As I’ve promised before, it’s time to talk about rejections.

“Rejection” is a harsh word to hear when you’re a writer, even though it’s part of the process.

It’s painful to get a rejection because it means that someone doesn’t like your writing for some reason. And it often doesn’t matter what the reason is, it still hurts!

However, I’m becoming hardened to it. Or so I like to think.

I’ve recently started compiling statistics on my submissions and rejections, and it makes for interesting reading. I’ve been sending out submissions for the following:

  1. A novel-length short story anthology of dark urban fantasy, science fiction, horror and humour. It’s the first of four volumes I’ve written.
  2. A Young Adult space opera science fiction novel.
  3. Numerous short stories, mainly science fiction, urban fantasy and horror.

And the results are in:

  • 237 submissions total, 147 since the beginning of the year.
  • 147 rejections total (interesting coincidence, those numbers), 75 since the beginning of the year.

The overall rejection rate is 62% at present because most submissions have been this year (62% again) and haven’t had time to ‘mature’ as it were.

I have enough information now to be able to define four different kinds of rejection.

1. Time-Out Rejections / Ghosting

These are the ones where they tell you something along the lines of “If you don’t hear from us within a particular period of time [six weeks, three months, or whatever], then we are not interested”. In fact, many don’t even bother with that; they simply ghost you. This is the laziest rejection I can think of because it means that there is no real interaction between agent/publisher and writer. It’s as if you and your submission have never existed.

2. Form-Letter Rejections

These generally have the form of: “Thank you for submission. However, I feel that it is not quite what I am looking for.” There are variants where they sugar-coat it by saying that they liked the writing, just not enough. And they hope that I will find an agent who might like it more.

The problem is, the wording is so similar, not to mention identical, that I came to suspect that they were generated from a computer program or template file for MS Word. In fact, an agent confirmed to me last year that this is indeed the case.

Given that doing it only takes 30 seconds to send one of these to the author, to be generous, this is barely one step up from being ghosted.

3. Nonsense Feedback

This comes in a variety of forms:

  1. Feedback that looks as if they have been reading another book. I have had feedback for my anthology where the publisher spoke of “insufficient emotional attachment between the lovers.” Now, there is one story that is a horror romance; perhaps they were talking about that. Otherwise, that evaluation made no sense at all.
  2. An evaluation from insufficient information. A publisher recently informed me that my science fiction novel needed a professional editor's work. Now, I worked with an editor on that book for several months, tightening the storyline, foreshadowing, back-linking, developing the characters. The publisher told me that there was no “character development” after having admitted that they had only read 15,000 words of the 74,000-word manuscript. That’s around 20%. In my opinion, you need at least 20% of the book to be able to establish the character before you start to develop them. They also raised some points about the storyline that, if they had bothered to read the story, they would have found would have been addressed by the middle of the book. I then discovered that they wanted to send me to a ‘sister company’ to have the necessary work done. I’ve since found out that this is a ploy of vanity publishers to make money off you while pretending that they are ‘good guys’ and not rip-off merchants.

4. Useful Feedback

This is the rarest of all, where you get actual, real information on how to improve your work. I’ve only received this twice so far:

  1. An agent suggested that trying to start a writing career with an anthology is not the best way to go about things. Because of this advice, I wrote a science fiction space opera, the one I’m submitting at the moment.
  2. Another agent told me that the novel was great, but it would be much improved by changing it to a Young Adult novel. I did that, too, and I find that it’s much improved. This is the one that the ‘publisher’ decided needed so much editing work.

Results

The overall result is that I am in something of a state of confusion.

I am being rejected by various agencies and independent publishers who like my work but not enough, and who won’t tell me what’s wrong with it or what they don’t like about it. Without proper feedback, how am I supposed to work on my writing and improve it into something they will like?

It appears to me that what they do like is the lowest common denominator; what they think will sell the most, not what is the best writing.

It won’t stop me writing or submitting, but I do sometimes feel that I’m toiling under a major disadvantage.

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Cathy Cade Reply

    I find it interesting that ‘publishers’ don’t like to publish short stories, yet blogs commenting on research findings report that short stories are increasingly popular with readers. (I haven’t read such a claim recently, but there were several posted last autumn. Next time I come across one, I’ll come back with it.)

    • StephenOliver Reply

      I’ve noticed a similar pattern. However, some of the restrictions appear to be the publishing of novellas as standalone items. Anthologies are very popular, although most publishers appear to prefer ones from multiple authors.

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