Last week, I was confronted with a dilemma that gives every editor the shakes: blowback from a rejection.
I detest rejecting work as much as writers hate having their work rejected, even the stuff that’s really terrible. I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of rejection and because most people take rejection personally, I chafe when I send a rejection because I know it will probably ruin someone’s day (if you’re not particularly adept at receiving rejection, you might want to read “Advice for Writers: How to Handle Rejection.”).
But not every piece of writing can or should be published. Here are a dozen or so reasons why:
*the writing is technically poor;
*the writing is conceptually lacking;
*the tone is too bombastic;
*the writer demonstrates a lack of care in his/her writing;
*the piece lacks focus, cohesion, and/or a narrative arc;
*the piece (in travel writing) is too “This is what I did on my summer vacation.”;
*the piece simply doesn’t fit within the thematic or stylistic interests of the publication, which usually occurs because the writer has failed to study the publication and/or submission guidelines well;
*the piece addresses a topic that has already been covered and doesn’t offer a sufficiently new angle;
*the piece is riddled with cliches;
*the piece is factually inaccurate;
*the timing of submission is completely off (someone submits a guide to Mexico’s Semana Santa… the week after Semana Santa);
*the piece simply doesn’t resonate with the editor for completely subjective reasons.
So back to the situation.
Andy, Matador’s Twitter handler, alerted me to a not-so-happy follower who was venting about having an article rejected. The follower was a writer who had submitted an article about a year ago that was rejected; last week, an article on the same topic was published, but by a different writer. In addition to venting on Twitter, the writer had expressed his feelings in the comments section of the other writer’s article. He used words like “bitter” and stated that the published piece had errors, though these were not detailed.
The situation left me feeling yucky because I genuinely like the writer. We’d published a few of his pieces but rejected several more, with section editors offering feedback that his writing often felt “flat” or stated the obvious and didn’t really offer new information or a novel perspective.
The tweet and comment conveyed the writer’s hurt, but I wondered if he’d thought about his article and why it might have been rejected. Rather than reflect on his own piece and possibly improve his writing as a result, he was focusing instead on the other writer’s piece, a process which isn’t likely to be as helpful.
In addition to identifying the many reasons why a piece may be rejected, as I did above, I thought there’s something else to learn here, and that is this:
Your idea is not original.
Think of any topic. Go ahead. Something far-fetched and totally off the wall.** Write it down. Bask in the momentary glow of self-satisfaction, thinking “I know nobody has written about this topic ever.” Now go do a Google search.
It’s okay. Your idea isn’t original. Nobody’s is. It’s original to you, yes, but it’s probably not original to the world, and that’s fine. What must be original, though, is your take on that idea.
Writing a publishable piece consists of identifying an idea and then executing that idea well. Rejection involves reflecting upon your writing and identifying the reason why it didn’t fit with the publication at this time. If an editor doesn’t explain why your piece was rejected, you may want to ask for feedback. Acknowledge your hurt (privately, perhaps, is better than doing so publicly) and then move forward by continuing to practice your craft.
What have you learned from rejection? Share your experiences and advice in the comments.
**This point was driven home while watching “The Beauty of Ugly,” in which a scientist who has studied mole rats for seven years was featured. “Just think of the most obscure thing possible,” my husband said, “and someone studies it.”