December 19, 2007
The story I sent out a few weeks ago came back the other day. A rejection. The turnaround — the time between when I sent the piece in and when I received the rejection — was mercifully short, and the editor’s note was polite, professional, and even helpful. But, alas, it’s still a rejection.
When I go to conventions or workshops and I speak with young writers, they complain, understandably, of the rejections they’ve received. But there’s an assumption in the way they speak to me that once an author is as established as I am, rejections become a thing of the past. That’s simply not true, and I make a point of telling them so. Rejected stories, rejected manuscripts — they’re a part of the business, a part of what it means to be a writer. Sometimes the things we write work just as we had hoped; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes two editors, both of them skilled readers, both of them experienced in the field, both of them successful, can look at a story or a book and have completely different reactions.
I’d even go so far as to say that rejection is good for us writers. It forces us to take a second look at our work, to think about it critically, to put ourselves in the mind of that editor who said, “No,” and make ourselves see the story as he or she did. Sometimes, even after looking at the story again, I might decide that it’s fine as it is, that the piece simply didn’t connect with this particular reader. Other times — most often — I’ll find that the story still needs work. Maybe I was too close to the piece when I first sent it out, and it took this rejection to make me see its flaws. In this case, the editor has done me a great service by rejecting it and making me look at it again. And, on occasion, it’s also possible I might come to see that a story can’t be salvaged, that there really wasn’t a story there after all. Again, if this is the case, I owe the editor my thanks for not publishing it.
So my story was rejected. Now it’s up to me to decide which of these possibilities applies to this particular work. Naturally, I’d like to think that it’s option one of the possibilities listed above. Certainly I don’t think it’s option three. Most likely the second one is the correct one. The story still needs work. And when next I see the editor who rejected it, I’ll have to remember to say thank you for helping me improve the piece.
Today’s music: Strength in Numbers