12 May 2014

if at first you don’t succeed: revising rejected writing

May Submit-O-Rama: Revising Rejected Writing
Just because your writing got rejected once doesn’t mean it’s not worth submitting again.

Just because your writing got rejected twice doesn’t mean it’s not worth submitting again.

Just because your writing got rejected ten times doesn’t mean it’s not worth submitting again.

A rejection is not a failure. It’s an invitation to try again. And today, we’re going to break down some typical language in rejection letters to prove it … and get an idea of what we need to do to turn one “no”—or a dozen “no”s—into an eventual “yes”!

1. we enjoyed reading your work, especially …

Any time you see a word like “especially” in a rejection letter, it means “try again.” When an editor takes the time to pinpoint one of your submission pieces that “especially” stood out, it means it was close. And that means it is close to ready for some other eyes, too. If your rejection letter mentions “especially” or “particularly” (or pinpoints any of your pieces in particular), hone in on those pieces for future submission … and pay attention to what comes next.

2. “title” came very close, but we cannot offer publication at this time

Usually, when a journal says they cannot offer publication “at this time,” it means your work wasn’t right for them … at this time. Especially if the journal says it was close. It’s your job to figure out why, if that’s all the letter says. For every journal I’ve ever read for “at this time” means one of two things. Either the work doesn’t fit the current theme, or the work wasn’t quite ready, for one reason or another. Using that as a relative (albeit unreliable) guide, your job becomes examining the work in two ways. First, look at the journal’s theme/subject line up: could it be that your work simply didn’t match the theme well enough? Also look at the journal’s mission, editor’s bios (especially their interests), and masthead (to see if editorial heads have changed). Your work may simply have crossed the wrong person’s desk at the wrong time, and it could be the perfect time now to try again! Second, look at your work: are there small errors, any imperfections you may have missed the first time around, or changes you would make now? Make the necessary changes, and try again.

3. unfortunately, due to space, we are unable to publish this piece at this time

First, let’s acknowledge that this is a somewhat low blow. It’s terrible to hear that your piece was close but was rejected because of space constraints. At the same time … you can also assume one of two things. One: your piece is awesome, and ready for publication, in a journal that has room for it. Two: the editors are lying, and it was something more than space. The second assumption is probably half true. I don’t think the editors are actually trying to deceive you, but if the piece was perfect, an extra page or so probably wouldn’t have been a major inconvenience. Again, it’s time to look at your work. One recommendation, based on working with a few editors in the past who have given this sort of rejection: look at the end of your piece. A suggested space constraint that kept your work from publication could mean—and often means—that your piece was super strong until the end, and that end was enough to give the editors pause.

4. your piece, “title,” made it to the final round of consideration, but …

This means it’s edit time. When you see this remark in your rejection, it means a few things. First, it means that your piece received a few rounds of “maybe”s. That means that while something was perhaps lacking, it was good enough to not get you an immediate “no.” Second, it means the piece needs some editing. Something in your piece was compelling, but something else was lacking. Finally, for you as a writer, it means: Do not tear this piece apart. Our tendency when editing pieces that were rejected is to assume the whole piece is wrong and needs redone. A rejection like this means that’s not true. So don’t wreck an almost masterpiece: adjust a few strokes … don’t toss the canvas.

5. we invite you to submit again in the future

This is a big one … It means the editors like you. They really do. Something about your work struck a chord with them, and they want more. Sometimes they invite you to resubmit the same piece(s) again. In other cases you may be invited to submit more work to them at another time. In either case, it means you’ve found a journal that’s open to what you have to offer. The pieces you submitted may not be for them, but your writing style is something the editors are looking for. Don’t forget this, and don’t let that journal too far off your radar!

Remember: a rejection isn’t an end. It’s an invitation. So next time you get a rejection letter, read it carefully, and figure out what invitation you’re being sent this time!


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1 comment:

  1. Great reminders, Khara. Even though I'd hoped my most recent rejection's "Final round..." verbiage would indicate "send it elsewhere untouched", I knew it needed something. The story is not quite there. Thanks for the breakdown, the definitions, and the encouragement. You rock.

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