I am not an established writer with books out in the market, which has been reviewed by critics, positively or negatively. All I have received, in the the course of sending out to publishers and editors of online journals, acceptances and rejections.
And as a rule, rejection letters are kind and sensitive to an emerging author.
There are three types of rejection letters.
The non-existent one. This means no one gets back to you, (because the magazine is short-staffed, possibly, not because they enjoy keeping an author hanging in tortured suspense!)
You have to assume if you haven’t heard from them in six months, that your the piece didn’t make it!
You may of course suffer agonies over the radio silence! You might torture yourself by forgetting your chosen profession of the author, opting to be a visualiser instead, and paint the whole gory scene before your eyes. Where the editor consigns your poem to the wastepaper basket, with a sardonic sneer and an upraised eyebrow, which seems to say, ‘She calls herself a poet!’
Mea Culpa, I’ve done it. Usually amidst bouts of insomnia, blushing in the dark at my audacity in sending off to such prestigious publications.
How have I handled it?
I have written to the editor, (after a suitable and sensible waiting period), asking for guidance on what sort of article would best match the magazine’s objective and targeted readership. I have twice received, polite helpful replies encouraging me to resubmit.
There is absolutely no place for ego, a swollen head or even a self-deprecating one in the publishing business.
The the second type of rejection is curt, but not offensive. “Sorry’, it says, ‘We can’t place your article in our magazine.’ Or ‘We have decided not to accept your article. Thank you for submitting it.’
In In my experience, the language may stop you for a few seconds in your track, but ultimately what hurts is the non-acceptance, the rejection, not the mode of delivery. If you value your work enough and sincerely believe it is any good, what will hurt you, is that it lost a chance at visibility, readership and being up for discussion. Not how it lost the chance.
Here I cut my losses, rework the article, keep the original version, (For a later stab at publishing it unchanged) and send off as simultaneous submissions. I rarely allow a grieving period. When a horror story suffered six rejections, because of a very negative ending, I realised, however much I tweak the ending, it wasn’t the gore and bloodshed that the editors were shirking, but the fact that I had depicted gender violence that even horror magazines discourage. They soak up macabre blood, gore and supernatural carnage, but not bondage scenes.
What did I do? To cut a long story short, that’s precisely what I did! I truncated it to 500-word flash fiction, right at the moment suspense begins, leaving the outcome to the reader’s imagination!
“Invisible” got accepted by Café Lit within the hour of submitting it.
So being innovative and creative with rejection is my mantra. I play it like a game, team editorial versus team writers, what can I do to get them to like my work? And score for the home team, touch down, by changing tactical manoeuvres? I have actually stuck my tongue out and giggled the brusquer a rejection is and plotted my charmed offensive, how I will get the same guys to accept my ink next time?
The thing is, I turn the table on its head. I do take myself seriously as a writer, but I don’t take my work as seriously, as the last definitive word in the genre. I know there is tremendous scope for improvement, so rejection is like a free tutorial at improving your game.
The the third kind of rejection is possibly the most dangerous, honeyed and misleading. I have gratitude towards editors who take a humane approach and write kindly:
‘After careful consideration, taking the time to acknowledge the immense labour that a the writer puts into his creation we have regretfully decided to … This is in no way a reflection on your work.’
‘While we appreciate your work, it does not match the current aesthetics….’
Why did I call such courtesy and gentle handling of a writer’s fragile ego, dangerous?
Ever heard of the iron hand in the velvet glove? This sort of letter raises the writer’s hope, to resubmit, in a hurry, sure it was a glitch, an the unfortunate subjective negative evaluation of his work, almost accidental in nature.
Whereas the editor is a highly experienced beast, (begging pardon of all editors here), an astute judge of what appeals to the journal’s readership, and quite certain of what he or she is looking for. This editor is discerning and recognizes the work succeeding a flop submission could well be a hit. So yes, you are encouraged to resubmit! But for heaven’s sake, not the next day itself!
As a writer I have misjudged the tone as permissive and shot off yet another filed story from my folder, which is a sheer fallacy. This rejection says realised gradually, ‘Research, read more of this particular magazine’s contents, rewrite and polish those rewrites. And write something novel and different. Remember what got rejected?
Don’t submit in haste and repent at leisure, with a second rejection!
I was about to wind up here, but there’s a fourth kind of rejection, I call it the serendipitous rejection! Where an editor genuinely likes your work, appreciates the tone, but thematically the content has veered off-trail. I wrote a story thrice for a prestigious anthology because they liked each story but asked first fora change of subject, and then wanted me to add a speculative element.
Reading the editor’s rejection letter, and understanding that it isn’t a blanket rejection, but leaves a loophole, is important. Had I not written back, my baby, A Strange Recipe would not find pride of place in A Quiet Afternoon Part II.
So, no regrets, but revisions and re-revisions, is how I handle my rejections.
© Amrita Valan 2021