Rejection is part of the writer’s life. It’s hard to take at first, when one’s lovingly crafted masterpieces are sent out like lambs to the slaughter and face the cruel cudgels of professional editors. When I began writing way back in to mid-seventies while living in Australia, I came across a periodical called The London Mystery Magazine. To be honest, I thought the standard of their stories, for the most part, was pretty low. Surely, I thought, I could do better. By the time I’d screwed up the courage to send out my stories, I’d returned to England, so submitting tales to London would be considerably easier than sending them from Melbourne.
According to my records, in 1978 I wrote half a dozen short crime/mystery tales. During the course of 1979 I submitted them, one by one, to The London Mystery Magazine – and, one by one, they all came back bearing form rejection slips.
I was devastated, of course.
I thought they were good stories, many of them far better than the fare on offer at TLMM. With the hindsight of years, however, I can see that my younger self was very wrong. They were nothing but shallow, badly written, badly characterised puzzle stories – with the failing that the puzzles weren’t even original. They deserved form rejections slips.
I recall, however, that far from discouraging me, the rejections served to spur me on, to prove the editors wrong. I moved from writing crimes tales to writing science fiction, and the rejections piled up: form rejections for the most part, but with the occasional encouragement of a note from the editor bearing kind words and the exhortation to try them with my next one.
I still receive regular rejections. I write perhaps half a dozen short stories a year, and I’d say that fifty per cent of these are rejected first time round. I send them out again, and again, and again… and I usually end up selling four or five of them, eventually.
The reasons for a story being rejected are many and various. The editor’s taste might not be attuned to the kind of tale you submit; the editor might simply not agree with something – politics, religion, philosophy – in the story; the magazine might have a surfeit of similar stories. Or the tale might not be very good and needs work to pull it round.
I’ve learned over the years, and in the course of hundreds of rejections, not to take it personally. Writers are fallible, we get things wrong, and everything we write isn’t going to be the masterpiece we think it is. Rejection still hurts, of course – especially when it’s the rejection of a story I think might be one of the best I’ve done for some time. The thing to do is file the story away and pull it out a few weeks later, read it through and rewrite – you’ll be amazed at the deadwood you find that can be excised – and then send it out again, and again…
Is there a time when you say, enough is enough, this tale has been rejected so often it must stink?
Yes, of course. I retired a tale last year after its twelfth rejection (I was tempted to try it a lucky thirteenth time). Enough is enough, I reasoned. I might reused the central idea one day, but I’ll spare future editors the pain of reading it, and the pleasure of rejecting it yet again.
And I’ll use the time more profitably, writing a new, original, brilliant, cutting-edge SF tale, before biding it adieu and posting it off on it’s journey into the unknown… or, more likely these days, pressing the send button and launching it into the ether.