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Reading Rejection
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 publication.

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 paper.

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 list.

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 offend.

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 rejection.

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 months."

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 salable.

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 writer’s 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 rlay15@aol.com

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