Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

Musing on rejection

Over at Pub Rants, Kristin winds up a post with a comment that rejection is "a badge of honor on this journey to publication."

I know I've touched on this before, but I think we get too enmeshed in the dynamics of rejection. Even the word is unfortunate, as it implies a judgment of personal worth. I'd like to say I prefer to think of rejection as simply a class of editorial response, but in fact I'm just as pissy and vulnerable as anyone else. However unenlightened that I am, this conceit is still worth thinking about.

Let's rotate the fine art of rejectomancy orthogonally from its usual axis of angst. What are the classes of editorial response? If you think of writing as a business, then think of the the editorial responses as business-driven.

  • Acceptance at above published pay rate

  • Acceptance at published pay rate

  • Rewrite request with intent to accept

  • Rewrite request with intent to consider

  • Rejection with request to send more

  • Rejection with neutral letter

  • Rejection with negative letter1, 2


There's a scale here, measuring degree of editorial interest, and it's not binary. If you accept the seven levels I've outlined, four are positive to some degree, though only the top two represent full success.

Now, remember I said recently that I succeed at most 25% of the time at this point in my career. Which is to say, I don't sell at least 75% what I send out. But I succeed almost 100% of the time at not receiving negative rejections, and perhaps 80% of the time at receiving something better than a neutral letter. So here, let's make several scorecards. I'll pick 1996, when I'd been writing and sending out seriously for about five years, 2001, when I made my first sale (note the timing on this) and 2006, today. This applies to short fiction and novel writing both, and the ratios aren't firm, just my general recollection.

Rejection Class199620012006
Acceptance above rate0%0%5%
Acceptance at rate0%5%20%
Rewrite request with intent0%0%5%
Rewrite request without intent0%5%5%
Rejection, send more25%40%45%
Rejection, neutral25%25%20%
Rejection, negative50%25%0%

ETA: Above figures are rough estimates based on the number of sendouts, not the number of stories sold (with thanks to davidlevine for pointing out the ambiguity -- I will make another post on sell-through later)

What does this all mean? Mostly that rejection is editorial response, it is nuanced, and there is progress to be made. But rejectomancy only works across the data set. It's pretty much zero-sum self-flagellation on a story-by-story, market-by-market basis. And Kristin is right, rejections are a badge of honor, because they mean you sent work out and an editor or agent considered it.




1 By negative, I don't mean vituperative. I'm talking the flyspecked form rejections, such as the famous "blue slip of death", which are the bottom-tier rejections some of the major markets use or have used in the past. I once got a rejection with multiple checkboxes urging me to do things such as study grammar or read within the field. That kind of thing.

2I did consider adding a couple of more categories, one at the top and two at the bottom:

Acceptance via singing telegram with bundles of cash
Rejection with restraining order attached
Rejection with offer of payment to remove the submission from circulation

A Certain Editor Who Shall Remain Nameless actually sent me that last once, but I think they were kidding.
Tags: process, writing
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