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by Kathryn Lay
Rejection slips and letters have great power to
encourage, confuse and discourage writers. Editors, with a word or a sentence
can influence new writers or surprise even the toughest of pros.
Rejection automatically brings disappointment,
but once you learn to read and react to them appropriately, they become a tool
and just another part of the writing/submitting process.
There are 3 basic types of rejections. I've
found that they can tell a great deal about the editor as well as the
1. The Disgusting:
Once in awhile writers encounter an editor,
assistant, or reader who uses rejection notices as a way to get his kicks, let
off some steam, or creatively show their unprofessionalism in ways writers
would be blasted for.
My worst occasion was to a small press
magazine, obviously operated in someone's garage. Most small press magazines
are professional, courteous, and great to work with.
After sending a short story for Reprint Rights
(meaning it was loved by an editor and published before) that fit their desire
for First Person stories, I received the manuscript back. Unable to locate a
rejection slip, I thumbed through the story. On the last page was a yellow
Post-It note. Two handwritten critiques were provided by different 'editors.'
"We've seen this idea before, and not
especially well-written. Give us a break!" followed by, "Yeah, like it sucked
eggs." A beginning writer may have found his spirit crushed by such a juvenile
display. An interesting side note to the story is that I also, along with the
note, received a subscription form with a note informing me they would love to
have my friends and I as subscribers.
A writer friend received a 'cutesy' rejection
slip with his manuscript. On the form were several areas that could be
checked. He was informed that his essay was returned because it was too small
to be used as a dartboard.
And still another author found himself the
recipient of an angry letter from an editor who explained that, now that he
was leaving the publishing business, he could finally speak honestly and
proceeded to do so. Years of hidden anger welled up and flowed onto the
None of the above were necessary. What does a
rejection like this say about your writing? Absolutely nothing. It wasn't
objective, professional, or helpful. Never let such a rejection affect you in
a way that you question your writing ability. File it away for laughs, shred
it, or set fire to it. Then cross this publication off your
2. The So-So:
95% of all rejections fall into this category.
These are the printed, form letters and small slips that neither excite nor
It is easy to understand why this is done.
With the enormous amount of manuscripts and queries pouring into publishers
offices, if each rejection were individual, little time would be left for
putting out magazines and books.
Yet, there are times when a simple, "sorry,"
"try us again," or "well-written" scribbled on a form letter would lift the
heart of a frustrated writer.
A form letter can mean nothing more than they
are overstocked, not interested in this subject, not buying currently, or have
something similar. It could also mean your piece needs to be looked over
again, reworked, pepped up to go beyond that form letter
3. The Good:
Here lie the rewards. Those personal
rejections, the helpful critiques, the encouraging notes, the invitations to
see it again.
"Well-written. Too long for us, but try
"I loved your idea and the characters. Work on
slowing your pace in-between scenes. You might add more dialogue to give life
to the scenes..."
"I considered purchasing this, but we're
overstocked at the moment. I'd be happy to look at it again in three
These are only a few examples of how editors
have been helpful and positive in rejections. Some have given specific
problems to work on, helping me to rewrite a piece and make it
An editor at one publication who wanted to
purchase my short story but was overridden by an editor who preferred big name
authors took the time to help me with rewrites. It sold immediately to the
next publication I sent it.
These are the rejections and editors who make
marketing as exciting as writing. Take their critiques and suggestions
seriously. You've been given a wonderful gift.
Rejection slips are a part of every writers
days. But, take heart, for when a busy editor stops for a moment to offer a word
of hope or explanation, you're on the right track. And if those form rejections
come again and again, take deep breaths, look over your work with a critical
eye, and send it out again. Rejection isn't the end of your work unless you
allow it to be.
And if you receive one of those 'disgusting'
ones and feel confident that you approached this editor with professionalism,
consider who will most likely survive this exciting, yet competitive
business--then keep on writing.
Oh yes, I called the 'post-it note' guys a
couple of months later. The publication folded after it's first month. It's 15
years later and I'm still here. Now who 'sucks eggs?'
© Copyright 2002, Kathryn Lay
Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through firstname.lastname@example.org
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