June 26, 2008

Failure, Reject, Loser

I'm so jealous that you actually got a rejection letter from H.R.

I'm nearly peeing myself laughing that someone would be jealous of a rejection letter!

When I first started looking for work, I thought I wanted to be a casting agent. Then I wrangled an internship on a movie, got in trouble for the way I dressed, the people I talked to, and the postcard wall in front of my desk. But those weren't the reasons why I gave up that dream. I despised the part of the job—well, most of the job—the lion's share of the job, which was telling people no.

Say it with me: No, no, no, no, no.

An example? My boss saw 500 actors for one part. 499 were told No. At least one was happy, you say. Well, that part was filmed, and then cut. So 500/500 people were disappointed. Obviously, in order to be an actor, you need armor. I know a few actors, and I'm ever so impressed with the way that they deal with the Nos.

Say it loud and say it proud: No, no, no, no, no.

As a writer, you get a lot of nos, too. (Or I do.) The first time I subbed to a major erotica series, my manuscript was sent back to me with the word NO on it in black pen. Just NO. I used to collect the Nos in one big pink folder. I recycled them several years ago. I don't keep nos anymore. Not even Henry Rollins'.

But that doesn't mean I don't get them. This year, I was axed from several collections. I was also subbed in as a last-minute replacement and then cut again as a last-minute reject. Nos don't ever get easier. And I don't have any fixes for getting them. Or honestly for giving them.

For Frenzy, I received hundreds of submissions. I had 60 slots. You do the math. Originally, I was going to take three stories per writer, but I decided I wanted to include more writers in the book. The final line-up features 51 writers. Still, I had to give a bundle of Nos. The difference from this job and casting? I get to say Yes a lot, too.

Sometimes, when I send a No, I receive a "Why didn't my story work for you?" letter. "What's wrong with it/me?" (I got hit with a slew of those with Frenzy, when the writers were actually in the book. I just hadn't been able to send the acceptances out fast enough.)

Still, "What's wrong with my story?" is a difficult question to answer. (That is, assuming you didn't have hot goat sex in your submission.) For Open for Business, five brilliant stories were axed because I hadn't understood the guidelines for my own book! I thought the theme was sex at work, so I included a few very unusual work settings. The publisher wanted sex at the office, so some of my favorite writers didn't make the final cut.

There are so many reasons why a story won't be chosen. But here's the thing (and I may have said this before): every editor is different. Thank fucking god, or we'd all be putting out the same book. My story Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John was written as a submission for Cleansheets' Sex and Spirituality contest. (Okay, so it touches the concept of spirituality with the tip of its pinky toe. But that's about as spiritual as I get. You know, fucking the apostles.) Anyway, this failure, reject, loser wound up in Best Women's Erotica, was featured as a fiction piece on Clean Sheets, and has just been accepted in a new collection.

The most important thing? Whether you like your story. Does it work for you? Then I think you've succeeded.

Take all Nos with a grain of salt.
Even mine.



Stephen Elliott said...

I learned a lot about rejecting when I lied to someone turning down their story for my last collection, Sex For America. I said it was too smart for the collection. One of the authors (there were two of them, both very good writers) blogged about how his story was too smart for me. He said something insulting about a fellowship I got while not being able to handle smart fiction. I wrote him and apologized for being dishonest. I told him I just didn't like the story and didn't want to include it in my book.

That was an important lesson for me. I'm a lot more careful now. I would never put "NO" on a manuscript or say anything mean to someone. But I don't make excuses that aren't true. I think most people want honesty more than anything and they'll forgive a lot if they believe you're truthful.

KM said...

"But that's about as spiritual as I get. You know, fucking the apostles.)"

That's so funny -- just before I clicked for a Trollop fix, I posted a heartfelt plea on my blog to the saints for a "yes" or two. But I'm kind of like a born again smut writer -- kind of smiley all the time like when people get religion and you just can't seem to piss them off anymore -- very annoying. It's the sheer joy of getting the words out of my head that thrills me. I stopped writing for a really long time. Religion was one of a variety of reasons. But recently I came to terms with both the church and state (of my mind) and just said "fuck it." Amazingly, I'm pretty sure I heard the angels singing when I said it. I guess they enjoy a good fuck story too. A big fat "no" from Henry or anybody obviously isn't as thrilling as a "yes," but it's something! Keeping the words locked inside -- just letting the ideas spin around in your head -- will drive a person insane and is much, much worse than rejection could ever be.

Alison Tyler said...

I love this, SE:

I told him I just didn't like the story and didn't want to include it in my book.

Sometimes, there's no real way to win. I sent out form letter rejections for Got a Minute, and a writer just freaked out at me. Huge long rant about how could I not even address her personally, etc. etc.

I still remember her story really well. The scent of mushrooms wafted throughout, and the piece turned me off utterly.

Would it have been much better for me to say, "God, I disliked your story. Turned me stomach, truly. So am not using the piece."

Or what I did say, which was much more: "Thanks so much for letting me hold your story this long. Unfortunately, the piece doesn't work for my collection. Best of luck placing it elsewhere."

I don't know. I personally lean toward the latter. Because I know that many stories that don't work for me, really will hit with someone else. But I know as an editor you can get burned either way. People say they want the truth—until they get it.


Anastasia said...

It's a really tricky situation, but I prefer not to BS the writer. It's exactly as you say Alison. If a story doesn't work for editor A, then editor B may like it, and on it goes. In the beginning, new writers may be wounded by it, and it's natural. After all, everyone was a new writer once, and I think it's important for them to shift.

In five years I've only experienced one editor who pissed me off, and that was because the rejection contained a lot of BS such as spelling errors, when I know I'm beyond anal about spelling, when I knew that it had to do with the story (content, subject matter, etc). Rather than saying it didn't fit, or they didn't want it, it was the bullshit, and I can't say I was nice in my response. After spending a few years writing myself, and submitting work to publications, being published in publications, I don't have time for particular editors (those who are adept at nasty rejections, who staff non paying publications), and I've learned never to submit work to non paying publications, but I did do that in the beginning, and then I snapped out of it. That nasty editor did me a favor. So that was the good thing.

The thing that gets me is when writers take the piss. It's something that really gets on my goat, such as writers who ignore the minimum word count, thinking I'm going to publish 150 words of something that's supposed to be story, when it's not. I'm not a big fan of experimental literary fads, and some don't like it when I do spell it out, or outline what a fictional story ought to be: have characters readers can identify with, and so on. The other thing is that I do notice what writers publish. I do keep my eye out, so when they send me something that is below par - even for them - I find it difficult, but I will reject it because it doesn't do them any justice and writers who want to be published just because they want to be published rub me the wrong way. The idea of, 'I've been published everywhere, therefore my submission should be accepted because my name appears everywhere on the web,' isn't something that can rub me wrong from the outset - just the attitude. I only care about a writer biography after I've read a story.

I'll never forget one of the first few submissions I received, and I naively thought 'great'. The person had numerous university degrees (they even had a professional college contact page), but when I opened the story, there were countless run on sentences, missing periods, a freaking nightmare (I thought it a prank at first), and I could not avoid not pointing it out because I immediately thought (of the person) "you're taking the piss and I'd rather burn the bridge here and now." But I wrote the polite letter, outlining the numerous flaws I found, and the response from the writer?

"I normally don't write erotica. This was just a bit of fun."

I thought, 'fantastic, after I've spent time reading it.' Needless to say, I'd think three times before I'd read any future submission - if they dared.

Alison Tyler said...

I've got experience being on both sides of the teeter-totter: writer and editor. There is little to do to get over the sting of rejection except give yourself an alloted time to sulk and then move on.

But I would never write an angry letter to an editor who had rejected me. How can that possibly help? A nastygram is not going to get you into that book, or the next one. Because believe it or not, editors are people, too.

That is my next bumper sticker. Has a Stuart Smalley ring to it, doesn't it?

Kristina Wright said...

Thanks for this, Alison. I already know it, but it's good to hear it from you-- an editor. I get spoiled with all the "yeses" (?) I get that a "no" just flattens me.

I got a resounding "No" on a query for a novel last week. Not even the novel or a proposal of the novel-- a query letter!-- just... "No, thanks." Ugh. Does it matter that I've sold two short stories since I got that "No?" Well... yeah... a little bit, but not enough. I want to write novels. I want my name on the cover, not just on the TOC. "No" hurts no matter how it's dressed up-- but it's the price of being a writer.

On another note, I would never write an angry letter to an editor asking why they didn't like or buy something I wrote. Never. It's unprofessional and seems the height of conceit, personally.

Smut Girl said...

Stephen Elliott's example cracked me the fuck up. :)

I have never ever ever ever EVER written to an editor and asked why. I have never responded period beyond a thank you if it is positive. I just cannot wrap my head around doing that. You take your no and move on. At least I always have. But again, that is just me.

As for AT's how to deal with rejection proposal, I do it. I get a specific amount of time to wallow. I got a no yesterday. And then one this a.m. Yesterday's stung. More than I care to admit. So I...
did 20 mins running on mini trampoline
did 20 mins on bike
ate 600 Otter pops
one faux grilled cheese
one pack of speedy freezer fries
four glasses of red wine
a book about a mermaid
sixty self pitying emails to friends and family
one movie with my man
one crying jag picked up by said man.

feeling much better today. Less messy and bitter. More, oh well, it happens. Can't always hear yes can we?
p.s. pass the salt.

Rachel said...

I hate sending out rejections so much that I've contemplated stopping editing erotica entirely. I may do so, for other reasons, but that's why I don't often do public calls. I can't stand sending out rejections, but it's worse when it's someone you know and respect.

The good thing, for me, is that even though I want to give up this silly business sometimes, I still love it deep down and know that there will hopefully always be another chance for me to consider someone's work.

And in my experience...sometimes the yeses aren't all they're cracked up to be. And Alison is right; stories can live long lives. I try to send my rejected stories right back out to keep them circulating.

Anastasia said...

I can't say I was nasty to that particular male editor. For one they don't edit anthologies or books. I did politely point out his rudeness, and his response was, and I'm not kidding - the infantile 'boo-hoo, I'm going to cry. I've got more friends than you.' That was the actual response from him, and I thought, 'you've got to be kidding me,' and it actually made me feel better because I wouldn't want to work with anyone like that - as a writer.

Would I have been silent and sucked it up if he'd been an editor at Random House? I don't know (but I have found that editors in large publishing houses don't have time to be rude, with them it's a straight yes or no), but I think that editors can't afford to be infantile or outright nasty to writers because editors can meet the same people on the way down.

Isabel Kerr said...

This is so informative and reassuring, thanks all.

Alison Tyler said...

I had two instances last week where I was on the receiving end of rude. I handled both by being snarky/sarcastic. Made me feel better in both instances, although might not have been uber-professional of me.

But I also had a situation where I was hired to do a bit of quick writing, and I asked up front if I was going to get credit. I just wanted to know. I wasn't being a diva, I was being curious.

The editor I was working with asked her boss, who responded with "a stony silence." And this is at a big publishing house. It was not rude of me to ask, right? On my part, I wanted to know what the situation was—ghosting or not.

In every email since, my editor has referred to said boss as "Stony Silence." Cracks me up, but also makes me feel a bit like the bad kid. The one who pushed for a second helping of cake.

You can't have a book without writers—unless you want to publish a notebook or a journal—so I don't know why some editors/publishers treat the providers of their content with such total disdain.


Neve Black said...

I've read this blog over and over this week, and I didn't leave a comment when I originally read it b/c I felt like I'm in over my head; playing with the big dogs.

I'm the really new kid on the writing erotica block. At least, I feel that I am; just beginning in February, gulp, of this year.

We crazy-ass writers just love to write. We're a special breed of people that simply feel compelled to get stuff out, or perhaps we might explode, or I guess we'd implode? Well, that's how I feel anyway.

It sucks when you get a "sorry, kid, no go" letter, because your blood and guts went into a particular piece.

Heavy sigh.

Like everything else in life, you take your lumps and you move on.

If anything, it's made me work harder when creating the next story, and if I'm ever in the editor's seat, I will be sincere and careful with the words I choose if I ever have to say no to a writer.

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts here, Ms. Tyler.

Alison Tyler said...

Hey NB,

I don't think you should feel intimidated about posting a comment. I am the least scary person I know. Ask Sommer. She'll tell you.

And I truly think it's important for writers at all stages to hear about rejection. Otherwise you can get lost in that "I must really suck" sensation when you get turned down. But it's something that happens to everyone.

RKB had something cool on her blog about rejection the other day: I realized for like the millionth time recently that I am really sensitive to rejection. Any whiff of it and I feel stupid, like I am wasting my time, like my desire is just too much.

She wasn't talking about being rejected from a book, but does it matter? Rejection stings in any form.


Allison Wonderland said...

The most important thing? Whether you like your story. Does it work for you? Then I think you've succeeded.

So true. Yet so easy to forget when I get a rejection. It's frustrating when I submit a story I'm really happy with and it gets rejected. This is not to suggest, of course, that I would submit a story I'm really unhappy with, but you know what I mean.

When a piece gets rejected, I start to wonder if maybe it's not really that great after all. So I go back and give it another read-through and, if after going over the story with a fine-tooth comb, I'm still really happy with it, then I know that the piece didn't get rejected because it was awful. It got rejected because it either didn't work for that particular editor or it didn't work for that particular anthology.

I remind myself that the story will eventually find a good home. I just have to be patient and wait for the right collection to come along.

Anastasia said...

Alison it's never rude to ask, questions make the world (and projects) turn. Editors in large publishing houses tend to be nicer than the publishers. I'll never forget two publishers at the educational publishing company I worked in...they could have been character molds for The Devil Wears Prada in the boss stakes.

On questions, I follow my son's advice (to me): there are no such things as stupid questions, only stupid people. He's a little young to have that view, but he blurted it out one day and I was in a fit of giggles because I couldn't disagree with it. Kids say the weirdest things.

Alison Tyler said...

...which reminds me of the bumper sticker I saw the other day: "Make it idiot proof and they'll build a better idiot."