Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On Rejections

The issue of rejections has circulated in a few blogs of late. As a teacher, I can't help but see the similarity between the role of editor and that of teacher.

While studying for my education degree, I took a class on methods for the language arts (English) classroom. One of our liveliest debates centered around how to provide feedback on student writing. Some were in favor of as much positive reinforcement as one could provide. Others felt that only constructive criticism should be offered--we were future teachers after all. Still others thought that a grade was enough: let the student know how they did, and then they can sort out the mess later--in my opinion, those individuals needed to seek other forms of employment.

Although it isn't the job of editor to teach, some do. Some don't have the time to. (I can't imagine personal feedback for every story rejected at Cemetery Dance). Some pile on the positive with "not right for us" tacked on at the end; some leave us with constructive criticism. Others simply give us the grade and move on.

I've had rejections that made me feel better, in some ways, than simple acceptances that left me wondering what they liked. Tim Manning at Black Ink Horror writes some of the best rejection letters. Of course I always prefer acceptance.

I'm indebted to those kind editors who took the time to provide some constructive criticism. I also try to be understanding when they don't. Ultimately, the editor is not bound to provide a detailed explanation for a rejection...but, like the best teaching, it can be a fine gift when they do.


Jamie Eyberg said...

Well said. Great insight.

J.C. Tabler said...


See, I look at it differently, but I'm not a teacher, just a humble hack.

I've always thought that an editor has no responsibility whatsoever to provide feedback to an author. Their responsibility is not to critique or to assist an author in growth. It is, quite simply, to wade through the submissions and find the ones that are the most suited for their publication. In doing so, they may come across a few that show potential, that were enjoyable but had problems, and decide to give out a more personal review of the piece in the rejection.

That is a treat. An honest treat. It actually means, if nothing else, that the editor thought enough of the writer, if not the story, to take the time.

At the same time, I'm a bit of a traditionalist. I believe, first and foremost, that a rejection should be a clear and concise thing in the determination of a story's fate. Give me the solid "We're not taking it" before giving me a "here's why." I have no need to be let down gently, to have a blow padded. Hell, I developed a thick skin with this stuff a long time ago.

To give a glowing critique of a piece with a rejection is a confusing thing...as I recently discovered. I've had positive rejections, normally for pieces that later sold without problems, but they were...well...clear rejections befoer the were positive. I enjoy being praised even in rejection, it strokes my ego and who doesn't enjoy that? But some rejections...

Here's the J.C. Tabler manifesto: If an editor is honestly softening the blows to save the dignity of an author, they, like a teacher who believes the author should simply sort out the mess themselves, should seek other employment. Where are the cigar-chomping bastards? Where is the razor-tipped bitch? Where is the editor who says, in unequivocal terms, that your piece is crap?

I had a wonderful instructor who had the belief that if you didn't develop a hide thicker than an elephant's, you had no business submitting pieces. Rejections, of any sort, don't bother me and shouldn't bother many writers. It is appreciated to have personal criticism or instruction on a piece, and the fact an editor takes the time to give me anything like that is more of an honor than anything. The only thing I mind, and it may be more on me than anything else, is when I can't decipher the rejection letter myself.

That said, the recent rejection that kicked this off was #2 on my list of all-time nicest rejections, and most helpful ones. I just wish it had been a little clearer in the realm of communicating exactly what it was to a big, dumb countrified feller like me. ; )

Aaron Polson said...

J.C. - I hear you, loud and clear. I've received a rejection, very similar to the one you've posted, from the same editor. Befuddled, yes.

But I'm not sure I was clear in the post: I agree with you--tough skin needed if you want to write. Rejection is reality (I love the little strips of paper, not even half sheets, I've received from agents...lovely).

I'm just trying remind myself that editors aren't teachers. I shouldn't expect that. But we all should expect clarity from an editor, which, unfortunately, you didn't receive.

J.C. Tabler said...


I wasn't really disagreeing with you, I just got my fingers moving in one of those rare moments where I'm not busy with one of two infants, a five year old, one of the cats, or the pile of work I brought home. It's rare they get a chance to move that fast these days at a keyboard, thanks to the recent pressures preventing me from developing the ideas jotted down in my notebook, so I think...looking at the length of my reply, that I got a little carried away.

In other words, we're on the same page.

Cate Gardner said...

My skin is so thick if a cannibal with a meat cleaver came for supper I'd still have plenty left at the end of the meal. ;)

Jamie Eyberg said...

I think that until an editor comes out and says 'you suck, don't ever send us anything ever again' I won't be offended.

Aaron Polson said...

Wow, Cate. That's the creepiest blog comment I've read in a while. Congrats. :)