On the website of the literary fiction journal Glimmer Train, prolific novelist Catherine Ryan Hyde shares some helpful thoughts about not reading too much into those inevitable rejection slips.
Hyde writes, “I think the most damaging misconception about rejection is that your work has been judged as ‘bad.’ You feel insulted. You feel you’ve been told you’re not good enough for that publication. But in reality, you don’t know how it was received. You were not present behind the scenes to know.”
Taste is subjective, she cautions, and in publications with limited space, the difference between acceptance and rejection may come down to an editor’s quirky personal connection with the piece, or whether it diversifies the mix of already-accepted work for that issue. “It’s hard to quantify why we fall in love with a piece of writing. I do know this: If we dated someone who didn’t fall in love with us, most of us would not conclude we were unlovable. We’d assume others might feel differently.”
As a contest judge myself, I think Hyde describes the editorial process very well. Poems that didn’t make the shortlist one year have been resubmitted and won prizes in our contest later, mainly because they were competing against a different group of finalists.
The experience described below was also familiar to me, but I don’t think I’d draw the same conclusions from it:
Just about every one of my rejected stories has gone on to be published. Without further revision. Some were rejected a handful of times. Others garnered over 50 rejections before finding a home.
Here’s what I learned, and I wish I had understood it earlier: The more I like it, the more likely I am to have trouble finding a home for it. Who knows why? But it shows that my own perspective on my work doesn’t tell me enough. And if I rewrite it because an editor says the ending is too ‘resolution evasive’ (yes, I really have been told that—I couldn’t make a thing like that up), that editor probably still won’t take it, and the next one will say the ending wraps up too neatly. (If our dates don’t fall in love with us, we don’t keep changing ourselves until they do. Well, hopefully we don’t.)”
Like Hyde, I have some favorite stories and poems that have not yet found a home, while others that seem less innovative to me have been snapped up more quickly. Perhaps editorial subjectivity is most at work when we are sending out writing that is closest to the core of our unique selves. Rather than conclude that “my own perspective on my work doesn’t tell me enough,” I am most wary of rejection-inspired revisions when it comes to these special pieces, because this is where I’m most vulnerable to conflating my work and my life, and am therefore tempted to be untrue to my artistic vision in order to feel accepted. Hyde seems to reach the same perspective by the end of the paragraph, so I’m not sure what she means by that one sentence.
Read the whole article here.