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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Reading between the lines: How rejections get read

   
Author Topic: Reading between the lines: How rejections get read
snapper
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Found this today while scrolling through a blog.

http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html

Interesting take on an editors reaction to nasty replies involving rejections. I laughed out loud at a few of them.


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Robert Nowall
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That looks like promising exploration when I have a little more time...
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InarticulateBabbler
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I guess I can understand the need to complain--basically to get crap off your chest--but, this is stuff you can't take back. Once one of these editors reads their letter and the rebuttal attached, that author will have just burned a bridge. For what? A rejection? If you can't handle rejections, writing is the wrong business for you.
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rich
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I'm a professional complainer, but I complain in private. I don't think I would ever post something on that rejection site...unless it was to make fun of the people that do post on that site.

Oops. Actually I've responded to two rejection notices. One was the rejection that was full of typos, and didn't get my name right. I replied back to them that I was rejecting their rejection letter.

The only other rejection I responded to was when the editor wrote back where it was implied that I was a sick bastard, and questioned my writing choices. I mean, I AM a sick bastard, but just tell me straight up I'm a sick bastard and move on. Don't make the rejection personal, and don't try to glean things from my personal life by my writing. I held off about a day on that reply, though. I knew I was burning bridges by responding to the rejection, but I wasn't going to submit anything to them again anyway.


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billawaboy
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I'm inspired by reading LeGuin's rejection letter. You realize even the best works can be thoroughly ripped apart by someone who can't see it for what it is. It's a sobering realization about those who preside over the future of our creations.

Edit: Dang Rich, now I'm interested in reading the story that made an editor think you were a sick in the head.

[This message has been edited by billawaboy (edited April 03, 2010).]


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posulliv
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Thanks for posting the LeGuin link. It made me smile.
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MartinV
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So should an author write back to a rejection saying "Thanks for taking your time"? Or is the rejection the end of the conversation?
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axeminister
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Martin,
When you ask a pretty girl to dance and she says no, do you ask her again?
Or do you say, "I'm sorry, you misunderstood, I said you look fat in those pants."

Axe


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rich
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quote:
When you ask a pretty girl to dance and she says no, do you ask her again?
Or do you say, "I'm sorry, you misunderstood, I said you look fat in those pants."

And BOOM! this thread can now be closed.

All my writing is sick and twisted. To paraphrase Daffy Duck: "I can't help it. I'm a sick slob."

What about writing groups? Does anyone temper their criticism because they know the writer? Or does anyone respond negatively to the criticism? Or seen anyone respond negatively in the group forum?


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Robert Nowall
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I don't know if it comes up in there somewhere---still haven't had time to do more than skim it---but there's the story of the SF editor Anthony Boucher, whose rejections were so complimentary and polite that once a writer sent a rejected story back with the comment, "Then why the devil don't you print it?"
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axeminister
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Rich, you're killin me with curiosity here...

I'd venture if you're submitting to the right place, one shouldn't call you a sick bastard... unless you blew the mind of someone whose job it is to print material from the minds of sick bastards. If that's the case I'm not sure if I want to read your stuff or run from it.

Axe


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Betsy Hammer
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Rich, you're also killin me with curiosity here... Do you temper critiques because you know the writer?


I've never gotten a truly negative response to a critique I've given, but I have gotten back a long, wounded list of arguments. These were real arguments, mind you, not just a few insecure excuses. The writer forced me into a corner- either change my mind or fight it out.

And here's the really amazing part- I tempered that critique. I try to never do that and I'm ashamed that I did it here. (I'm ashamed because I'd just die if I knew that it happened to me. I'd rather get thrashed than lied to. You don't lie to good writers, you help them even if it hurts.) Here's why I did it:

1. I could already tell that the writer was extremely defensive about his work.

2. The writer had a strange personality that I couldn't quite figure out. Immature? Naive? Dangerous?

3. I didn't like the work. The sentences and paragraphs themselves were graceful, coherent, and even beautiful sometimes. But the story was self-indulgent and boring. The pages just screamed, "I'm perfect the way I am, you illiterate idiot, so don't mess with me."

4. I'm only one reader with one opinion, but I didn't think the writer possessed the guts and insight necessary to make the work into anything I would consider 'good.' So why bother?


The writers I know through Hatrack are all humble, honest about their own work, and usually trust critiques above their own judgment. The perfect critique group. This person was different. I wasn't dealing with a capable writer who had simply gotten lost, or hit on a bad story, or had made some choices that didn't work. I felt I was dealing with a writer who didn't respect the reader and was only looking for praise.

I regret tempering that critique and I've decided not to do it again. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and I wouldn’t want it done to me. I like harsh critiques because I know I can trust them. I don’t want anyone to spare my feelings, I want to write well. If you consider the hours and hours of effort I spend trying to improve my writing, pulling punches is plain insulting. I’m in it to win it, and I can’t do that if readers lie to me.

A good, honest reader is hard to find, so I work to keep the ones I have. Here's my philosophy (some people would hate this): In the world of writing, a ruthless person with good judgment is like God. They're right, the writer is wrong. Always. If they hate something, it gets cut or altered. Even if the writer disagrees, even if the writer doesn't understand why. No arguing. No ignoring.

I can hear that other writer wailing. "But I'm an artist! That's selling out! It's just one person's opinion! What if I'm actually a genius and no one gets it yet?"

Here's the secret: Everyone secretly thinks they're kind of a genius. I can admit it. Sometimes I just amaze myself. But I can also admit that I might be wrong. Or that might be a genius in the making, but not yet. And I'm not intimidated by having to prove that I'm a good writer.

If I'm a genius writer, then I should be perfectly capable of writing something that will please the average schmuck. I haven't even managed to do that yet, so I'm keeping all my opinions and genius ideas to myself for now. And the level of faith I put in my trustworthy readers hasn't failed me yet. Given enough time, I ALWAYS end up agreeing with the changes.


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babooher
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I posted a link to this earlier, but this is an article by Dave Farland about handling criticism. I think it is abfab.

http://www.modernmythtools.com/showcase/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=179:david-farlands-daily-kick-in-the-pantshow-to-handle-criticism-&catid=25:david-farland&Itemi d=27


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rich
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Great link that echoes what Betsy was saying.

Writers have an extremely large ego, and they're lying to you if they say they don't. A lot of the defensiveness comes from those writers' egos being large, but fragile.

I'm the writer so I KNOW how my story is supposed to be.

And that may be true, but I also like that David Farland constantly tries to make his story better by putting aside his ego, and actually listening to his readers.

One could argue that he's trying to please everyone...which will mean he'd end up pleasing no one. However, that's the where the "writer" part of being the writer comes in: knowing what to tweak and how much to tweak, based on the feedback.

Like someone telling the chef, "Needs more salt." The chef doesn't ask the diner how much salt. That's up to the chef. And once the chef figures out how much salt needs to be added, they'll both know it.


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dee_boncci
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I got the sense that that woman has some real issues (assuming she wasn't trying to be humorous). Really, what is someone supposed to say when they don't want to buy your story. Except for the snarky William Carlos Williams knockoff, I didn't see anything and any of the examples to get wound up about.
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Betsy Hammer
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Yes, I agree with the chef analogy. I didn't mean to say that a writer should obey specific fixes, only that a writer should always address problems when they come from reliable readers.

I got blasted by an editor in a rejection letter last year. Her suggestions were confusing and bizarre, so I just put the letter in the drawer. After a few months, it dawned on me that she'd misunderstood the entire point of my story and misunderstood where the climax was. Her suggested fixes were still dead wrong, but she revealed a flaw in the clarity of my storytelling. A good reader who can spot problems is not the same as a good writer who can fix them.


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Pyre Dynasty
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Reminds me of a friend of mine whose poem got rejected for it's eroticism. He didn't put any eroticism in it. The editor must have had quite a dirty mind. (I read the poem, it was funny.)

My favorite rejection was a dang long, in depth analysis of my story.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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This all reminds me of what Algis Budrys told us at a workshop he gave years ago (and, of course, I'm paraphrasing, and adding parenthetical comments):

The purpose of a writers workshop (or any kind feedback situation, for that matter) is to help the writer improve the ability of the manuscript to convey the story to the reader. As we surely all know as writers, manuscripts are poor attempts at conveying the perfect and beautiful stories in our minds, and we should be grateful for any help we can get in figuring out how to make the manuscript do a better job.

Editors don't reject our beautiful stories, and workshoppers shouldn't give feedback on them. Editors reject poor expressions on paper of those beautiful stories, and workshoppers should give feedback on only what is on that paper and how it works to convey those beautiful stories.

The purpose of a workshop is to help writers accomplish the primary goal of recreating their stories in their readers' heads by getting their words on paper to do the best job possible of conveying their beautiful stories. If the manuscript doesn't do its job properly, everyone ends up frustrated.


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Robert Nowall
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I'm thinking I'm looking to make my work better so I look forward to raw comments and criticism---but at this point, a form rejection, for whatever reason, does me no good at all. Tells me nothing, nothing I need to know.
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babooher
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As I am on day 55 on a submission I've yet to hear back on (publisher requests 60 days before I query), I would welcome even a form letter. At least then I could submit the story somewhere else. Instead, I'm left wondering.

Yeah, a rejection won't help me improve my story, but it will help me get to selling.


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posulliv
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Kathleen's comment sums up my experience. The best feedback I get helps me find the failure in transmission between what's in my head and what actually ends up on the page.

I've been trying the 'write fast and don't edit' method lately and it seems to help for what at first seems an odd reason. Since I haven't spent months or even years thinking about a story there's very little in my head that doesn't end up on the page.

I am now convinced that this is the reason that writers are such bad judges of their own work. They know the story, and we only get to read the manuscript. The two aren't the same at all, and the rejection is only about the manuscript and the manuscript's fit with the editor's needs. I don't like rejections, but I can live with them, even the form letter ones. Better than not submitting.

[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited April 05, 2010).]


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tchernabyelo
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quote:
As I am on day 55 on a submission I've yet to hear back on (publisher requests 60 days before I query), I would welcome even a form letter. At least then I could submit the story somewhere else. Instead, I'm left wondering.
Yeah, a rejection won't help me improve my story, but it will help me get to selling.

You should never be sitting around waiting for a response from an editor.

Once a story is out the door, it's out the door. Ignore it until and unless it comes back; in the meantime, write more stories.

This is not the game to be in for people in a hurry. As a data point: I subbed one story in spring 2007, to its first market. It was accepted in summer 2008. It will see print in either autumn 2011 or spring 2012.


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babooher
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All true tchernabyelo, and I have been busy on other projects, but I do keep an eye on my darlings once I've sent them out into the world. Because I keep an eye on things, when I got the rejection today, I already knew the next market to send it to.

For those of you interested, it was a form email. I'm just glad I know my babby's fate.

[This message has been edited by babooher (edited April 06, 2010).]


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Robert Nowall
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Second on that...forget the thing until it turns up in your mailbox. Save the inquiries for six months or longer. (I've got one story that's been out for almost thirty-five years...the magazine went through several publishers and then folded...I've moved several times as well. I don't wait up for it anymore.)
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