On one of the forums I lurk someone posted about how they’d received a personal rejection that basically shredded the story they’d submitted into itsy bitsy pieces.
I have to admit, it would not be a fun experience to receive a rejection like that. It’s hard enough to receive a form rejection. Or even a personal rejection with nice things to say (because they still aren’t buying the story, damn it).
When you receive something like that, my belief is that the best course of action is to just swallow it and move on.
You can view it in a few different ways:
First, not every story is for everyone. There was a story I read today that I had to stop after the first paragraph because it was simply too overwrought with description and adjectives and superlative language for me to get through it. But, someone bought that story for their publication. So, whereas I would’ve said, “this needs major work, streamline it, get to the story, etc.” someone else said, “this is fantastic, I love it.”
So, if you think that’s the case, you go, “Fine, you hated my story. Next.”
(The only time where that becomes a problem is when it’s your English class and your teacher hates your writing style. In which case you suck it up and find a way to fake it through the rest of the class so you can get the A. Otherwise, you just don’t submit to that particular market or editor ever again.)
I have a story that made it past a tough first reader, but the rejection from the editor was lukewarm at best. I now know that particular editor is not the audience for a certain type of story I write. So be it. In the future I know not to submit more of that type to that editor and I know that if that editor’s first reader ever branches out on their own that I have another market for those types of stories.
Second, a rejection like that, no matter how harsh, can be seen as a gift. In most markets there’s a bunch of Ouija board reading trying to figure out what they actually like. Is it writing style? Is it subject matter? Is it POV? You’re trying to parse out a pattern from seeming randomness.
But a personal, detailed rejection–no matter how harsh–is a bit like getting the secret recipe. See, this didn’t work. And this didn’t work. And this…
It’s like one of those logic puzzles. Okay, so now we know Suzie didn’t buy the oranges and Tom didn’t buy the lemons…A detailed rejection lets you zero in on what they might want.
It hurts. It’s ugly. You may decide it isn’t worth ever submitting to that market again because you vehemently disagree with everything they said. But at least someone told you why something didn’t work for them. And that’s golden. Forget what motivated them to do so, they gave you an invaluable insight into how they evaluate stories.
Even if it was delivered with a ten-pound hammer to the head.
The reason I bring this up is that on that forum someone was suggesting that the author should send a letter to this editor’s boss and complain about how unprofessional they were. NO!
First, we’re writers. We’re sensitive little things that are easily wounded. So, what seems to you like the most unprofessional, horrible critique may not be offensive to anyone else. Which means you’ve just blackballed your name with that publication for no reason.
And, second, however poorly it was delivered, that kind of insight is a gift. Even if it’s of the “never bother submitting to that loon again” variety.
The best bet when confronted with “rudeness” of this nature (and I put it in quotes because it may not actually be rudeness) is to let it pass. Move on. Sell that story to the next market and say “haha, you lose.” (In your head. DO NOT send them a letter to point out their error.)
Or step away from the letter for a week or two and come back to it and see if you can pull some value from it. Distance lends perspective.
And class always shows through. This is a career, right? Something you want to do for years? Then keep your eye on the long-term goal and rise above the distractions on the way.