Sunday, 28 February 2010

Positive Rejection

Success is a fleeting, insubstantial thing. At the recent, excellent,  VWC Get Writing 2010 conference, one of the speakers quoted a saying that is worth repeating here: 'A successful writer is only a failed writer who did not give up.'

Success, however,  is an impostor, like Triumph and Disaster in Kipling's If, and yet we writers still labour in search of that spectral destination, sometimes to the detriment of health and relationships.

Perhaps, then, success should be regarded not so much as a destination but a journey? Framed in those terms, as R L Stephenson wrote, it may be '...better to travel hopefully than to arrive'. Indeed, the key to success may reside in something seemingly transient and painful but in truth substantial and positive, like receiving better rejections.

Today it seems that everybody is a writer, particularly when it comes to fiction. The world and his partner are out there subbing like crazy. How do I know this? Because I'm out there subbing, too, and the queues are getting longer.

It was bad enough way back when you'd have to wait a few days to a week to receive your 'form rejection'. Now you wait, not days or weeks but often several months to receive that rejection and when it does come it can knock your confidence to hell. The irony is that the invaluable input you could gain from the rejection – the editor's comments, if not advice – is very often absent, so your next submission of that piece remains 'blind' (Commercial: Unless you join  your local writers' group, such as VWC and get your feedback there).

Let's agree to treat the 'markets' that don't grant our submissions even the courtesy of a reply with the contempt they deserve?

If you take a professional attitude to your writing and submissions, these long-delayed form rejections appear all the more ironic because so many of the 'markets' doing the rejecting are paying you peanuts – or, worse, zilch – when they do accept your work.

Which brings me neatly to a matter of personal principle: I will only submit to markets that pay – even if payment is little more than token. I do understand that many markets are underfunded newbies, testing the waters in a vast new digital ocean, but those that do get their business model right, and survive, stand to make good, potentially enormous, profits from our creative work – yours and mine. Call me arrogant if you will, but I have even withdrawn a piece that had been accepted (it was a piece on which I had expended actual cash to purchase a book and DVD for research, besides a week of my time) in glowing terms, because of the paltry sum I was offered for  my rights.

But enough of this whinging, let's head back to the positive stuff.  Although my 2010  to date is a disaster when viewed in terms of submission/acceptance ratio, when I analyse the kind of rejections I'm receiving, an up-beat trend is emerging. Almost without exception they're inviting me to submit more. Okay, this invitation appears even in the 'form' rejections so it is perhaps suspect, though I believe many of the boiler-plate form replies do give the senders the option to include/exclude certain phrases.

Yes, the real 'success' feedback has arrived with the personal rejections, for example:

  • I enjoyed your story very much. It made it to the final stage, but didn't survive the final cuts …I rejected it because it didn't quite fit with how the tone of the topic was shaping up. It's a wonderful story, and I'm sure you'll be able to place it elsewhere: Wily Writers

  • This is a nice story that is made even better by the style of writing. You encapsulate the thoughts of the narrator perfectly and use language that suited him: Every Day Fiction

  • Solid writing this… Extremely well written and the opening completely hooked me…: Every Day Fiction

  • There's a lot I like about your poem… It was a near miss…: ChiZine

  • …It definitely came close. I hope you'll try us again. I imagine this story will definitely find a home: Camera Obscura

Rejections like that, often with additional observations as to what went wrong (for that particular reader/editor) and suggestions for improvement, are veritable gold nuggets for a discerning, developing writer. A form of success, indeed.

Of course, the best feedback of all is that which accompanies acceptances or wins, of which I've been lucky enough to receive two in recent weeks. In mid-January:

Dear Oscar,

That was a hell of a story. We love it. I wanted to send you a quick letter to let you know we want to include this story in our next issue of Ghostlight. We don't want to take the chance of losing this story to someone else. Great work.

Editor, Ghostlight (Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers' magazine).

Of such acceptances are writer's dreams made.

And then, a week ago, I had a story short-listed in the inaugural VWC Get Writing Short Story Conference Cup competition. There was no feed-back with that, but I did receive a beautiful certificate.

All in all, I guess it's not been bad since Christmas: so far, so good.

So, now, I'm only beating myself up about what kind of response I'll get from my 3-minute pitch, last Saturday at the VWC conference, to Simon Taylor.

No pressure, then... well, not much. Onward and upward. Next nice rejection, please.

We must always bear in mind that as long as we can feel stress and disappointment, we're alive. It's when that stress and disappointment stops that we've got problems. When it all goes quiet, that's when we should really start to worry.

Thanks for visiting. Do help yourself to virtual tea and biscuits, but please turn the light out as you leave.

Do come again, soon.

BTW The picture is of Polly (aka to feline friends as Po-Li). She's my Mews.