Write for the Jugular

Thanks, But No Thanks: Rejection In 10 Words or Less

I just got a large envelope back in the mail. Every writer knows what that means, as did I before I opened the thing.

My short story had been returned with the most famous last words in fiction writing: Thanks, but this is not for us.

Uncharacteristically, the editor responded to the last line of my cover letter, which simply stated, “I welcome any feedback you might offer.” Usually, that line gets a big fat nothing, but this particular editor wrote something next to it: “Usually, more than a pratfall is needed to make a story work” And he wrote a right-side-up “:)” next to that.

For the record, my story did involve a pratfall, but that was just the culmination of a bad day.

The question arises, though — how do I as a writer deal with this suggestion?

We all have to contend with this question from time to time. And it’s difficult to answer. When an editor makes a comment, do we ignore it or take heed? Do we torment our spouses for hours on end with ourindignant assurances that the damned fool just didn’t get it? Do we consider the story unpublishable and throw it in the drawer, never to be heard from again?

I have always found that any criticism can be of value, even if you disagree with it or think it’s shortsighted. It’s tough to take when a 3,000-word manifestation of your heart, soul, and blood has been derailed in 25 words or less, but the first thing any writer should do is entertain the following blasphemous thought: What if the editor is right?

I’m not saying he is, and history is bathed in examples of dismissive editors passing up the likes of “Ulysses” and “Harry Potter.” I’m just saying to entertain the what-if. Maybe your characters are too wooden. Maybe your central plot twist is too contrived. Maybe you have sacrificed dramatic tension for cheap surprise.

Maybe not. Maybe the fact is that you simply submitted to the wrong publication. When you are through evaluating the what-if, ask yourself why you chose the publication that has rejected you. Was it because the magazine pays actual money for published stories? Was it because you didn’t take it seriously and thought that just because it was a small magazine it would publish anything? Or was it (drum roll, please) because you really thought your work would fit there?

If an editor’s comments don’t actually get you to change your text, they at least should motivate you to evaluate your work.At the very least, his comments should be the bedrock of self-analysis.

Try another publication. If the same comment shows up again, then maybe the editor wasn’t a damned fool after all.

Visit me at www.write-hook.com

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