The third and final in my stunningly popular (*cough*) series on authors' and rejection slips will focus on how authors can manage their own disappointment, in light of editors' unlikelihood to take on the burden of making things easier on writers.
But first let me curse my ears. My allergies have been bad this spring, and it seems like they have focused on my sinuses. For the first time I can remember, that has given me stuffed-up ears for at least a week straight. It's getting old!
Now, back to what you all care about: rejection.
If you'll remember from yesterday's blog, I suggested that there were three main ways that editors could help authors out: (1) by giving even a hint about the reason the story was rejected, (2) by being more specific in their guidelines, and (3) by being honest that writers' lives cannot conceivably revolve around their particular publication. If you'll also remember, I said that editors were unlikely to do any of these (with blessed exceptions, to be sure!), and that they may very well have good reasons.
So where does that leave authors?
You can take a little bit of the mystery out of rejection by being prepared. Know you're a good writer. This is more than a mantra to repeat to yourself. This implies having a thorough and confident grasp of grammar and good spelling habits. It means proof-reading carefully, thoroughly, and repeatedly, and probably even getting a second or third proofing eye on your page to make sure that from from an English 101 perspective, what you're submitting is clean and solid. It means reading and adhering to the submission guidelines and instructions from the publication on formatting your manuscript. It also suggests that you understand what makes a good story -- you're aware of some of the basic pitfalls that keep stories sinking in the slush, you've gone through classes and workshops and learned, and you have plenty of internal and external validation, that you are basically a good writer.
When you've done all that, let's face it, you've eliminated an awful lot of the reasons for being being rejected. And when it comes down to it, most of the reasons that are left boil down essentially to these three: (a) marketing, (b) random chance, and (c) personal taste.
I'll be addressing marketing in full in my next post, so I won't labor that.
Random chance? Think about it. Sometimes, your story ends up with a reader that has a headache and just can't deal with your long paragraphs today. Yours might be the last of the day, and the reader is tired. Yours might be the first of the day, and the reader knows that there will be better things combing. There are any number of things that are completely out of your control that can lead to a rejection.
Personal taste is everywhere, and as authors we (for some reason) seem unable to grasp that. There is no such thing as, "The Great Story." I have never yet come across a short story, novel, or play that is universally hailed or universally decried. There is a natural range of opinion. So the editor at the publication and you may simply have different tastes. And it's no big deal. that doesn't make your writing bad. That doesn't make the reader's editing bad. It just means you have different tastes.
As far as dealing with vague or dubious guidelines, the author can prepare for rejection by realizing ahead of time, that guidelines are only guidelines. If the guidelines seem to suggest your story falls into a marginal area that they still accept, remember that it's still a marginal area. If they suggest they accept new writers, remember that every other new writer out there is probably also submitting to them. If they only use cliched genre words like, "cozies" or "suspense" or "literary," then just bear in mind that there's a broad variety of tastes that those words cover, and don't be surprised if your submission falls outside the editor's particular tastes.
And, as far as the writer's being unable to center his or her universe on a particular publication -- you can't do it, you shouldn't try to do it, and just don't sweat it. Yes, if you can, be familiar with the publication, at least a little. But don't obsess over it. There's no telling what story that's totally unlike the existing corpus will catch the editor's eye, and there's no guarantee that just because your story is like the existing corpus, that it's going t be accepted anyway.
The key to remember is this: a rejection does not hurt you, and it does not trash your story. Once you pile up half a dozen rejections or something like that, then maybe it's time to revisit the story. But otherwise, rejection is just part of the game. It's like being passed up in the NFL draft. Not everyone gets to be in the top ten. Suck it up, and be a pro! :) Get your stuff out there, because it won't get published without being submitted!
Next time: writing and the distasteful art of marketing.