Rejection

My fiction gets rejected a lot. Almost all of the time, in fact. I’ve been submitting short stories to literary magazines this year as a sideshow to editing two novels, and none of them have been accepted. I’ve no idea how many I’ve sent. Ten, maybe? I’m still waiting on some, but, statistically speaking, they’ll be negatives. I have submissions to several competitions outstanding, too. The chances of them returning anything positive are close to zero. I’m a hard sell. All writing’s a hard sell.

And that’s fine.

I actually enjoy receiving rejections. Each shaky-head email means I’ve successfully completed and submitted copy, and I certainly prefer someone turning me down to never responding at all. Fiction writing’s a grind slow and grueling enough to shame even the most repetitive MMOs, and it’s something you have to accept if you have serious designs on achieving any kind of recognition. It’s part of the job, an indelible aspect of writing life.

Fortunately, being rejected becomes easier the more frequently it occurs. Every kindly declination is an arrow in the eye when you first start subbing, but the disappointment deadens as they pile up. Years ago, when I was sending my first novel to agencies (on paper!) and the dreaded self-addressed envelopes started hitting the mat months later, each syllable was torturous, the destruction of a dream. Hope elsewhere. Thank you allowing. Doesn’t mean.

Now, though, I just shrug. I can tell what it is without even opening the mail. Only curiosity forces me to read them before releasing them to trash, just to see how that specific publication or agency frames their let-downs. They’re usually nigh on identical, for the record. The last one I received (yesterday) started with the words, “Thank you for giving us”. That only ever means one thing.

Frequency certainly does soften the blows of rejection, but I’m also lucky enough to run an editorial business and have experienced the other side. I’ve personally rejected many hopeful game writers. I understand why I have to do so, and therefore have at least some insight as to why the editors and agents who keep knocking me back have to do the same. These are pragmatic business decisions, and I’ve learned to see them as such.

There are three main reasons I reject a pitch. VG247, my day job, is a games site specializing in news, news-related features and guides. The queries we receive are usually instantly dismissible (“Do yu hove any psitions writing news? I’d be really good it!”), but some are great. We reject almost everything. Here’s why.

  • It’s the “wrong” content. This is the primary reason we reject writers. The pitch may be strong, and we have faith in the writer to produce good copy (even if we don’t, we can always edit), but we just don’t care about the content. Will it bring us traffic, revenue or acclaim? No? Then we can’t buy it.
  • It’s a base we’ve already covered. We get this regularly, especially from established journalists working for smaller sites. “Do you need anything on Game du Jour?” We do, but it’s in hand. Thanks, but no.
  • The writing sucks ass. Any long-term editor (any decent one, anyway) can tell immediately if someone can write. By “write,” I don’t mean “win a Pulitzer”. I’m talking about relatively accomplished grammar, punctuation and sentence construction. Creative flair is a secondary consideration. I know grown adults in the games media still incapable of using capital letters correctly, and don’t get me started on commas. Video game journalism is generally bad, but we do try to keep the bar as high as possible on slim resources. You have to be able to write decent English to interest us.

I’ve never been involved in the selection process for a literary magazine or agency, but, based on the endless notes I’ve read from agents on submissions and why they reject, it seems the reasoning behind saying no (and yes) is similar. There’s little personal about it, at least in the realm of the debut author. People either want the words or they don’t, and they hardly ever want the words.

That’s just the way it is. No piece I write is a waste. Every rejection is increased experience, because I had to create something to receive it. As long as I’m writing, published or otherwise, I’m taking another tiny step on the ridiculous road to publication. Someone, somewhere. is reading the words, even if they only make it through the first few sentences before engaging their stock rejection machine. It doesn’t matter. I wrote and someone read. You made it to the end of this, right? Thank you. I’d call that a win, however small. And sometimes that’s acceptance enough.

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