Ok, I lied. There’s no fun in it and certainly no profit, at least directly. What there is, perhaps, is the chance to avoid wasting time, and depending on the market, money.
I know I’ve touched on this before. Heck, everybody has put their oar in on the fine art of Rejectomancy. The consensus is “Complete waste of time, typical amateur mistake of trying to read things into a rejection that simply aren’t there.” Or as Mike Resnick likes to say: “The key word in ‘personal rejection’ is not ‘personal.’” He’ll have no argument from me here–a rejection means “no” and that’s all it means.
So. A rejection means “no.” We all agree on that, yes? However, what it means is not all that it says, and what it says is not always merely a variation on “no.” Sometimes it’s a “tell.”
If this is starting to sound like “preaching to the choir,” then consider the choir dismissed with my blessing. I realize that most of you out there already know all this, as well you should. But I’m constantly surprised at the number of people who don’t, and this is for them. So, onward.
A “tell,” for those who have never encountered the usage, is a term from poker, meaning that there’s something in a player’s unconscious actions or demeanor that gives away vital, potentially game-changing information to his or her opponents if they know how to read it. It can be something simple, like the really bad poker player who always grins when he has a good hand. Or it can be something subtle, like the player who tends to fiddle with his wedding ring when he’s bluffing.
Just as in poker, sometimes editors give things away, too. Like the aforementioned “personal rejection.” While it still absolutely does mean “no,” it also means that the editor is taking the time and trouble to tell you this him or her self rather than just hitting the “reject” macro on their email reply. The catch is that this may say something or not, depending on the market. For a market that rejects everything with a personal rejection, even if it’s really a series of “1 from Colum A, 3 from Column B” macros, then it doesn’t mean squat. If it’s a market that gives 99% of the slush their standard form macro and only writes a note if they think you might have the chops to sell to them eventually, that’s something else again. So a personal rejection could indeed be a “tell.” Or it could just be the editorial equivalent of scratching your nose solely because it itches. As in poker, the trick is to know the difference.
Now, a personal rejection is fairly simple to interpret. Some “tells” take a little more effort and, no way around it, experience, to read. Note that I’m not talking about analyzing every gnomic editorial utterance to death and beyond. Such nonsense is what gives Rejectomancy a bad rap to begin with. Such nonsense is not the true-quill, proper esoteric Rejectomancy, the secret of which I will now reveal, like the secret handshake that is rumored to exist and really doesn’t. Only this one does, and it’s simply this:
You’d think this would go without saying. Then it does go without saying and you realize that someone should have said it, both clearly and with emphasis. Pay attention. Seriously. This is important. It’s not the subtle clues from editors that most beginning and newer writers miss; it’s when they flat out tell you something you need to know that the message appears to get lost in the noise. And then, and this is the crucial step–file this knowledge away, but do not dwell on the “personal rejection.” It was a “no.” Write the next story. Write it better. Try that editor again. Especially if they said “try us again.” That’s a tell, too, and it means just what it says.