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Inevitably, every story acceptance is accompanied by multiple rejections; sometimes a story will be accepted first time, sometimes there will be a re-write request and sometimes the story will be rejected over and over again before someone accepts it. This week I got a particularly crushing rejection. Over the last two years I have only received a personal rejection about 5% of the time. Usually all I get is a generic email saying “Thanks, but no thanks”. It is fair enough, I ran my own lit-mag for a year and know that editors only have so much time.
As a writer though you can kind of build a generic rejection message up in your head to read something like: “I’m really really sorry we can’t fit this story in this issue. We loved it, it was brilliant, but I’m going to have to say no at the moment. Sorry” when all they are really saying is “Thanks, but no thanks.” Personal rejections always carry extra weight because they are definite, you are hearing exactly what the editor thought, and even if it is bad news they are giving you something helpful. When I got the above-mentioned rejection this week however, I forgot all of this.
Before I tell you what the editor said, I should say that I do now agree in part with his comments and I am very grateful for his insights. Regardless I was very attached to this story and he was the first person I’d sent it to, which is why I think the rejection somewhat crushed me. Basically this editor felt that most of the characters were flat, the ending was not great and the interesting part of the story was over too fast. I’m not going to lie, it hurt. I read the email over a few times and even copied it into my notebook to look at later when I’m writing other stories. I think the thing that hurt most was that I was so happy with the story.
Fiction is subjective, I know that, I’m certain that something I adore will most likely repulse someone else out there. After reading the rejection a few more times I read the story again, and then again and I started to see where he was coming from. That is the best and worst thing about editors, they know what they are talking about. I thought about his comments and came to the conclusion that he was undeniably right in one out of three. Regardless of personal subjectivity the scene that built up most of the story was a little short, and could definitely be further developed in order to bring out more of the story.
Concerning his other comments, I chose to ignore one and kept the ending the same, because that is where I know the story should end, while the other comment was potentially disastrous and needed more thought. This story is part of my current work, a collection of intertwining stories. Throughout the book, and its stories, some events overlap and a little more information about the characters is revealed in each piece. However, all the stories also stand alone in their own right.
The undeveloped characters mentioned in the rejection are nothing more than background characters, some of which come to the fore in a different part of the book. They are undeveloped because this is not their story. Obviously I tried to make them as developed as background characters can be without taking the focus from the two main ones, but if this doesn’t come off successfully, will the book hold together like I want it to? I’m still thinking about this one.
Rejection is a part of writing, if your plan is to get published, and sometimes it can be painful, other times not so, but editors’ insights in my experience are invariably valuable. On several occasions I have followed the advice of an editor and revisited a certain aspect of a story, and then that revision sparked something else in my mind which set of a chain of different ideas which, in the end, has made the story one hundred times better. It is for this reason that I remind myself, every time I get a rejection, that editors know what they are doing.
Alex writes short stories and occasionally things a little bit longer. He has had fiction published in places like Wilderness House LIterary Review, Metazen and Spectre Magazine and has a story in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology Jawbreakers. He is currently working on a collection of stories, a novella and his blog at alexthornber.wordpress.com.