Zen and the Art of Beating Your Head Against the Wall – Once More, With Rejections

I want to talk about rejections for a minute. Yes, no one likes them, but as the Corleones would say, “It’s nothing personal. Just business.” For the most part that’s actually true, though this being the small and feud-oriented family field that it is, it’s not always true, but close enough for the sake of this discussion.

The idea that it’s “not personal” flies in the face of the idea of the “personal” rejection, the one step up from the universally hated “form” rejection. A personal rejection is often interpreted to mean that you’re making progress. Often true, especially when you’re just starting out. Say you’ve gotten ten form rejects in a row from the same editor, but the eleventh gets a “try again” scribble(okay, these days maybe it’s a personal note tacked onto the end of a form macro, but the point stands), and the fourteenth gets an actual note explaining why the editor isn’t buying this one, but also (as before) try again. As Mike Resnick often says, the key word in “personal rejection” is not “personal,” and he’s right. “No” is still not a “yes.” Even so, personal rejections, while considerably short of a sale, are often rightly seen as encouraging signs.

Yet what I’m going to talk about is an exception to that rule. A case where the quite understandable response to a personal rejection would be to never, ever, bother to send that editor another story or novel so long as you both shall live. I’m not talking about the unprofessional, insulting rejection; so long as you’re dealing with people who conduct themselves professionally, those are rare, and why would you deal with anyone else? No, what I’m talking about is far more common type of personal rejection. I’ve gotten a few, and they never fail to send me into a funk of annoyance and regret.

It’s simply this: a rejection that shows beyond question that the aspects of your work that make it unique to you, plays to your strengths and interests, and that may even make your work worth doing to you, to go through the agony and sweat to get the story down in the first place, are the very aspects that the editor finds objectionable. In short, the editor clearly doesn’t “get” you. But there’s a catch to it, and one rejection like that doesn’t tell the story. You have to subject yourself to multiple instances of the same sort of cluelessness before you’re justified in writing off the market completely.

I can hear it now–“I do? What do you think I am, some kind of masochist?” Continue reading