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You Can’t Please Everyone

swearing_3421243I’ve talked a lot about getting used to rejection.  But, most of the time I am referring to the rejection letters sent by editors who don’t want to publish your work.  I’ve always found that rejection from editors is easy for me to accept.  I have always braced myself to hear “No” from an editor.

On the other hand, I hadn’t prepared myself for rejection from readers.  Sure, I had heard about it from other authors. Sometimes readers won’t like what you do.  They won’t like what you write.  They just won’t enjoy the stories you have to tell.  Rejection makes it sound harsher than that.  I’m certain people have read my stories and not liked them.

But the other day I got my first real hate email.  I use the term hate, because it wasn’t my story they hated, it was one aspect.  A small part of the story really.  Truthfully, I hadn’t even given much thought to the element of the story.  It was just there.

This person wrote me an email, roughly three pages long, insulting me because one of the main characters in Dissolution of Peace is a homosexual.   If you haven’t read the book, you might not know what I am talking about.  But one of the main characters discovers she is a lesbian through the course of the novel.  The email went on to call me the “devil” and that I was a “demon” at several points.  She clearly read the whole book, as she referenced parts from throughout the novel, but she just wasn’t happy it included a lesbian couple.  She told me, “I can’t believe you ruined this excellent story by putting homosexuals into it.” and “You could have just as easily made one of those characters male and kept the book clean.” and “You just used this story to push your pro gay agenda.”

Frankly, the email shocked me.  It shocked me for several reasons.  First, I never gave a second thought to Janice’s relationship with Willard.  Second, I just never had anyone so upset with something I had wrote.  And the best part, she never even mentioned the scene in which Carlson walked in on Willard and Janice during sex.

Typically I don’t respond to negative comments about my work, but since many will see this blog as a form of response, I must say a few things.  First, I am very happy to hear that this person thought my story was “excellent”.  Several times she told me how great the book was, in between the other points she had to make.

I have no “pro gay agenda”.  I am not opposed to homosexual relationships, and I am not opposed to gay marriage.  But, Dissolution of Peace is not about that.  If you find a “pro gay” message in that book, well, each reader will see the message that calls to them.

Finally, I couldn’t have made Willard or Janice a male character, because that is not who they are.  Writer’s know that their characters become real people.  Janice became who she became, regardless of what I wanted (or didn’t want) her to be.  I couldn’t have changed her any more than I could change the person who emailed me..

As a writer, you may never want to put a homosexual person in your stories simply to play it safe.  But where do you draw the line?  Will you never have any discussion or mention of politics?  What about feminism, social commentary, or even humor?  If you sterilize your writing to try to keep everyone happy, you will wind up with a story that few will want to read.  Even if you can write an excellent story that walks the line and avoids hot button issues, someone won’t like it because of your style, plot, or for no real reason at all.  We are a vast and diverse world.  It is a beautiful thing.  But is also means that eventually someone will read something you’ve written and simply not like it.

Should you go out of your way to offend?  No.  Shock value rarely works either.  Write the story you want to write; with the characters, world, and plot that you want.  Writers want people to enjoy their stories.  But not everyone will.  You just can’t please everyone.  Don’t try to.  Just write the story you want to tell and let the chips fall where they may.

And for the readers out there, please understand something about writers.  To build worlds and create believable elements we must include people of all types regardless of our personal beliefs.  Writers have to include murders, corrupt people, evil people, and bigots in our worlds.  Why?  These people exist and will likely exist for all time.  I don’t condone murder, but the antagonist of Dissolution of Peace is a killer.  A writer might write a racist character, that doesn’t mean the writer has an “agenda” against a particular race.  Most readers know this, and see a story for what it means to them.

I appreciate the readers, and the feedback.  Even the negative feedback helps me as a writer (even the feedback I don’t agree with).  But, I just have to learn that I can’t please everyone.

Form Rejections

When I started out as a writer, I went to work with short stories.  There are tons of markets to share my stories with.  When I got my first form letter rejection, I wasn’t surprised.  I’d known rejection was part of the game and I had been warned that most markets use the Form Letter for rejections.  The question no one could really answer clearly was: Why?

I’d first been told it was because of the sheer volume of submissions.  Which I wasn’t sure about since I didn’t think it took but two seconds more to tell me why I was rejected.

I was told it has to do with editor policy.  Which is true, but doesn’t really answer the why.

I was told it was just the industry standard.  Again true, but not really why.

The point is, every writer danced around the topic because frankly none really knew why.  We just accepted it as the way of the writing world, and went with it.  After all there really isn’t anything any of us can do to change it, unless we all just stopped sending in submissions.  But I’m not going to stop sending in submissions over the type of rejection I get.

I’ve been running Plasma Frequency now for five months and we’ve put out two issues.  And up until yesterday we offered personal rejections on every submission.  Even as our large volume of submission came in, we continued to provide personal rejection letters.  Why did we do that?  I thought that was what writers wanted.  They wanted to be told why their story was rejected.  They wanted to learn from the rejections.  They wanted to know if the editor even finished manuscript.  And if not, why.  So I thought, lets tell them. 

The problem is this.  Authors don’t really want to know.  Not truly.  When they find out from the editor that the opening was boring, it upsets them more than the form letter did.  When an editor say the manuscript wasn’t formatted and submitted correctly, they get aggravated they were rejected on a technicality.   When the editor says the story was great but doesn’t fit the publication, they get mad that the publication doesn’t accept “great” stories.

I realize this is an over generalization.  I get upset at personal rejection from time to time, but I really appreciate that they took the time to tell me why.  And in the end, like most writers, I just move on.  I fix the problem, or don’t, and send it off to the next place.

The problem is that there are a significant number of authors who are not professional enough to move on.  They have to say something back.  Those authors should read my blog post, “Inside an Editor’s Mind (Tips for Writers)”.  The problem is they are rarely correct in their anger, and it is almost always misplaced.

My staff and I have been threatened, cursed at, CAP LOCKED, and cyber bullied.  I already nearly lost one editor because of it.  Here are some of the things we’ve gotten back from authors.

“Well you would know about “overly sexual” you whore.”

“I will find everything any of you have ever written and I will ensure everyone I know rates it as poorly as possible.”

“You can suck my dick!”

“I consider myself above your petty opinions.”

“You must be sleeping with the Lead Editor to get your job.”

“I will tell everyone about your lack of professionalism.”

“YOU CAN ALL EAT SHIT!”

“You are by far one of the UGLIEST people I’ve seen.”

“I will find you and you will regret rejecting ME.”

Your first thought might be that we are doing something wrong.  That we are rude in our personal rejection.  But I discovered I am not the only one getting this behavior, we just rarely talk about it.

John Joseph Adams, editor for Lightspeed, and in my opinion one of the better editors in the business recently tweeted: “This week, have been both called a “tool” for rejecting someone & had a writer reply “FUCK YOU!!!” Still so surprising when people do this.”

While he is one of the only ones I know to publicly say so, many other editors have privately shared the same types of stories.  Writers who complain about how unprofessional we are, while writing to us in an unprofessional manner.  Frankly it is embarrassing to writers as a whole, and if we editors wanted to be truly unprofessional we’d share with you their names so you could rise up against them.  Because the fact remains that the main reason editors stop providing personal rejections is because of the abuse that writers like these give us.

The problem here is the professional divide.  There are many websites warning writers of bad editors.  Editors that take advantage of writers.  There should be.  There are also plenty of people who take to the internet in persecution of an editor or a company simply because of a rejection letter.  That is not right.  I personally have yet to find a website that warns editors of unprofessional writers.  Writers who say things that I’ve mentioned above.

Why?  We have to take the high road.  We have to be professional and accept that is is part of our job.  We are trying to give our opinions to help you understand why your story didn’t make the cut.  They are our opinions.  We are then persecuted, bullied, and abused for giving those opinions.  We just wanted to help.  It makes many editors quit.  And as their boss, I can’t really allow it to happen.  We can take limited steps to protect ourselves, such as switching to form rejection.  That is why we, at Plasma Frequency, stopped providing personal rejections to first read rejections.  We hope to continue to provide them to second and third read rejections.  Hopefully the writers at that level can handle our opinions.

Once again, I recognize that most writers don’t behave this way.  This might come off as a bit of rant.  And in a way it is.But the point is, it is my opinion that many publications use form letters simply because of the abuse the get if they used personal rejections.

Of course, as an editor I still very much respect writers.  I am thankful for the submissions we get.  I couldn’t run my magazine with out them.  I’ll likely still send out a few personal rejections to those who might appreciate the opinion.