The art and agony of rejection
At first, when Chris approached me for this blog, I naively assumed he wanted insights into the state of my soul on the (all too frequent) occasions when women have rejected me. I thought he had read too many of my books and stories, and had me pegged as one of those serial rejectees and was maybe taking pity on my sentimental soul. I was going to point out to him that I had possibly won as many hearts as had cold hearts reject me, but writing about happiness is tougher than writing about hurt and pain, and inspiration was somehow always more forthcoming about the bad things in life. But then I quickly realised he saw me as a dark prince of the editorial world of erotica: the man who had in all likelihood sent out several thousand rejection letters throughout his career in the galleys of fictional sex. Phew, saved by the bell: no need to analyse why L., N., J., K., A. and G. all finally said no to me. Let;s just stick to writing.
I have spent 20 years in book publishing and a further two decades editing countless anthologies in the SF, crime and erotica field and I shudder to think how many books, stories, proposals, ideas I have rejected during the course of my career. And, if it makes you feel better, one such proposal turned out to become a bestseller for another company (and even if I had known would still have rejected that humor book, as I cannily insisted throughout my publishing years that I would never take on books abouts cats, Elvis Presley or golf; you have principles or you don’t...), and several others also made it into print to lukewarm acceptance by readers.
Is it easy to reject something? Yes. In so many cases, you just know from the opening paragraph that the submission has no hope in hell; in all too many instances, you even know from reading the letter accompanying the submission. Ah, delusions of grandeur, of flabbergasting immodesty, of lack of realism; the stories I could tell.
But what is more difficult is to reject something in which you quickly realise a writer has put a part of his or her soul, but sadly the finished product just does not it within the editorial remit your employers have you working in, or where the author visibly hasn’t the talent to control his or her subject/theme and you know that no amount of editorial input and love and tenderness will not improve the manuscript to the point where it publishable. As an editor who is also a writer, I know all too well how delicate it is to reject something that has taken days, months or more of work, devotion and feelings. But sometimes, it just has to be done.
In some cases you are firm and impersonal. In others, you console, hold out the hope of future attention should the next submission improve, but you also have to beware that you do not encourage too much, as you know you just haven’t enough hours in the day to nurture or communicate with an as yet unpublished author in the hope they will come up with the good. It could take over your life, could turn him or her into a literary stalker even (not a joke, I assure you). You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t...
It’s a balancing act, but I know there is no victory for either rejector or rejectee. When I am editing anthologies, I tend to have a simple rejection letter stating that the story just isn’t for me, and seldom can (or have time to) provide further reasons. Some writers possibly feel that I am being cold and impersonal, and others have on occasions seen my lack of actual specific criticism as a gentle form of encouragement. I leave that to their appreciation.
It’s a thankless task, but someone has to do it. And I can assure you that when I finally accept a story by someone I have rejected for years in a row, nothing gives me as much pleasure. It’s always more pleasant to accept than reject, and it does happen. So never give up. Please.