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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.

Getting Published (Get Used to Rejection)

So you want to be a published author?  Well, me too.  Many writers do.  There are many ways to get published.  There are short works, there are novels, and of course there is the “traditional” way and the “self-published” way.  I am going to talk mostly about the Traditional Publishing Method, with a focus on short stories.

A Quick Mention to Self Publishing:

I am not downplaying self publishing, but I don’t have experience in it.  You certainly don’t have to deal with the rejection of an editor if you self publish.  It is relatively easy to get the story published in self publishing, but hard part comes in reaching an audience.  You likely don’t have an audience, and getting people to read your stuff is harder then you think.  Don’t think you avoid rejection either.  You have to get rejected by the audience and that can often be a lot worse then an editor.  At least an Editor rejection is between you and them, the public often posts it’s rejection on the web for the world to see.  Ouch!

Traditional publishing is the opposite.  Hard to get published, but most publications have an established readership.

The Cycle of Getting Published

Some of you may have recently seen my post on Twitter:

“Write, submit, get rejected, submit again. Rinse and Repeat.”

This is a pretty accurate cycle to expect when trying to get published in the vast market of short fiction available to Speculative Fiction writers.  I might modify it now to add “edit” after write.  Its a vicious cycle and it can be a damn discouraging one.  However, when you get that first acceptance letter, it can be really rewarding.  You just have to get past the discouragement and press on.  Hopefully this can act as a guide to getting past that discouragement and get you to the acceptance letter.

Step 1: Write

It seems obvious that if you want to get published you need to write.  But you can’t sit around on one short story and wait for it to publish.  You need to write and you need to write a lot if you ever plan to get published.  When you are done with one, move on to writing something else.  Keep writing.  Write in blogs (you can start by leaving a comment on this one), write in writers groups, but above all write in your Works in Progress (WIP).

Your WIP is your ticket to getting published.  I don’t know of any author who’s blog was seen and they were offered a publishing contract.  It is your WIP that you have to get out to the editors.  Find the time to write and do it.

You will improve with each completed story.  You will improve with each submission.  You will improve.  Every author has only been improved over their years of writing.

Step 2: Edit

This is where we separate the hobbyists from aspiring artists.   Editing is where most writers give up, put the WIP aside, and never touch it again.  Editing is where most people give up on their dream of being published.  There are two reason for this:

First, is perception.  They either look at their work and see it as garbage, worthless, and unfitting.  They are harsh to themselves and they get discouraged and they shelf it.  Or, they look at their WIP and see it as gold, the best thing ever written by man kind.  They don’t change a thing.

Second, they get stuck in the editing cycle.  They never stop editing.

Lets go back up to the first.  Perception.  You really need a combination of both these perceptions.  You must be your toughest critic and your biggest fan at the same time.  It is the toughest thing to do.  You have to know what works and what doesn’t.  Truthfully the writer is the only person who knows what’s best for their story.

But your own perceptions can easily get in the way.  You need that second opinion.  This is where your writers groups come in handy.  Share your work with others.  Take a look at their opinion.  Don’t be discouraged by a “bad” critique.  They will make suggestions and point out things you may not have seen.  Then you decide what works for your story and make the changes needed.  Remember you don’t have to accept every suggestion.  But even suggestions that don’t work are more valuable then you think.

The editing cycle is dangerous.  I know many writers on their eighth or ninth draft of a work in progress.  To tell you the truth, they will continue to edit from now to infinity.  They will not stop editing, as a result they will never move on to the next step to get published.  You have to know when is enough.

It may be different for each of you.  But I strongly urge you to set a limit.  For me it is four drafts and done.  I write it (draft 1).  I edit it (draft 2). I get other writers to critique it and I make changes (draft 3).  I give it to my Grammar Cop and make changes (Draft 4).  Then I go to Step 3.

This is not a hard and fast rule.  If there is a major change made in Draft 3, I may resubmit it to my writers group for critiques again.  However, the point is, I know when is enough.  You won’t please every reader, you probably won’t even please yourself.  It will never be “perfect”.  When I read my manuscripts for my published works, I still find things I would change now.  Because I have learned a lot more since I completed those.  It is part of your growth as an artist.

Move on, its best.

Step 3: Submit

Submit your story to a publisher.  Since I am focusing on Short Works that means a magazine, ezines or anthologies.  There are so many of them it is difficult to know where to start.  My tip is to aim high.  Start with a professional market.  A market that pays six cents a word or more.  They pay more, tend to have more subscribers, and what is the worse they can say?

I always start with SFWA approved markets.  It is my quest to join them someday.  After that I go to other pro markets.  Then Semi-pro, then others.

A little research goes along way too.  I use Duotrope.  A free submission tracker program that has tons of markets listed.  If they don’t have them all they are pretty damn close.  They track everything from response times to acceptance rates and everything in between.  They can give you a lot of information about a market.

After pay rate, you should take a look at response times.  Most markets will not accept stories that are awaiting a decision from other publications.  So if you send it to a market that takes five months to reply, your story will be tied up for at least that long.  So keep that in mind when you send out a piece.  It takes time to hear back.  Fast markets take 10 days, slower ones can take up to a year to reply.

Next, look at acceptance rate.  Some markets are very challenging and have less the 1% acceptance rate.  Others, have acceptance rates in the 80-90% ranges.  In my opinion, the latter is worse.  I avoid markets that seemingly accept everyone.  It doesn’t make it a very strong credit in your portfolio.  Often they have small readership because the quality of story is low.  Remember Editors act as a filter to filter out what is either poorly written and, more commonly, what doesn’t work for their readers.  With out a good filter, the quality and identity of the publication goes down.

Last, you may consider electronic or print publication.  Ezines are taking things by storm.  But, some people just really like seeing their name in print.  For me this is not really a factor.  Ezines are a creditable publishing venture now.  However, it may matter to you.

NEVER SUBMIT TO A MARKET THAT CHARGES YOU A READERS FEE!  All money should flow in the direction of the Author.  You should never have to pay someone to consider your works for publication.

Step 4:  Get Rejected

It will happen.  You will get a rejection letter.  It is more likely to be a form letter.  You will likely never know why the editor rejected it.  And you will be disappointed no matter how much you prepare yourself for it.  It is just part of getting published.

I hate this part.  We all do.  I make it a game in some ways.  I have all my rejection letters.

The form letters are the worse.  There is no way to tell what the reason they have for rejecting it.  Most likely it is a simply matter of the opinion of the editor and his/her own taste.  It rarely has anything to do with the author’s ability to write.  There people who simply can’t write, but think they can.  But mostly editors reject stories based on their own subjective opinions.

Personal Rejections are nice, for being rejections.  I have only got one.  There you might get some glimpse into what the editor was thinking.  In mine, the editor didn’t like the ending.  While is was simply one line, it let me know one key thing… the editor got to the ending.  They liked my writing enough to read to the end.  So you might get a glimpse to the editors thoughts with a personal rejection.

Rewrite requests are even better, and rarer.  There is much debate on if a rewrite request is really a rejection.  To me it is.  You can rewrite it send it back in and you are still not guaranteed to get published.  If you get one of these, you have to make the choice to do the rewrites and submit again to the same market, or simply move on.  It really depends on you and what the editor wants you to change.  I have not received any rewrite requests.

Step 5: Submit Again

I get the rejection letter, and I submit to a new market.  Always in the same day, sometimes in the same hour.  Don’t dwell on the rejection.  Submit again.  I don’t even look at the manuscript again.  Some authors do.  However, going back to the edit step, may well trap you in the edit cycle.  The one I personal rejection I mentioned about about the editor not liking the ending.  I didn’t change a thing, submitted it to another market and they bought it.  Point is, that changing for one editor’s opinion may not be wise.

Dwelling on the rejection is the part where many authors, who got past the edit step, fail.  They get that first rejection, begin to think they are not good enough (or at least the story is not), and weeks go by and the story never goes back out.  One editor’s opinion ruined their entire writing career.  Writers have to know that getting rejected is part of the publishing world, and they need to push forward.

I suggest you just move on and submit again right away.  Trying to analyze the form letter, or dwelling on the rejection, will never get you published.  The only way to get published is to submit.

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

Really you should do Step 6 right after you submit the first time.  Rinse yourself of that story you just finished, and start at Step 1 with a new idea.  But, I put it as Step 6 because it is just as important to Rinse yourself of the rejection.  Rejection is something humans attempt to avoid.  So in short: Get over it and move on.

Get to work on Step 1 again and get yourself published.