October 9, 2023

Glowing Rejections

         My grand experiment in short fiction submission has now been going on for just a little over two years, and in that time I’ve received a lot of rejections, as well as acceptances of 4 stories and 2 poems.  I currently have 5 stories and 3 poems out under consideration and will get out more as more submission windows open.  I continue to Keep the Rejection Pipeline Flowing, living in perpetual hope that the next acceptance may be one of these that’s currently out.  Rejections are easier to shake off and not worry about as long as I still have submissions out, holding open the possibility that although this one failed, maybe the next one will succeed.    Rejections are inevitably depressing and it’s important to keep hope going.  Given this, it’s natural that most authors only want to talk about their acceptances, but today I want to talk about rejections…  Not just any rejections, however, but those I think of as Bridesmaid Rejections.
        It’s not an exact analogy, but the term came to me based on the old phrase “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” and it refers to rejections in which the editors tell me how much they loved my work, but sadly they’ve rejected it anyway.  Presumably this is sometimes because they thought it was good, but just not quite good enough, but sometimes it’s also  indicative of the state of publishing, in which editors  receive more stories they love than they can fit in an issue, no matter how much they may want to.  Moreover, their decisions about which stories to publish in a particular issue can’t be based solely on a straight ranking of quality (even if that weren’t impossibly subjective) but also on the combination of a particular mix of stories.  These factors mean that in the past two years I’ve received some positively glowing rejection letters.
        “The word choice and imagery in this piece was magical… It is with a heavy heart that we must let it go.”
        “We really loved this worthy and thoughtful story… Thank you for this haunting, poignant piece, so suffused with despair and defiance, airy lyricism and sharp psychological insight.”
        “This was such a lovely piece that you submitted. Thank you so much for writing this piece.”
        “Your writing is lyrical and precise. It makes me feel confident I am in good hands as a reader.”
        “Thank you for such a contemplative poem… The language sparkles with wonder and precision.”
        I even recieved a rejection that wasn’t so much a Bridesmaid as a Jilted-at-the-Altar Rejection!  “It is with regret that I have to reject your story, not because it wasn’t good enough to purchase, but because I do not have a current publication I can buy it for. …  I wish you all the best with this story. It actually made me tear up to read--it was so good.”  (Assuming this editor meant tear to rhyme with fear and not tear to rhyme with bear!  LOL)
        It’s important to note that most editors do not send comments with most rejections.  They all have their various form rejection letters, and I’ve certainly seen plenty of those.  So personal comments on a piece really are meaningful.  On the one hand, these Bridesmaid Rejections can sometimes feel even more infuriating than a plain old rejection - always so darn close, and yet nothing! - but there is a very positive spin to put on them.  It allows me to think of my submissions as being a way to get professional editors to do my beta reading for me!  (To be clear, I’m not sending stories that I consider to be unfinished or mere drafts.  These are thoroughly polished before I send them out.)  If I get a positive response from an editor it means that my story or poem was indeed effective for someone else: someone who doesn’t know me and has no possible incentive to say anything but what they honestly think.  That’s really nice feedback to get!  It’s also really useful, because my scheme is to publish a collection of my short stories, poems, and art, and Bridesmaid Rejections tell me that I can feel confident about publishing these pieces.  Of my stories that have not been accepted, but which I’ve been sending out a lot, half have received glowing rejections from at least one editor.  So yes, even with only a handful of actual acceptances, these unpublished stories and poems are good, darn it!  (One other note about the handful of acceptances, for those not acquainted with the business: the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association has an industry-standard definition of when a writer can call themselves a “professional.”  In the short story and poetry format, it’s having as few as 3 pieces published by professional-rate-paying markets in a year.  A mere handful of acceptances is common among professional writers.)
        So why do I share all this, anyway?  1. I think it’s important to be honest about the frustrations and disappointments as well as the triumphs.  We all get lots of rejections, and it doesn’t help anyone’s mental state if we try to put on a “perfect” facade to the world and pretend we’re all success all the time.
2. On the flip side, I am kind of bragging.  Frustrating as they are, I’m proud of what these Bridesmaid Rejections tell me about my writing.
3.  The stories that will be included in my upcoming collection need to be pulled from the submission pipeline now, to ensure that I will have the rights to publish them next year.  I’ll keep on sending out the stories that aren’t earmarked for this collection (not to mention that I hope to continue writing more stuff), but it seemed good to celebrate the submission process a little, before it ends for these particular pieces.
        As for this upcoming collection I’ve been alluding to, this is my first teaser announcement: I plan to run a Kickstarter campaign starting in January, for Bittersweetness & Light!  So stay tuned for more information in a few months, as I get ever more excited and immersed in the project.

[Pictures: Keep the Rejection Pipeline Flowing, photo by AEGN;

The Princess of Wales and Her Bridesmaids, wood engraving from Harper’s Weekly, April 18, 1863 (Image from Internet Archive);

Draft mock-up of cover design for Bittersweetness & Light by AEGN.]

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