Jane Sullivan writing in this Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, suggests that writers aim for 100 rejections as a new year’s resolution. She cites an American literary writer being pleased with her 43 rejections in a year, and shellacking (there is a word I have not read in a long time) her rejection slips onto her writing desk. Another writer achieved 101 rejections.
I don’t have many rejection slips as such, though I have many rejections. I have a few written notes from the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, before they moved onto email. I don’t know that I would want to waste the paper and ink printing out rejection emails. I don’t think I would varnish them onto a desk either, I prefer Stephen King in his On Writing where he refers to sticking them all through a large nail or hook (I’m too lazy to flip through my copy).
Over at Rejectomancy, Aeryn Rudel achieved 100 rejections this year. Aeryn often comments on the tier of rejections, whether a form rejection is standard, or indicates something positive about a story. I confess that I am happier when I get a template 3 response from CC Finlay at F&SF:
Template 1 is the “didn’t grab me” template. The beginning of the story did not grab me.
Template 2 is the “didn’t work for me” template. Your story was good, I read it all the way through, but some big thing didn’t work for me, usually the ending. I know, endings are hard. But the emotional payoff, what you remember most about a story, is how it makes you feel at the end.
Template 3 is the “didn’t win me over” template. Look, you’re probably a pro. This is a good story. You know it’s good. You’re probably going to sell it elsewhere. Maybe I can tell you the idiosyncratic reasons why it didn’t make me all hot and tingly so that I can’t stop thinking about it day and night, night and day. Maybe I did. But either way, you probably don’t care. It’s a no. You’ve already got your next market lined up and you’re ready to send it out again. AS YOU SHOULD.
I am happier because I think “hmm, I’m probably a pro”. I’m not.
Sullivan quotes the same writer as saying that a rejection is a conversation. That is a nice positive spin. Its probably not true, given the extreme likelihood there will be no feedback at all. That is not a complaint – given the amount of reading slush readers and editors have to get through, what time do they have to provide feedback. Sullivan notes the writer “treasures the rejections that come with some encouraging comment, however small”. I used to think feedback is valuable. However, that is not always the case. Some examples: two of my children have a chronic illness, which required many visits to emergency wards when they were little. In one story, I tried to draw something positive from that experience, and channel some of the frustration and set out some of the experiences. A slush reader from a magazine I once respected responded “Story is a mishmash of misery fiction and purple prose”. Well, even if it was, fuck you. (No, I did not respond. I may not be a pro, but I am professional.) I took that to heart, which I should not have done, and would not have done for another story. However, I cannot imagine a universe in which that comment helps. A rejection from the same magazine of a different story later on demonstrated to me why I should take their comments with a grain of salt. I received two comments:
“… really strong narrative voice and prose control. … it’s all developed and described quite well”
“This piece is unfocused and almost stream of consciousness and difficult to get a sense of what it’s about”
Guess what I learned? Flip a coin. I am not complaining here, just commenting that feedback is not necessarily useful.
So, how did I go in terms of rejections? How would I go with a target of 100 rejections for 2019? I have no idea whether such things are of interest to anyone other than myself, but here goes.
In 2018, for the fourth time in five years, I moved myself and (this time part of) my family between continents, returning to Australia from Europe. It has been an adventure, but I cannot see myself doing it again. I had three stories published, which in the words of my old parish priest, I commend to your generosity: The gods of the gaps; Miracle Cure; and Baby, cold outside. (The different colour of the text means you can click on the words and be transported to the story. The first two can be read for free.) I wrote nine stories, which was good compared to recent years. And my stories – this new batch and some older ones – were rejected 145 times. So hell yes, I can be rejected 100 times in a year very easily. When a story is rejected, I look at it again, take on board any feedback, consider editing, and then send it out again. As CC Finlay says above, “you probably don’t care. It’s a no. You’ve already got your next market lined up and you’re ready to send it out again. AS YOU SHOULD”. Rejection does not bother me any more, not much. It hurts more to almost make it, to find out I came close. Rejection does not stop me submitting. However, I wonder sometimes if it might stop me writing, on occasion. I don’t know. I think there are enough other forces at work there, that I don’t have to worry about that one!
Sullivan writes, “seeking rejection … encourages writers to aim higher”. Why aim low? I don’t. I understand what she means though – one should not let the fear of rejection stop one form submitting to a market. You have to be in it, to win it, as some lottery ad said some time.
How is this year going? Two rejections. Two submissions.
I did not know whether it would look unprofessional to publish this. It doesn’t matter. But feel free to check out any of my published stories, which can be viewed here.