Anyone who wants to be a writer should not even bother if they can’t handle rejection. Rejection is a big part of the picture and it’s your work, the very words you may have sweat blood and tears to create that gets rejected. Some people, especially first-time novelists treat their creation and more endearing that Dr. Frankenstein regarded his monster. It is their baby and any time you want to remove a piece or say it is flawed (in a critique) or reject it outright, then you are rejecting their child. Sometimes you’re pulling limbs off of their child and how could that be; it’s perfect and formed from the cerebral loins of your love?
But them’s the breaks. You win some and you lose some. If I had to give a recipe for writing and getting published it would be 30% writing, 50% perseverance and 20% resilience, to withstand the rejections. So it is, that you must withstand the rejection and is probably why many people don’t become successful writers. That and learning to write well of course.
Often when starting out a writer will get a form rejection letter or email from a slush reader. This means the story didn’t make it to the second tier, the main editor or the second round. Some publications run on committee and a piece has to get all yeas or nays to decide which way it goes. The slush reader can therefore reject a story that the editor might actually have liked. But it is not for the writer to circumvent the process and try to get to the editor past the readers.
Depending on how the system is set up, either the editor divvies up the submissions to the slush readers or the readers get them first. There are actually two ways to get past the slush pile…eventually. One is to write exceedingly well, get your stuff noticed and bought. The other is to meet the editor at a convention or other event, chat with them (without being pushy) and see if they will let you/invite you to submit to them. In those cases, you should mention in your cover letter where you met them and something about the conversation.
It won’t guarantee a sale but it might get you a personal rejection. There are also some editors who read everything that comes to them and therefore they will always do the rejections. Ellen Datlow was one and there are others. And sometimes an editor will ask for a rewrite but then reject the piece if the rewrite doesn’t do what they’re looking for. As a reader for Chizine in poetry, we’ve asked some writers to rework their poems and we never hear from them again. Being accepted by Chizine is a rare thing since there are four issues a year and about four poems per issue. I’m surprised that someone would take it so lackadaisically and pass up the opportunity for publication.
The other end of submitting work is the waiting. Most markets list their guidelines and say it takes 3-4 months to reply or 6-8 weeks or something with an end date. A writer who starts sending query letters before that date just annoys the readers. After that date, it is fair for a writer to query and ask if the piece is still being considered. Sometimes when I do this, I get an immediate rejection, which makes me wonder if it triggers some guilt button with the readers and they just toss it out of their sight.
This happened last night with a college publication that was more than a month overdue so I send a short, are you still considering this. I received within hours, a rejection that said sorry for holding this so long but we’re going to pass. So did they read it, or did they just toss it out of their way? I don’t know and may never know. Queries do sometime prod the editors to take a look.
If a query gets no answer, then it is up to the writer to decide if they want to wait forever or submit their writing elsewhere. I don’t even bother to withdraw a story because if I can’t even get a polite response, then I’m not wasting any more time. I usually send the piece out again, making a note that I never received a response.
Any publication that has taken more than three months past their projected return date without so much as a notice will have to expect that they’ll lose good stories and poems. An editor should never get mad or upset at a writer who has moved on elsewhere because the market didn’t meet its written requirements and expectations. Just as writers should respect the guidelines of each market (even if they’re ungainly and tedious) so should an editor respect the needs of writers and that they can’t leave their story with a market indefinitely.
I have two stories (soon to be three) with markets that haven’t responded in over a year, after several queries. In these cases I’ve submitted elsewhere. Should I hear from them (as opposed to hearing they’ve gone out of business) then I’ll be surprised. Some of these markets used to be reliable but because of the economy or something in the lives of the editors, they have stopped responding. The worst length of time I had for a rejection was seven years: really at that point the editor should have admitted defeat and started afresh.
The fastest I’ve had a rejection was within six hours. Sometimes those are the worst. You don’t even have a chance to build up hopes of a sale. But then maybe they’re the best because you haven’t built up expectations. Still, I’d love to believe that all of my stories are hard choices, held till the eleventh hour, and then accepted, rejected with reluctance. We can all dream, can’t we?