02 February 2004

Rejection, Dejection, Ejection, etc.

For some reason, I've been reading various posts from blogs and message boards about rejection slips and how editors reject stories and books. The only absolutely essential reading I've come upon is the blog post Slushkiller by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, a piece of writing which deserves wide distribution and numerous awards, because it is funny, insightful, sympathetic, smart -- well, I trust you can add your own positive modifier.

Also worth looking at are the discussions over at the F&SF discussion board, which began when a disgruntled aspiring writer created a thread to excoriate F&SF's assistant editor, John Joseph Adams, for -- of all things -- responding too quickly. (Yes, F&SF can be remarkably fast -- my most recent rejection from them came within a week, and for a moment I thought as the disgruntled aspring writing [DAW] did, that the story couldn't possibly have even been read, but the rejection note was so kind that I quickly gave up that idea and was simply grateful.) The discussion which follows is fascinating, and moves along to various and sundry other subjects, ultimately necessitating a second thread.

Ahhhh rejections! I've been collecting rejection slips since I was about twelve years old and first submitted something to Asimov's. I was so excited to get the form letter back that I brought it in to show my sixth grade teacher, who didn't seem nearly as excited as I was. I've collected a few hundred rejection slips since then, though I haven't kept many of them -- only enough to hang on the walls of my bathroom. Visitors think I'm a bit strange when they see all those slips of various shapes and sizes reading, "Thanks, but no thanks," and they don't understand my feelings toward that decorative record of persistence in the face of defeat. Certainly, I wish there were more acceptances to balance out the rejections, but I don't feel any shame for those notes, and feel a real affection for some of the more personal ones (Gordon van Gelder at F&SF has a beautiful way of making it sound that it pains him almost as much as it does you to not have your story published, and since Adrienne Brodeur left Zoetrope, the quality of their rejections has declined significantly). For the most part, I'm grateful to the editors for having better judgment than I had. Rejections from various agents for a ghastly novel I wrote a few years ago bring on a nearly religious gratitude when I look at them, because if they'd actually decided to take the book on and somehow found a publisher stupid enough to print it, I would be forced to change my name and identity out of embarrassment. (Heck, I didn't even think the book was any good when I wrote it, which I did simply to try to keep some contacts I'd established. Learn from my mistake: no contacts are worth keeping if it means you'll spend a year writing drivel those contacts won't even want to look at.)

Ahhhh rejections. Yes, they're dispiriting, but I'm more puzzled by various aspiring writers' reactions to them than I am by the fact that most of us get so many of the darn little things. I accepted long ago that rejections are the editor's version of what I do when I read just about anything -- make a judgment as to how much I value what I'm reading -- and that when faced with hundreds of manuscripts to read and respond to, it's a miracle any editor manages to respond at all. It's even more of a miracle when they manage to write a sentence or two of personal response rather than just inserting a form letter.

Wanting to write is a strange desire, one which is probably a psychological aberration, and so I'm grateful to anyone willing to look even at just the first page of something I've churned out. I've been lucky, too, in that I've hardly ever gotten any mean or even painful rejections -- in fact, the most cutting came from a friend of mine, who rejected a story saying something to the effect of, "Your writing is like broccoli -- I know it's good for me, but I don't get any pleasure out of eating it." Ouch. But he was right. I got angry at him, sent him the one story I had which no-one in their right mind would ever say was good for them, and he happily published it (then nominated it for a Pushcart Prize). Maybe I should get angry at editors more often...