Spotlighting Rejection Letters

13 Mar

It’s Market Monday and I’m wondering how you’re dealing with the inevitable rejection that accompanies the work of submissions.

I can’t lie to you. Somehow the fact that it’s Market Monday escaped me entirely until a half-hour ago. I thought about it yesterday, and it’s on the damn calendar, so how exactly did that happen? I think it’s because I’m pushing hard on submissions this month, but these last few days I’ve been in one of my little spirit-dips, when I focus a lot on the rejections I’m getting. Reader, I’m moping. And I’m distracted.

So in honor of my own demons, and because I assume you have similar ones, on Market Monday I’m going to absolve myself of the duty to spotlight a market, and instead I’m spotlighting the rejection letters I receive from all these magazines I’m recommending. I hope this means neither one of us need think about rejection at all, for, oh, at least another week.

* * *

Some of my writer friends love the No, but rejection letter. No, we don’t want to publish your story, but it’s strong writing and we wish you luck placing it elsewhere. No, your story isn’t a good fit for our magazine, but we enjoyed reading it, and thank you for thinking of us. No, this story doesn’t quite work for us, but please submit again. This last is the best No, but. And it’s the one I hate the most.

I went to a talk on how to manage the submissions process when I was getting my MFA. I learned that I should be delighted whenever a rejection includes a personal note. And a rejection obviously composed entirely for you? That’s gold. It means you’re almost there. If a magazine suggests you send more work, you’re a fool if you don’t. Which means I’ve been a fool many times over.

I would like to be a fan of the No, but. My No, but friends are smarter than I am, more big-hearted. My small mind would much rather read, “I just don’t get you,” rather than, “I get you… I just don’t want you.”

Other friends like the No, because. No, we have decided to decline your story, because it has a darker tone than we’re aiming for. Because to us it feels unfinished. Because we’ve published too many stories with park rangers in the last year. My No, because friends like having a solid reason for the rejection, and feel the because can actually help them re-think their work. That’s sweet.

I’ve only received two No, because rejections and they pissed me off. Just like you, Editor, don’t want me to explain my story in my cover letter, I don’t need to hear your thoughts about what does and doesn’t work in my story. It’s condescending. Or… not. It’s not, of course. It’s an editor wanting to write a letter that doesn’t feel so goddamned arbitrary, and it comes from a warm spot in that editor’s heart, and I so wish I could properly appreciate that. But I leave appreciation to my No, because friends.

Me, I’m a “Because I said so” kinda gal. I was raised well before the term “helicopter parents” was invented, in an era when parents expected you to do what they said because otherwise, where are you going to sleep? Who’s going to feed you? My parents never insisted they were right about any particular question about my behavior, they never won an argument by insisting they knew better. They simply lorded it over me and my siblings with their pure authority over little things like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Which means I was always free to think whatever I pleased, I just needed to behave a certain way when in sight.

Whatever you think of this as a parenting philosophy, it seems to me the perfect editorial stance for a rejection. I’m not saying your story isn’t genius. I’m saying I didn’t understand or enjoy it. Done. There are so many publications I neither understand nor enjoy. So I get that. It’s a matter of personal taste. And you, Editor, happen to own the key to the lock on the front door, so yours is the taste that matters just now. I can live with that.

All of which is to say that I feel the least distressed by a rejection that comes as a plain, polite, No, full stop. Which is dumb. Because it means the editor had zero interest in my work and wants to ensure I don’t sense a molecule of encouragement in her letter, because if I do, good god, she might have to read something else I’ve written. Why would I prefer to see THAT in my inbox? Because a woman who reviews rejections, e-mails her friends about them, categorizes them, writes about them… is a woman who takes rejection way too seriously. And personally.

Yeah, but so what. Every age of my life seems to come with a great gift. In middle age I’m letting go of worrying so much about how I feel. Whether it’s justified, whether it’s sensible, whether it’s constructive or destructive. How I feel is how I feel, and I’ve got too much yard work and too many Chopped episodes, and, yes, too many stories to revise and submit, to waste time worrying about it. So if a No, but and a No, because make me mope, fine. Because moping requires a pause. And categorizing rejections requires close attention.

A No, full stop doesn’t bother me, so it doesn’t slow me down. Which is great, because how many times do I need to get a No, full stop before I stop trying the same magazine? Typically twice, sometimes three times, if it’s a sterling favorite. But a No, because, that’s more information I can use. Maybe, given what I now know, this magazine is the right home for a couple of stories I hadn’t before considered right for them. And a No, but, that’s screaming for more attention. When I said I’ve ignored the call for more work many times over, I was talking about habits well in the past.

In short, moping and categorizing do tend to focus the (rejected) mind on where I should send my next submission. I dearly hate a No, but. The whole damn time I’m selecting the next story I’m going to send to that editor, I’m just hating it.

I was asked recently for submissions advice by two beginning writer friends who have never submitted their work. Write this down, I said. If you see something personal, that’s gold. And if they ask you to send more work? Well, you’re a fool if you don’t.

.

4 Responses to “Spotlighting Rejection Letters”

  1. cynthia March 19, 2017 at 9:46 AM #

    I like your style: “In short, moping and categorizing do tend to focus the (rejected) mind on where I should send my next submission.”

    • Claire Guyton March 20, 2017 at 10:11 PM #

      I’ve got to scrape something positive out of the negative. Anyway, just sending more, that’s the only thing to do, however I get there. Screw rejection!

  2. Sarah March 21, 2017 at 7:45 AM #

    I’ve sent out a few submissions this month and will return to re-read this (again and again!) when the rejections arrive. It always feels so personal, doesn’t it? Like, ouch. A few of my writer friends have taken to celebrating rejection by a setting a goal of 100 rejections per year. One writer even posts her rejection scorecard to Facebook. It’s an inspiring reminder that racking up rejections means you’re in the game.

    I love this whole paragraph and your insight that moping requires a pause and thinking about rejections requires close attention.
    “Every age of my life seems to come with a great gift. In middle age I’m letting go of worrying so much about how I feel. Whether it’s justified, whether it’s sensible, whether it’s constructive or destructive. How I feel is how I feel, and I’ve got too much yard work and too many Chopped episodes, and, yes, too many stories to revise and submit, to waste time worrying about it. So if a No, but and a No, because make me mope, fine. Because moping requires a pause. And categorizing rejections requires close attention.”

    • Claire Guyton March 21, 2017 at 11:24 AM #

      Oh, thanks so much! The older I get the more I realize some emotions and moods I use to try to chase off can actually be helpful places to be, at least for a while. I love goal-setting for rejections. During Lent I set a minimum goal of getting 40 individual pieces out at once (which can mean any number of submissions, b/c each time I get a rejection that reduces the number out, and some places allow more than one piece to be submitted at once, and so on). But I sometimes find the breathless nature of a goal too much of a burden. Maybe I should take a look at how I set the goals, then…? Anyway, yes–you have to STAY IN THE GAME! The only caveat is that you can improve the quality of your submissions, both by improving the work (of course) but also by getting better at targeting the right markets for your voice and aesthetic. So you can reduce the overall number of rejections but increase the number of publications. In which case you are a superhero and I beg you to share your superpowers. In any case: Onward!

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