Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rejections...on Both Sides of the Fence

I once read that Nick Mamatas suggested every writer should read "slush" for a while. Sorry I can't locate the source...it's out there...somewhere on the interweb.

Great advice, really...even if I can't completely tell you why. I guess it helps to identify both successful and unsuccessful "patterns" in writing.

The hardest part is writing the rejection letters. (This topic was inspired by a recent post at Brenton Tomlinson's blog).

I prefer to send form rejections. I hate to admit that because form rejections suck to receive, but sometimes I really can't put your finger on what was "wrong" with a particular story. Sometimes other pieces did fit the theme of the publication better. Sometimes the story just didn't resonate for some reason.

But even worse than a form rejection, to me anyway, is a "personal" rejection that makes me question whether or not I should stop writing. And it happens. That's when I must remind myself, as all writers should, that the rejection was aimed at the story, not me. AND the rejection was only one opinion. AND sometimes the editor is just pissed off at the world when he/she/it wrote the rejection. It happens. If it held something useful, great. If not...it still served it's purpose/got the message across.

I've tried not to write those type of rejections in the past. I've tried to keep comments brief and constructive. And I always want any writer to know the rejection is only my opinion. My partner in "crime", Ed Lupak, and I agree on that.

Rejections, both ways, can be ashes in one's mouth...and I like my mouth ash-free.

But, while rejections--at least for me--suck to send as much as to receive, I second Mr. Mamatas's opinion: every writer should be a "slushie" for a while. You can't replicate the experience any other way.

13 comments:

Jamie Eyberg said...

My experience as a 'slushie' twelve years ago for 'The Nebraska Review' was fantastic. It made me truly appreciate quality writing and also those people who read guidelines. congrats on your two acceptances this week by the way! (I haven't even heard from one editor this week, let alone any acceptances.)

Aaron Polson said...

Thanks. Unfortunately, I've heard from a lot more than those two acceptances, if you get my meaning. Such is life. Hope the current ice storm isn't battering you too much.

Natalie L. Sin said...

I have heard only legends of these slush piles. It makes me want to be an editor. But that would be like letting a monkey build a car.

Barry Napier said...

I would love a job where I could go through slush. When my finances are a bit more stable, I'm thinking off perhaps trying to compile my own anthology. Then maybe I can identify.

Catherine J Gardner said...

I found reading the stories entered into the Cafe Doom competition a wonderful experience and agree it's something every writer should do at least once.

Robert said...

The best reason to "slush" is to learn from other people's mistakes. You begin to see what to do and what not to do as a writer.

When I first started, I read every submission from beginning to end. My rejections were personal -- I swore I'd never do form -- and I wrote WAY too much. Then, over the weeks, I realized you can't read every submission from beginning to end. I realized you can't write WAY too much. Life is just too short. But I still kept the rejections personal, something simple like "Dear XXXX, Thanks for sending "XXXXX," but I'm going to pass. While well-written, it just isn't right for F&B." Or something like that. Kind of like a form, but not. You know?

Eventually it got to the point where I could tell by the first page -- sometimes by the first paragraph (and sometimes even by the first sentence) -- whether any story in the slush was readable. That's how many editors and slush-readers do it. It's sad, but true.

And that's why it's good to "slush" at least once in your life -- you see what these writers are doing wrong, and you learn from their mistakes. However, I wouldn't credit Mamatas too much for saying what he did -- nearly every writer who's read slush before has said the same. I know I have, and now you have too, Aaron.

Aaron Polson said...

Reading "slush" definately makes you understand the importance of the first line, paragraph, and page...

Big Plain V said...

Okay. I give. How does a writer "read slush"? Are you guys hosting your own contests or something?

Ironically, some writer sent me a query letter the other day. I don't know where he would've gotten the idea that I was an agent, but I did the right thing and crushed his dreams.

Robert said...

Every one has a different experience. A friend of mine ran a horror/dark fantasy magazine. He was being bombarded with submissions and asked if I'd help out and I said sure. Some magazines actually advertise for slush readers. Others don't, but if you were to contact them about helping out, they most likely won't turn you down.

K.C. Shaw said...

Back in the mid-90s I ran a zine (the old-fashioned pre-net kind), and though we didn't accept fiction, we got a lot of fiction subs anyway. That was as close to slushing as I want to come, frankly.

katey said...

I'm with Natalie (monkey, car, etc.) I actually like form rejections just as well, at least for queries and short fiction subs. When I get a form, I just assume it was a bit limp all around, and I should take another look at it from that angle. (Last time it happened, I did that and decided it was as good as I could get it. The next place picked it up immediately. First time I did that, I decided it was crap and I'll never send it out again.)

Now, I do appreciate personal rejections if the editor has something to say about why it specifically didn't get their vote, but I consider it a rare and excellent bonus, something to encourage near-misses you'd like to see sub again. But I figure it's a business transaction. They don't owe me anything except what they promised-- which was to have a look at it. And that's cool of them as it is.

J.C. Tabler said...

The sad thing? When I submitted to SAND, I was not aware you were an editor there...

...Slushy.

Aaron Polson said...

JC - that's probably a good thing. Anyway, I don't really read slush over at Sand, just do the copy editing and layout.