WRITERS AND REJECTION-DON’T LET IT BRING YOU DOWN

WRITERS AND REJECTION-DON’T LET IT BRING YOU DOWN

 

Dear XXXXXX:

Thank you for the opportunity to read “XXXXXX.” Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. 

In the past, we’ve provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I’m afraid that due to time considerations, we’re no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in XXXXX Magazine and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future.

Take care,

XXXXXX
Publisher/Editor
XXXXXX Magazine

Every writer knows the feeling: the e-mail curtly informing them  the piece they slaved over and infused with  heart and soul was rejected. Reasons are rarely given, leaving the author to speculate in the dark why their work was rejected. 

Rejection is part of writing. (Some may argue it’s the most constant and consistent part). Serious and dedicated writers  gather enough rejection notices to paper over the Sistine Chapel.  

In pre-digital days, responses came by snail mail, and authors knew from the weight of the envelope what decision lived inside. An acceptance carried a multi-page  contract, a rejection a one-paragraph letter. These days, authors open an e mail to learn the fate of their submission. Whatever the medium, the suspense and the  pain of rejection are the same.

Writers react in different ways to an endless stream of “no.” Many give up, concluding they can’t be very good if they are constantly turned down. They abandon their craft, find some more remunerative way to earn a living, and keep their manuscripts hidden in drawers or on hard drives, along with their regret and disappointment.

Others try to learn from  rejection,  difficult but not impossible, even  in the absence of any critical feedback. On rare occasions, a magazine, agent, or publisher will say what they liked and didn’t like, but most of the time, authors receive  stock rejection letters or no response at all.

A silent rejection can yield some results if it motivates the author to take a second look at the piece, and try to figure out what went wrong. These problems will often be revealed upon close inspection, after the thrill of completion has faded. Mistakes, plot holes, and clumsy writing may be “discovered” in the process. I’ve started doing this, and it has made me painfully aware of factors I failed to  appreciate. If a rejection triggers such a review, there is a clear benefit.

This post largely focuses on the short story submission process, but applies with equal force to novels and non-fiction work. That’s why there are references to agents and publishers, as well as magazines.

 

 

Was Your Work Ready for Submission?

 

Consider the possibility the rejected piece wasn’t ready for submission. This is the most likely miscalculation made by writers, especially beginners. When I take another look at earlier rejections, I am embarrassed to find typos, punctuation and tense errors, cut-and-paste mistakes, missing dialogue tags. This is normal for emerging writers; the only way to learn is by trial and error. We become better at proofreading and editing our own work the more we do it. My experience in a writers group, critiquing the work of others, and they critiquing mine, vastly improved my own editing and proofreading skills. (It’s even forced me to make some corrections to my Amazon-published novel; its ease a saving grace of e-publishing, on which there is more below).

A writer should not submit a piece unless they are certain it is error-free. One’s own proof-reading and editing is rarely sufficient, at least not when a writer starts submitting. Joining a writers group, or having  a fellow writer read and correct blatant errors, will dramatically enhance the quality of any writing. At some point, an author may employ the services of a professional, but bear in mind that there is little quality control in the marketplace. My experience has been that fellow writers do a better job than anyone from Fivver or other inexpensive gig services, though the latter are n affordable source of “beat readers”, described below. If one can trade services with another writer whose skills you respect, they are  one step ahead of the game. (If money is no object, one can hire  top-of-the-line professionals, but few writers enjoy such luxury).

If a magazine or publisher accepts a submission, they will insist upon changes for artistic reasons, or purely market-driven motives. No one in the industry expects a submission to be ready for published as-is. But that is a far cry from submitting a piece riddled with typos, poor punctuation, confusing dialogue lacking tags, or other presentation glitches. One or two minor errors may be forgiven, but a pattern will be a death sentence for the work. Don’t send anything in until you are positive that’s not the case

Before submitting anything, have as many trusted people as possible read it; not limited to fellow-writers who helps with proofing and editing. These  others are called “beta readers”, who represent the reading public, and will tell you what they think of the work. Beta readers are neither proof-readers nor editors; they are people who represent the reading public. Close friends and family are the most readily available beta readers, but the danger is that many will say what they think the author wants to hear, rather than what they really think.Fellow writers are better, but they are not representative of readers-at-large.  For very low prices, you can find beta readers on Fivver and other gig apps, and there is very little risk in getting as many opinions as possible. (In fact, just the opposite; it’s one of the best ways to learn how your work is received).

Don’t be stubborn or defensive about feedback. Make changes you find  improve the piece; stand your ground when persuaded you are right, but always listen and take to heart what others have to say. If one person raises an issue with which you disagree, you can disregard it, but if you hear the same from two or more, you should seriously consider it a problem to address.

A reliable self-editing tool is to read your work out loud to yourself. It’s amazing what insight an author can gain about their dialogue, pace, and descriptive passages when they hear them spoken. 

At some point, an author must determine that they have done all they can to present their best possible work, and  hit the send button or drop a manuscript in the mailbox. The moment is not right after the last word is written, or after the “final” rewrite. Get critical feedback first!

 

Was this publication right for the piece you are submitting?

When I started sending out my short stories, I looked only at what genre the magazine published, and didn’t’ take the time to read enough stories they published to see if my work was a good fit. There is a wide range within every genre: not all science fiction is the same, nor is all mystery, or all humor. There may be nothing at all “wrong” with your submission; it just wasn’t what the particular recipient was seeking. (This is the case when submitting to agents or publishers as well).

Before sending out stories, save yourself some disappointment and wasted time by making  a careful study of publications you think might be interested in your work. Don’t make this decision solely by the genre that say they publish. You can compile lists of magazines from various sources, most of them free on the internet, but there is also Writer’s Marketplace, which is an annual and dense compilation of magazines, publishers and agents, categorized by name and genre. Identifying potential submittees is the first step; be certain to read their submission guidelines and several stories in recent issues. The guidelines will give you a clearer idea of what they are looking for; the stories will show you how they apply those guidelines. Should you send  your work, make sure you follow those guidelines! (Read below!)

 

DON'T SKIRT THE RULES

Wherever you submit, they are certain to insist upon certain procedures they call guidelines, which I refer to as “rules”. You must submit in a specified manner: e mail, on-line submission service, or snail mail, and there are strict demands on formatting the document, whether on paper or electronically. (With e-filing, nearly everyone accepts Word versions, but after that, it diverges. Many will not take pdf, hardly anyone accepts Pages). Some want an e mail with an attachment, others refuse to open attachments, and want everything pasted in the body of the e mail. Some want a cover letter and a biography, and others don’t. Several require a specific tag on the e-mail subject line, some want your name and contact information on the first page of the manuscript, others insist it be omitted. 

If the rules prohibit simultaneous submissions, don’t submit unless you are willing to wait to hear from them before submitting elsewhere. If the rules say not to submit a piece that was published anywhere else, even on line or on your own blog, respect their wishes. (It’s pretty easy for magazines to find out by checking the on-line submission system, or by a simple Google search). If you get a reputation as a “cheater”, it’s going to haunt you for quite some time. So play it straight, and by the rules.

Should you send simultaneous submissions, and one entity accepts your work, notify the others. They are all very busy, and will appreciate sparing them unnecessary work. (They will definitely not appreciate failing to advise them).

Whatever the publishing entity wants, make sure you give it to them. Magazines, agents and publishers are not kidding when they say failure to follow the rules will result in immediate disqualification from consideration. This may seem unreasonable, especially when dealing with artists, but that is the way of the world, and if you want them to read what you sent, follow their rules!

Don't get too bent out of shape over a rejection. Remember this: those who rejected you may not have many readers.

Many writers will say that they have followed all of the advice herein, but the rejections keep flowing like water from a broken faucet. If you’ve followed these words of wisdom, and are still being rejected, it doesn’t necessarily follow that your work isn’t good. The rejector may not know good work when they see it. This is not attempt to encourage sore-losing or insupportable rationalization, just  put thing things in perspective.

If you are really submitting error-free and well-edited work, and if you are hearing positive feedback from beta readers and other writers, rejections may not mean your work is subpar or deficient.  Remember, the folks who read and decide on publication are humans like the rest of us, with their own preferences, biases, myopia, and resistance to something new or different. The rejector may not have the breadth of experience or the literary eyes to know good writing when they see it. (Less likely in better-known journals, more common in smaller, less influential ones).

Take a look at what circulation the magazine claims. Rest assured, it is grossly inflated. It might be inflated to induce advertising, or submissions from well-known authors, or simply a case of  the publisher’s ego. The figure  provided is not the actual number of people who read the magazine; it is more likely based on the number they “distribute”, which includes copies left for free in public places, free subscriptions, and other giveaways that no one ever reads. The number of people who might actually pick up the magazine, turn to your story and read it, is a fraction of whatever number they state. (I learned this years ago, when a good friend of mine worked for a company that measured these numbers in order to advise potential advertisers; he explained how and why you can’t believe a  most of what  they say about circulation and readership). 

I’ve been turned down by some small literary or genre magazines that  claim circulations between two and five thousand. Many are published by universities, and I wonder how many of those subscriptions were compelled socially or academically. It is doubtful that the actual number of real recipients  of the magazines exceed fifty percent of their claim, and we have no idea how many people actually read them, specifically, one  particular piece. I am confident that many more people have read my work on my blog or other sites than would be the case if published in most of these magazines.

The truth is that writers go to an awful lot of trouble, to develop a piece they believe worthy of publication, and experience pain , suffering and  disappointment upon rejection, yet there is often  little to gain even if published.. If a story is published in a small magazine, where does it actually lead the author? Being published in the New Yorker (probably need an agent just to have your piece seriously considered there), Three Penny Review or Story Magazine, might carry some cachet and lead to more work being published, or even an agent, but how much mileage can be gained by publication in a magazine read  by a few hundred people? That is not to dismiss the genuine feeling of gratification and pride, but it should not be made into something more than it is.

The smaller the staff, the closer the affiliation with a university, the smaller the readership, it follows that the perspective and preferences are equally narrow and unrepresentative of the world at large. This is most obvious in today’s published poetry; there seems to be a conspiracy to publish only poems that no one but the poet understands, forcing academics, critics and publishers to make believe they understand them. 

In this day and age, there are many alternatives to publishing in small, unknown magazines. There are other options available to authors seeking readers and feedback. (Though sadly, the feedback is never enough!) 

So keep submitting your work when it is really ready, and perform due diligence to know where to submit, but when the rejections come, see them for what they are: just one opinion.  Don’t let them stop you for writing and sending more submissions! Don’t rule out other ways of getting your work read!

Now, on to some concrete suggestions for dealing with endless rejection:

Consider Self-Publishing

By self-publishing, I mean using the services of digital publishers like Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, as well as  self-publishing on one’s own or someone else’s blog. If a writer creates a self-publishing-strategy and take the time necessary to properly execute it, they will gain readers and receive feedback. It may not be as extensive or detailed as when a work is marketed by a traditional publisher, but  will be far superior to the meaningless form letters or radio-silence from most magazines, agents, and publishers. It is quite likely that with some effort and promotion, more people will read the work than if it were published in a slew of small magazines.

There is a lingering prejudice against self-publishing among some writers. They believe that self-publishing is a sign of defeat, an admission that one’s work is not good enough to make the final cut in the world of traditional publishing, and that self-published work, lacking the editorial and production assistance available in traditional publishing, must be inferior.

These tropes may have had some merit a few years ago, but they are not reliable guides today. Self-publishing is a major industry, one that threatens the very foundations of traditional publishing, and the old Guard is terrified of the future.

Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and other digital publishers will not put up just any book; they scrutinize a submission for content, cover, errors, and illegalities of all sorts, such as plagiarism or promoting illegal acts. Should they miss anything, rest assured, some reader will find it and let the author-and the world-know of the transgression. (Once again, the ease of correcting errors is one of the great benefits of digital publishing).

Self-publishing allows sale of e books as well as “print-on-demand” paperbacks. An author can decide to be Amazon-exclusive, or distribute through several e publishers. Setting up print-on-demand may be a little more technically challenging than with the digital edition, but nothing that can’t be quickly learned.

These days, nearly every self-published author worth their salt employs the services of proofreaders, cover designers, editors, beta-readers, and of course, promotion and advertising services. These are readily available on Fivver and other “gig” sites; the quality is uneven, but research, references, and experience will lead to a stable of highly competent services. With experience and the right people, a self-published  book will appear as professional as anything released by a traditional publisher; this is true for e-books or paperbacks.

There are many “public” blogs, where just about anyone can post their work, and readers can leave comments or ratings. This is more feedback than you will ever get from rejections or from publishing in small magazines.

Every author should host their own blog, an excellent place to post one’s stories, novel excerpts, and opinion pieces. A blog will enable an author to stay in the public eye and continually connect with existing or new readers. Anything posted on one’s own blog can be posted elsewhere, increasing visibility.

Keep in mind that publishing a work anywhere, even on one’s own blog, can result in an automatic disqualification by many magazines, agents and publishers. An author must weigh the likelihood of success with the traditional publishing model versus the ability to actually get something published and read through the digital self-publication model. 

If fame and fortune are a writer’s goals, self-publishing is not likely to satisfy. Few self-published authors make huge amounts of money (though some do); it is, however, not at all impossible to earn a living as a writer if one masters the market and the marketing. Caveat: it is impossible to “write for the market”, but a writer can produce their best work in the genre where they belong. Always write what you know you were meant to write, not what works for someone writing what they were meant to write.

On the other hand, how many authors with traditional publishing contracts realize fame and fortune? What percentage wind up on the remainder table? (In self-publishing, there is no remainder table; the author can keep their book available on-line forever, or temporarily withdraw it, or revise it, change the title or cover, or do just about anything they wish).

Maintaining a blog will pressure an author to regularly write and edit. It will also build confidence needed to navigate the technical side of self-publishing, which can have a learning curve initially outside some writers’ comfort zones.

Authors can promote their work for sale on their blogs, offer free stories and novel excerpts, as well as book reviews, interviews and opinion pieces. Blog posts can be shared with other sites, increasing visibility and readers.

Digital publishing is the wave of the future; it has changed the book industry just as the Gutenberg Press did centuries ago. The technology, especially the internet, and the availability of production support-cover designers, proofreaders, beta readers, editors, digital  formatters-is slowly obviating the need for agents and traditional publishers. That’s why the traditional publishing industry is so hostile and spreads falsehoods.

I heard a literary agent say that a self-published novel would not be accepted by the industry unless it had sold fifty thousand copies. think of how absurd that is. How many first-time novelists with traditional publishers sell that many books? And if one of us self-published authors sold fifty thousand all on out own, why would we need an agent or a publisher?

A few quick pointers: if you are starting a blog, and have no serious experience, you might consider using Wix instead of Word Press. Wix is fare easier to use, mostly click-and-drag, whereas Word Press can be technically challenging and confusing for quite some time. I use word Press, but with Elementor, a plug-in that comes very close to the ease of Wix and is one hundred percent compatible with Word Press. With Elementor, the blogger has the reach and resources of Word Press, with the ease and better graphics of Wix.

At the start, a blog may seem difficult, especially if the writer has never undertaken such a chore. After a few weeks, it all comes as second nature.If you  are not particularly technically-proficient, work with Wix or add Elementor to Word Press,  and you will shorten the learning curve and present an attractive blog. 

Start blogging! I’ll be your first subscriber! (You can sign up to receive new posts on this blog, as well as for my newsletter, which notices new releases of my novels and short stories. Look in the lower left hand corner of this page, or at the end of this article. Also feel free to post any comments).

The good news:you don't have to choose between traditional and self-publishing. You can try both at the same time.

While nearly all of the traditional publishing industry will refuse to consider a work that was published on line in any form or fashion, there is no such bar to authors who have previously published on line. There is no reason why a writer cannot publish one novel or story on their blog or through self-publishing entitles like Amazon, and send other work to magazines, agents and traditional publishers. If a magazine like the piece, or the agent and publisher  to whom they submit -think they can make money, they will sign the author, without regard to prior self-publication.

If an author posts their work on blogs or self-publishes, they are almost certain to receive feedback and criticism on some level, and this will make them better writers. A writer can view digital publishing on blogs or self-publishers as one form of reaching an audience, and as they become better writers, they will improve their chances of acceptance by traditional publishers. While my view is that the future is with digital and self-publishing, there is no reason to forego traditional publishing opportunities so long as they exist. Just don’t think that inability to do so is failure or a reflection on quality.

 

And remember, most important of all:

Note: Above image courtesy of eclipse-articles.com

 “Rejection image by smalltalk.big.results

 

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