Where I have the most experience as a creative writer is in the submission rejection process. No, no need to get all sympathetic and tut tut. It’s true and it maybe true for a while yet, for a myriad of reasons. On the bright side it indicates I’m still sending stuff out there.
And that’s a good thing.
Anyway, in my previous post I mentioned good and bad submission rejections.
To misquote Tolstoy or Austen (whichever they are so alike), all acceptances are happy, but each rejection is its own thing, but can be loosely grouped, as follows.
A quick rejection is ripping off a band-aid. It’s surgical and there’s some wincing, but no deep pain. It speaks to no fuss editors who know immediately what they want and, more importantly, don’t want. They’re not overly helpful, except for my own quest to identify where my writing might fit. Clearly, it’s not with these types, but with this sort of rejection, it’s just a matter of moving on. There’ll be no feedback and probably not even an email if they use Submittable or another online form. Sometimes these rejections are within minutes of a submission, other times a few days.
The complicated submission process begins with an email that is sent to a publication that promises a response within several months. Those months go by and nothing. After a further wait, a tentative email inquiry gets a response about how it was missed entirely or how their initial email response went astray. Either way, there’s some kind of fractured email trail, and a long wait. It’s more annoying if they don’t want you to submit the story elsewhere during this torturous experience that still mostly ends in rejection. Always check the email address, always check your spam folder.
This leads me to the radio silent submissions. You send your piece off, all happy and excited and then…nothing. Forever. There is never a response. Sometimes it’s because the publication is defunct but never let anyone know, by say de-activating their web presence/or disabling their email accounts.
Then some guidelines state publications will never inform you of rejection – only of acceptance – which is fine, I guess. Other times, it’s just that something in their submission app or email went wrong and secondary requests also fail. After this, I tend to think it’s the universe sending me a message and that message is: move on. But please, if you are closing your publication down, or even resting it for a bit, put a notice up.
The good rejection is one that is delivered with time limits the publisher imposes, and may offer helpful feedback, or even encouragement. Most of all it feels personalised, even it isn’t so very particular.
The best way to identify a good rejection is how you feel upon its arrival. If you feel disappointed but also uplifted, or encouraged to keep writing then that is a good rejection. I have had a few of these, sometimes from competitions, where apparently my work has placed well but just missed out.
The not this, but
Other good rejections indicate they think I can write but want something different, rather than I what I sent them, which is more than fine. Or they think what I sent was good but will be more appropriate next time.
It might be difficult to believe, but sometimes a considered, kindly and appreciative rejection can work (almost but not quite) as much wonder to soothe the soul of a writer as an acceptance.
The bad rejection is one by rote. It is probably worse than no response. I understand why formulaic emails are issued. They are often sent all at once to groups of writers because editors and readers are under time and cost pressures. Publications and competitions are flooded with stories and queries and begging letters. Yet, somehow the phrase that indicates everyone’s submission was of a high calibre is dispiriting. It’s essentially meaningless, because at least one person’s work was better and it’s worse when it’s sometimes difficult to tell why.
However, the very worst rejection is the public announcement of the winner or successful submission, timed to correspond with a launch gig or party that was never mentioned and you find this out later, even as you still wait at home for any kind of notification at all.
When the email of your rejection comes, perhaps a couple of days after this aforementioned celebration, whatever it’s tone, this missive just feels like the universe is grinding your face in the post-party detritus of someone else’s success. I respectfully say to these institutions, publications and competitions, please let authors know of the sequence of events regarding announcements so we can prepare.