For those writers who’ve gotten short fiction rejected (aka every writer), I recently learned something that might help put it all in perspective.
After spending 2019-2021 exclusively writing long fiction—MALINAE from D&T Publishing in 2020 and my eco Jewish folk horror novel, CHARWOOD, out by summer from Madness Heart Press—I dedicated most of 2022 to short stories. I ended up penning a dozen tales, which I’ve been submitting to Denver Horror Collective critique groups and then sending out to open calls.
Thus far I’ve sold four of them, one of which has already been published (“There is No Zombie Outbreak!” in O IS FOR OUTBREAK from Red Cape Publishing), with the other three coming out soon. And hopefully I’ll sell more over the coming months.
But what I want to share with you are two quotes from editors who passed on my stories (both later sold elsewhere) that really made me stop taking rejection so personally.
While I’m first a horror author, I also edited THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR (2021) and was lead editor of TERROR AT 5280’ (2019), both for Denver Horror Collective, with another project planned for this year. So, it’s always interesting to see what overlaps—and what differences—I have with other editors.
The first editor told me that, while they liked my submission, they felt it didn’t have a “good flow with the other stories” they’d already chosen for the book. The second editor from another publishing house explained that, as much as they enjoyed another story of mine, it was “not quite fitting in with the overall tone of the anthology as it’s coming together.”
Of course, the editors could’ve thought my stories were subpar, and this was just their way of trying to be polite. But, barring that possibility, here are my takeaways from their candid statements.
On the bright side, this means that when a story is rejected, it may not actually have anything to do with how “good” it is. Obviously, fiction, like all art, is highly subjective. But what this means is that a given tale’s writing, plot, character development, pacing, etc., could all be right on, and it can still be dumped in the reject pile simply because it isn’t like the others. Woohoo, no reason to blame yourself for sucking!
However, on the dark side, this may mean that it’s much harder to get experimental, odd, or even highly original stories into print, as they stick out like a sore thumb compared to more conventional submissions (not that there’s anything wrong with convention, I’ve written several traditional tales, myself). And if you’re a writer who likes to push boundaries in your fiction, you’re going to have a lot tougher time getting published than those who play it safe.
For what it’s worth, I don’t share the view of these editors, though theirs seems to be the majority take these days (understandable, based on how hard it is to make money in this business). I may be naive, but in the anthologies I edit I try to be as inclusive as possible of a wide range of voices, styles, and treatments, trying to touch on as much of a rainbow spectrum as possible within a given theme. But that’s just my approach, and every editor has an absolute right to edit how they see fit, just as every reader has a right to choose what books they buy.
And that’s ultimately the lesson, here, as I see it. That if you don’t like one particular editor’s way of doing business—or they don’t like yours—there’s almost always another one out there who might be on the same page as you.