Authors are not really great at social stuff. On top of that, we tend to be horribly insecure about our work, but it's all we can think of to talk about. We are thin-skinned and bleed profusely when you cut our work to shreds. Some of us handle it with grace and dignity, and others go ballistic and make an uncomfortable situation worse.
But what if we have submitted something that was our favorite, the best thing we ever wrote and it was rejected? I have received my share of rejections. It hurt, but when I look back on my earlier work, I can clearly see why it was not accepted. I had no idea what a finished manuscript should look like, nor did I understand how to get it to look that way. I didn't understand how to write to a particular theme.
Sometimes we receive a standard rejection that boils down to “Sorry, but no.” It is in no way personal. Do not brood over it. In my experience, those kinds of rejections are bad only because they don’t tell us why the piece wasn’t acceptable.
Sometimes we receive a little encouragement: “Try us again.” That means exactly what it says, so the next time you have something you think will fit in that anthology or magazine, send them a submission.
It seems illogical, but the more an editor writes in a letter, the more likely there is to be some phrase that will shred the writer’s sensitive soul. This is because it’s a rejection and may contain detailed criticism. I once got a rejection from an anthology along with a note that said the subject had been done before. I could have responded childishly, but that would have been foolish and self-defeating. The truth was that it had been done before. I still love that story, but an editor’s bluntness is valuable, so I will someday rework that tale with a different twist.
We must have a care about the way we behave. We are judged by the manner in which we act and react in every professional interaction. If you respond to a peer’s criticism without thinking it through, you risk doing irreparable damage to your career—you will be put on that editor’s “no way in hell” list.
You need to be strong, stay calm, and understand that the editor has gone to some trouble for you. DO NOT respond to the letter with a flame-mail, and DO NOT go off hurt, bad-mouthing that editor to your homies on your favorite writers’ forums. They saw something good in your work, and you need to try this editor again.
But what if you received a request for revisions? Whee!!!
If the editor wants changes, they will make clear what they want you to do. This happens most often for submissions to an anthology. You must trust that the editor knows what the intended readers expect to see, and you want those readers to like your work. Put on your grownup pants and make whatever changes they request.
Never be less than gracious to the editor when you communicate with them. Make those revisions. Do what that editor has asked and make no complaint. Be a professional and work with them.
Negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. When an author becomes too important in their own mind to tolerate the merest whiff of criticism, they can create a situation that is intolerable for all those around them. Treat all your professional contacts with courtesy, no matter how angry you are. Allow yourself some time to cool off. Don’t have a tantrum and immediately respond with an angst-riddled rant.
Editors are also authors. They may be involved with the same forms in all the many social platforms you are, so have a care what you say online. They’re just like the rest of us—and they’ve experienced their share of rejection. If you respond publicly in an unprofessional way, the innocent bystanders will remember you and won’t be inclined to work with you either. We all know that how we interact online with others is public information and is visible to the world. When an interested reader Googles our author name, our online interactions at Goodreads, Twitter, and every other public forum will be available for eternity.
I keep a file of my rejection letters/emails. Many are simple “We are not interested in this piece at this time.” Some have short notes attached “Try us again in the future.” Some contain the details of why a piece was rejected, and while those are painful, they are the ones I learn from.
Never burn your bridges behind you if you want to succeed in this world, even if the magazine or anthology you were rejected from is a minor player in the publishing world. You can’t say “Well, that editor’s a nobody.” That has nothing to do with it because every famous editor/author begins as a nobody, and they all receive work that must be rejected. Your submission didn’t fit their needs, and you must move on, or if they requested changes, you should do your best to make them.
This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground—if an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, respond with a simple “thank you for your time.”
Connie J. Jasperson is an author, editor, and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.