Monday, July 2, 2007

Editor Posts Rejection Letter He Wrote on Blog

This guy posted a rejection letter he wrote to some poor writer on his own blog, which is called "A Place For Strangers and Beggars: Where story tellers and friends hang out." It's actually a defense of the form letter because it took the guy a whole 15 minutes to write an actual letter, which he thinks is a lot. He also notes that: "It's probable that sending feedback will just encourage the writer to send more stuff, or, worse, to send me notes asking for me to elaborate on a point or, even worse yet, to send me a note explaining in depth why I am full of it, but maybe, just maybe, it will help." Guess he really does consider some writers to be beggars.

30 comments:

The Quoibler said...

What a terrible outlook this dude has. Geesh. Maybe he got into the wrong line of work.

Lighten up, man.

Angelique
www.recessforwriters.blogspot.com

Babychaos said...

What a scummer!

As a writer, I really feel for whoever was on the end of that letter. I thought the way to discover new talent was to encourage new writers and give them feedback. Then again as far as I can see you have to be famous for something else first if anyone is going to bother to publish your work these days... not that I'm bitter... or twisted! ;-)

Cheers

BC

Babychaos said...

PS I think the worst rejection I ever had was from Private Eye. They sent me a compliments slip with "NO" scrawled on it in Biro. Nothing else, not even the piece of work I'd sent in.

Ouch.

Writer, Rejected said...

BC: That is one evil rejection letter you describe....do you have it still? Can you send it to me at writerrejected@aol.com? I would love to post about it and offer you the relief that comes from airing a dirty rejection!

English Major said...

I am a reader of unsolicited submissions for a major house, and here's what you've got to understand: there are thousands of them, and most of them are not entertainingly bad or sparklingly good. Most of them are just uninteresting. And rather than say, "I am not moved to emotion of any kind by your submission," I send a form letter.

I can't imagine why previous commenters are instructing an editor who's taking the time to offer constructive criticism to "lighten up" and "encourage" the author. That editor is providing constructive feedback, and it's a hell of a lot more than I provide for most of the authors whose work I read.

Writer, Rejected said...

Thank you for the insight, English Major. You are 23-years-old. You shouldn't be writing rejection letters. Form leters are fine. We thank you for making a sensible decision. You are a wise woman.

Anonymous said...

You know, I was on your side until I read your response to English Major's comment, which struck me as, well, arrogant. And just because you have a thin skin and get your feelings hurt by every "No" you receive, does that mean you should attempt to hurt other people's feelings?

What do you want from editors? They can't win. They send a form letter - you call them impersonal. They try to write a few original sentences - you call them mean. The truth is, you're going to be rejected, waaay more often than you are accepted. It seems like you expect editors to have boundless empathy for your situation; yet you seem to have none for the plight of a person who has the difficult task of saying no to people all day long. Maybe you should spend your energy on your work instead of on this extended grudge-fest.

Writer, Rejected said...

Geez, Angry Anon....what do you sound like when you are someone's enemy?

Anonymous said...

I'm not angry, I am just puzzled. Seriously, answer the question, if not for me, than for yourself - what is it you expect from these editors? Perfection? Saintliness? And why the sarcasm toward English Major, who wasn't attacking you but simply offering an alternate viewpoint?

Writer, Rejected said...

I think this one is a no brainer, Puzzled Anon: TO PUBLISH ME! Just kidding. Check out the rejections under "nice" and "exemplary." I'll publish some more of those soon, so I am not criticizing without offering my opinion on how to do it right. There are some very good rejectors out there, who do it with genuine aplomb. Stay tuned for more of those posted soon. Thanks for the dialogue. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so harsh on the 23-year-old. Sometimes I get carried away! Forgive me?

Anonymous said...

I find it hilarious that this blog exists to poke fun at and insult those in power, but when anyone comments that you sound angry, not funny, you get all offended and ask where is the commenter's sense of humor.

Which is a way of saying why I read this: you're funny, just not the way I think you intend to be. And I doubt those who love this blog are really the kind of people you'd want to associate with.

Bitterness as a binding agent? Not good karma.

Writer, Rejected said...

Dude, you misread me. I am *totally* not offended. You see, in my heart of hearts, I really want people to find their inner-senses of humor. You find the blog to be hilarious, and yet you find me bitter. I don't know. You also imply that my humor is not in my control. I beg to differ. I think I intend every bit of my humor. And I really do love having this debate about rejection letters and whether or not it is kosher to make them public. I take the comments on my blog seriously, and want to have a discussion about the power imbalance in publishing that makes everyone afraid for me. I respect the readers of this blog and even apologize when I think I may have gone too far....Is that cause for bad karma? I hope not.

Jim Van Pelt said...

Well, as the editor who posted the original comment, and a writer who has received a lot of rejection letters, I didn't write the note to be mean. I wanted to help.

My comment at my blog was about the impossibility of doing that kind of response to every writer and the bad feedback that comes from trying to help. So many writers will take meaningful feedback as an invitation to either defend their work or to get a LOT more feedback, which I and every other editor simply does not have time to give.

I'm also a teacher, though, and it's hard not to offer advice if I can.

Writer, Rejected said...

Jim! You are good to stop by and give us some insight. Listen, I think maybe you bring up a very good point here. Your intention is to help and you want to offer some kind, useful advice, but in a 15-minute letter, maybe that isn't really possible. And maybe the writer (you are one, so you know) is only going to experience your helpful tips as painful. So maybe there is a flaw in the concept here, not simply the execution. What do you think?

Jim Van Pelt said...

It depends a lot on the writer. The best piece of advice I ever received came from a rejection letter. It was from George Scithers when he was doing Amazing Stories. He said, "I hope while you were waiting to hear from us on this one that you were working on your next." He also pointed out that I'd substituted "breath" for "breathe" in the first paragraph.

If all a writer wants is validation of being a writer, anything less than total praise can be crushing. But when a writer gets serious and really wants to improve, then honesty, even brutal honesty, is what he/she wants.

According to the story, Harlan Ellison, when he did Clarion one year, went around the room on the last day telling each writer what he thought of their talent. He told a couple to keep with it, but he told the rest they were hopeless and should quit. You can't get much more brutal than that! One of the writers he told should give it up, though, was James Patrick Kelly, who has gone on to win numerous awards in science fiction.

Kelly wanted to write more than any criticism that was thrown in his way. So he learned from what Harlan had to say and ignored anything that sounded hurtful.

A rejection letter just means that the manuscript didn't work for that editor on that day. The writer shouldn't take anything at all from it. If the editor offers advice or criticism, the writer can listen or not. It's the writer's choice. But it still means the manuscript needs to go elsewhere, and that's all it means.

In the meantime, hopefully, the writer was working on something else.

Jim Van Pelt said...

Oh, by the way. In the original post, a question was raised about my blog title, "A Place for Strangers and Beggars: Where story tellers and friends hang out."

Strangers and Beggars was the name of my first short story collection. The title came from a quote from the Odyssey, "All strangers and beggars are from Zeus, and a gift, though small, is precious."

I was thinking of short stories as small but precious gifts.

CSInman said...

Dear "Literary Rejections On Display,"

We regret to inform you we cannot continue to read your blog at this time.

The Internet receives many blog posts each day, and while yours display some elements we find encouraging (a lack of blinking .gifs and L337-speak), there is a general air of bitterness, and some misspellings. (Firefox has a built-in spell-checking function; perhaps you should try a new browser.)

We suggest you spend more time improving your craft and less time griping when the industry doesn't offer you nectar, ambrosia, and sexual favors.

Thank you for your time.

Jena said...

In my 16 years as an editor (and writer) I came to realize that what writers want to hear is, "This is brilliant! Here's the check!" Unfortunately, to many, any form of "no" is a deep and personal insult.

I tried -- at first -- to offer suggestions and constructive criticism. I tried to point out what wasn't working, or where there were logic faults, POV jumps, etc. That's what *I* wanted as a writer -- didn't everyone?

Most of the writers I worked with were glad to receive feedback, but there were a number who weren't. It was the angry letter with snot smeared on it (I'm hoping it was snot), that made me decide to start sending out rejections that read, "We're sorry, but this is not right for us. Thank you for your submission."

Long story short -- this can be a tough business, and we have to grow equally tough skins to survive. Best of luck with your next submission. And I mean that.

Writer, Rejected said...

Thanks for the great post, Jena. I hope nobody ever really sent you snot on paper; that seems extreme. I think given that editors are way overworked these days and books are way underread, maybe it is best to offer sympathy and good wishes. I think as writers we hang on every word and read our rejections as Gospel, rather than as one woman or man's opinion. With that kind of power imbalance, it is difficult for an editor to come out ahead.

Writer, Rejected said...

Inman: Sexual Favors? Seriously? Man, you must have a really good agent. Your post made me laugh. Thanks for the criticism and for the rejection. I needed that! Also, I'll work on my spelling, if you'll come back...

Writer, Rejected said...

Jim: I have to say that I pretty much agree with your posts. Part of being a writer is figuring out what editorial advice is valuable, and what not, and how to use the good stuff. It's no easy trick, is it? As you can see from my rejections, a bunch of editors think I'm not close enough to the heart of my story, and I think ultimately that is correct, though it's not exactly the way I think of it myself. Still, it's useful. I guess a good bit of this is just feeling tender about getting passed up so often. Not that I'm admitting to sour grapes, or anything (detractors step off). Though if the shoe fits, I guess maybe I'm wearing it, having just stepped in some you-know-what. (Also: amen to short stories as "small, but precious gifts." Nice phrase.)

English Major said...

Indeed, I am 23 years old. Perhaps this is an indication of how seriously bigger houses take their slush piles. In my defense, though, at least I know you don't hyphenate "23 years old."

Seriously, my point here is this: if, as a writer submitting work, one doesn't want to be given constructive criticism, and one doesn't want a form letter, what does one want in the event that the editor (or lowly 23-year-old—and there is is hyphenated) decides the work in question is not the next big thing?

Writer, Rejected said...

English Major: I'm glad you came back. I truly apologize for my previous unkind remark about your age. My error was pointed out by another reader in a comment section somewhere on this blog, and I am sorry. You have as much a right as anyone to deliver a good rejection. I also stand humbly corrected on my misuse of the hyphen; You are a 23-year-old reader; not a 23-year-old. I hope you will accept my apology.

But to answer your question, what I want is TO BE PUBLISHED. (Just kidding.) What I want is for it to be like the old days, where editors developed writers, and took time to offer genuine and meaningful advice, not just glib and irritating rejections in order to move piles off the desk. In short, what I want is impossible; you can't go back. You can only move forward, which is why we need a revolution.

Jim Van Pelt said...

I don't think there ever was a "good old days" in the sense that editors nurtured every writer who crossed their desk. What gives folks the impression it was ever like that are some of the old lions in the field who talk about an editor who took them under the wing. What their story ignores, though, is that they became successful writers. My guess is that they showed a lot of promise then, so the editor helped. We don't hear about all the newbies who didn't make it.

I think that dynamic is still alive today. Editors still work with some writers, the ones who are a smidgen away from making it. I know lots of writers who sold work to magazines only after going through several rewrites at the editor's direction, and almost every first-time novelist I know has had to work extensively with an editor to polish the final work.

I don't think every writer who eventually succeeds gets that same treatment, however. I'm mostly a short story writer, so my experience is in that field. Weird Tales could be very abrupt with their rejections (I think the editor who was the most curt was Carol Adams--not sure now). I received two of the coldest notes in a row from her before they bought the first story they took from me. Pretty much all the magazines I've sold too I received standard rejects until I made my first sale to them.

Perseverance and a thick skin seem to be rerequisites to publishing.

Jim Van Pelt said...

rerequisites = prerequisites

Writer, Rejected said...

p.s. CSInman
I spellchecked my whole damn blog (comments not included) and came up with two typos and one word wrongly spelled. It was better than I thought, and better than you implied. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about my "general air of bitterness." The blog is supposed to be helping me with this. Or so says Lady Shrink. I hope this means you'll come back.

Jena said...

Re the goop on the letter -- Well, it was either snot or worse, and there was too much to be accidental.

To this day, I'm kicking myself for not taking it to my forensic science instructor to see if it would light up neon blue under the UV. Deep down, I think I was just too grossed out by the prospect that it would.

The best part? Meeting the author a few years down the road at a con and rushing over to greet him with a big smile and hearty handshake and "X! It's so good to finally meet you in person!" When he glanced down and looked at my nametag, he just about swallowed his tongue.

Jim Van Pelt said...

I thought you might find this interesting: I've posted a rubric for grading stories that is related to your investigation of rejection letters. You can see it at my LJ post entitled "Slush, Rejection Letters, and Rubrics" at http://jimvanpelt.livejournal.com/66816.html

James A. Ritchie said...

This reminds me of a rejection Isaac received in person from John Campbell. When Asimov went to Campbell's office to inquire about the fate of a story, Campbell held the manuscript over a trash can and said, "You don't really want this back, do you?"

Now that could be painful.

Really, a writer who takes offense, or who finds pain, in such a simple, and I think, helpful rejection as the one in trouble here whould look for another line of work.

Writers who worry about whether a rejection is "nice," or "exemplary," or even "painful," just aren't going to get very far.

dhvibe said...

I am a poet and have received my share of rejection slips. There are as many ways to respond to rejection as there are rejection slips mailed out to hopeful writers. I just received a rejection slip from a much respected publication and it did smart at first. I used their online submission process and got a reply within 24 hours. The person replying was the main editor. At first I was so angry I trashed the email. An hour later, however, I went back and reread it. It turns out it was a very polite rejection and this editor even had something nice to say. It comes down to personal taste, or so I believe. I am a published poet and a good one. I think there are good and bad editors. It may also, to every writer's surprise, be in their interest to remember that magazine publishers are staffed by people, and they get paid very little for this work. The fact that I get a comment from the main editor of a very prestigious poetry magazine means that I am writing quality poetry, but just not to his or her taste. I will send that poem out somewhere else, I tell myself, and it will find a home. I write because it is what I have to do. I don't even need a rejection letter to tell me that.