I had a fantastic rejection email last week. While that might to the untrained eye look like a contradiction in terms, I had my reasons for being happy with it.
Towards the end of last year, I wasn’t sending out much work either to competitions or journals. This was partly due to doubts about the quality of what I had, partly because I was experiencing a touch of writer’s block – these things not being completely unconnected. The few stories I did send out on submission were ones I felt reasonably okay with if I squinted while doing the final read-throughs.
Last week’s rejection was the second one I’ve had in recent times, yet both surprisingly gave me a boost. Both were ambitious submissions to quality publications (aim high, I say). I had previously submitted utterly unsuitable short stories to each because I was going through an excitable phase, so it was no surprise to receive standard rejections in response. If anything, I was impressed that they bothered to acknowledge the submissions.
This time around, I was much more measured in what I submitted, sending what I hoped were stories more in line with the kind of work they publish. I won’t say who this most recent email was from because a girl has to have a few secrets, but instead of a cut-and-paste standard rejection it was a personalised one that mentioned what they liked about my submission, revealed that it had almost made the grade and invited me to submit again. The email from the other publication was similarly structured. I call that progress. Obviously the ultimate goal is to have work accepted, but where the bar is set high, just getting a few positive words counts for a great deal.
Incidentally, when asked about their pet hates, many editors have at the top of their list writers who become outraged when their work is rejected, and send a snippy response or even challenge the decision. Speaking as a former editor (though not of fiction), there are many reasons why a piece may be turned down – anything from it simply not being well written enough, to coming along at the wrong time of the year, to repeating themes that have recently been covered – but copping an attitude doesn’t achieve anything other than to burn bridges. So in the face of rejection, it’s far better to be appreciative of people giving you the time of day, particularly if they go to the trouble of explaining why they haven’t accepted your work, and then try again at a later date.
Onwards, fellow writers.