my story. It didn’t happen very often, because when you’re new to publishing, you’ll jump at every opportunity to be published, but it did happen several times.
Here’s my experience:
1. Something is wrong with the contract
If you use the Submission Grinder, sometimes you’ll see a warning that a publication has problematic contracts, or you’ll hear other writers complaining. I am no expert on contracts, but I believe every writer should learn how to read them and see the red flags. The good place to start is the SFWA website and their model contracts. If you feel uncomfortable with the contract, you should seek advice (more experienced writers will often be able help you) and try to negotiate it – new, amateur publishers can sometimes be too grabby, and you have every right to protect your work. If it turns out that you can’t agree with the publisher, you should walk away. Even if it’s just one story, a bad contract can hurt your career.
2. Something’s wrong with the editor
When this scenario happens, it’s hard to say whose fault it is – sometimes the editors are inexperienced, or too invasive, sometimes the writer is too stubborn to let go of their vision of the story. My rule of thumb is this: if someone wants to buy my story, I’m guessing it’s because they like it. A few changes here and there, some tweaking and clarification are fine. Bigger changes that require serious rewriting, but will make the story stronger are also fine – if I have the time and skill to do them. Changes that make me uncomfortable, feel wrong or I believe miss the point of my story are not fine. Most editors will let you stet their suggestions or negotiate some other way around the problem. If you cannot reach a satisfying agreement, and the publication has more than one editor, you should ask to work with another one. If that’s not possible, you should consider walking away. A mangled story will not hurt you as much as a bad contract, but publishing something you’re not 100% happy with will seem like a missed opportunity and a waste of a good story.
3. Grabby contests
I’ve also had bad experience with contests and I’ve learned to be wary of them – they’re a great way to scam the writers. The prizes may look great, but always read the rules carefully – sometimes they will state that just by submitting your story, you’re allowing them to use it or modify it in any way or for any purpose they want. You should never agree to assign any rights just by entering the contest.
I admit that each time I withdrew my work, I felt a pang of regret. Opportunities to get published sometimes seem few and far between, and when rejections swamp your inbox, you’d sign a contract with the Devil just to get your story out there. However… when I look back, I know I made the right decisions. Not getting published hurts, but getting published by someone who scams you or destroys your work is much worse.