I’m ranty today because I’ve been thinking about rejection and the submission process, but rejection itself isn’t the object of my displeasure. It’s the catalyst, not the target.
Getting a rejection letter is a simple thing. It’s a polite dismissal from an editor. It’s the literary equivalent of “No thanks, you’re not my type.” Yes, it stings. When you’re submissive, you have to expect to get spanked. I don’t have to submit material. I choose the spanking, or I tap out. No is always a legitimate response to an unsolicited invitation, whether the venue is a blind date or a slush pile. Expecting every first date to end in marriage would be crazy.
My rantiness is roused by the purveyers of advice who conflate rejection and failure with a bunch of brightsider concepts. They pitch out stinky wads of bullshit that fall into two categories:
1. Every rejection gets you closer to acceptance. The process is all about gaining experience and building character. Toughen up the ol’ ego! Develop a thick skin! Roll with the punches!
2. Rejection is a learning tool. Learn from your mistakes. Improvement will lead to acceptance. Move on, move up! Use what you learn to make your art even better!
Apply a little perspective to them, and that looks pretty abusive.
1. This is the way it’s always been done. Suffer through it the way everyone else did. Pain is nothing more than you deserve. Stop whining. Get over it. Don’t be a baby.
2. If you’re not being accepted, then you’re in the wrong. Reinvent yourself and your work so that people like you better. Rejection is your own fault. Fix it.
The two concepts, as presented, are mutually exclusive on several points (Stand firm. Change. Believe in yourself. Trust the opinions of others) but they are generally presented together as if they made sense that way. I will leave the exercise of untangling them to the reader. This blog isn’t long enough. They also treat rejection and failure as synonyms, which is patently inaccurate when it comes to writing and the submission process.
Here’s my take:
1. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yes, writers have to be a little insane to succeed. We don’t have to pretend that it’s always a good trait. Pretending that persistence is a sign of professionalism is like putting a tutu on a pig. Encouraging it blindly may be doing the recipient of the advice a huge disservice.
2. No. Just…no. Well, maybe. There might be flaws in a story that need changing. This is true. It might also be that your story and the publication don’t suit. What’s that old saying about assumptions? Yeah. That one undermines confidence and insults at once. Also, “change to make others happy” is dangerous advice in the first place. Aesop has a fable about it.
Treating writers to this barrage of contradictory platitudes is astonishingly popular. It’s also damned annoying. Some days, I feel like I’m standing in a field full of cattle and being pelted with turds.
I don’t mind rejection nearly as much as I mind having to wash off all the stinky crap that comes flying along in its wake. That’s all I’m saying. Your mileage may vary.
Aaaaannnnnnnd…that is all. Let the accusations of naiveté and immaturity commence.