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Friday, July 27, 2007

Rejection Pin Up

This Story rejection from long ago was posted on my bulletin board for years. The handwritten note says: "Thank you for letting us consider your work--and thank you to [name of a writer friend] for pointing you in STORY'S direction. I found much to admire in [name of story] in particular; we're sorry to have to disappoint you on these." I'm not sure why I thought it pin-up worthy; maybe because it made me feel like the literary world is a small and friendly place. Or maybe because in the intervening years, Story sadly ceased to exist. You can see the thumb tack marks in the corner of the original.


The Quoibler said...

It's a little sad that we writers pin up "kinder" rejection notices. I mean, at least mechanics pin up hot chicks or something.

What the heck does this say about us?

The Quoibler said...

Oh, wait. I meant to say "pictures of hot chicks". Though I suppose some very disturbed mechanics might pin up the chicks themselves...

Writer, Rejected said...

Quoib: You crack me up.

Anonymous said...

I would first like to start out by saying that this comment has nothing to do with the post it was left under. I am just commenting under the top-most blog entry.

I got mad this week, and I knew exactly where to come to vent. I am posting this for you, WR, both because I think you need to hear it and because I trust that you will repost it so that everyone can partake in some intelligent discussion based on what I say.

Do you want to know why I got mad this week? Because the submission piles on my desk have become so completely out of control that I am being buried alive. I'm not sure if you understand exactly how much editors and agents actually have to read on a day to day basis. You know how much I took home to read this weekend? Almost 900 pages. And my desk looks like a small bomb went off. Last weekend, a large part of the English-speaking world (and probably other countries too) locked themselves away to read 700-something pages of Harry Potter. I lock myself away MOST weekends to read the same amount (or more) of material. Some of it is good, most of it is sheer CRAP!

I barely read real books anymore. I don't have time. Most of my free time is spent reading submissions, or the books that is publishing. When I do make time to read an already-published book, I am usually reading a comparison title for a book I am editing or hope to edit. I pray for the moments when I have time to read something that has nothing to do with work.

And yet, I love my job. I really do. And I do what I do because I wouldn't have it any other way. But before you post your next rejection letter, I want you to think long and hard about the other side of things. Rejections aren't personal. They are business. They don't always mean you're not good enough (although sometimes they do) and if you always take your rejections that way, it is going to turn you into a very bitter writer (if it hasn't already). The next time you post a rejection letter, remember what we editors and agents go through. Because it's not always pleasant for us either, and we're sorry we can't always send the most perfect rejection letter, but we have neither the time nor the energy to stroke everyone's ego equally.

I've begun a process where I am going to go through everything on my desk and if it is good or has merit in some way, put it aside for more reading but if it is not good or won't work for us, I am rejecting very quickly. No more pleasant letters, no more worrying about encouraging things to say to the authors. Because apparently you and your ilk don't appreciate them anyway and I am inundated.

You make me angry, WR. Not because I don't understand what you are trying to do, but because I don't agree with it. You have a severely limited view of what goes on in the publishing industry and you are taking your bitterness and anger out on the people who are actually nice enough to get back to you in some way. You're lucky -- some days I just want to take half of my pile and throw it in the garbage. But I wouldn't do that. I'd rather send a quickly written rejection letter with some reasons why it didn't work for me than leave the person hanging for a response that will never come.

Be glad you receive rejection letters -- it's the sign that you are a true writer in this business and the feedback you are receiving is like free advice from the professionals at the heart of the industry.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to start reading a pile that feels like the Bible and Merriam-Webster combined. But I'll be eagerly checking back to see when and if a heated discussion begins.

x said...

Dear, dear editor!
I empathize. One of my first jobs out of college was as a fiction slush pile reader and reviewer for a senior editor at a major Manhattan book publishing company. I would write brief summaries so the editor's letter would sound like she had actually read the book when she rejected it. I was only there for a summer, but ALL of the books I read were written so badly it was beyond the worst language and plots I could have ever imagined. It horrified me that the authors had each written hundreds of pages of this drivel that was so extremely depressing by the end of the summer I decided to go to medical school rather than pursue writing as a career. Though I knew my writing was much better, I feared that I too was just as deluded and at least with a profession, you either have a degree and license or you don't. It's clear cut. Well, I ended up a psychologist instead and still I am a late-blooming published writer. I could not drop it completely. And though I understand your position, and thought the fake letters from my boss were at least an attempt to be nice, I wondered whether we should just have been MORE brutal to discourage those horrible writers and send them off to medical school. Anyway, I am for my own psychopathological reasons currently reading Sartre's Nausea which was originally submitted with the title Melancholia and rejected. How did Sartre react? "I took this hard: I had put all of myself into a book I worked on for many years; it was myself that had been rejected, my experience that had been excluded." I think all writers feel this way, admitting it or not, hardened by rejection or not. This website is an antidote to those feelings of failure. An attempt at bravado in the face of defeat. Don't take them personally. It takes no extra effort on your part to write a kind a letter of rejection. But it is also kind not to give false hope, so a hierarchy of "kind" form letters might be the best solution, like for the trash-worthy, "this was a heroic effort but your energetic talents are wasted on writing and you should consider some other energy-intensive endeavor like medical school or road construction." No?
Maybe I'll post further on this in my new blog on writing and psychotherapy. I can't wait to read the other responses.
the individual voice