By : LLL
Rejection is a part of the writing life... but what's it about?
Unfortunately, we feel we needed to reject this particular submission for the reasons stated ...
Since our juried archive is coming up on its first anniversary, many of you have read these words by now and been disappointed or perhaps even angry at having a story of yours rejected here. Well, some of us staff have, too, including me, so you are not alone.
What does rejection really mean? Who is the real airhead, you or the editor/reviewer? Why do some people get work accepted easily and others don't?
I received my first professional rejection from Realms of Fantasy several years ago. Since then I have been rejected at Marion Zimmer Bradley's now defunct fantasy magazine, and a couple of others whose names I haven't bothered to remember, which goes to show you how much the experience has deeply scarred my soul. At the time, however, I wouldn't say that I was devastated exactly, but I was very upset. I thought that being rejected meant that there was something wrong with my story, my writing, or perhaps with me.
Since then, however, I have spent several years with a professional writers' group, most of whom are much farther along in their careers than I am, and watched as most of them struggled with rejection, too. These people are published professional writers, and they assure me I can write, but they're published and I'm not. What's wrong?
Our most well-known author, Robert E. Bailey, just got his first detective novel published after thirty-one straight rejections. And it's getting great reviews. But ... there were no changes made after the thirty-one rejections. It's still the same story, still the same words on the page. The only difference was one editor's opinion. So what does that say about the whole process? Does it make any sense at all?
After spending several years immersed in the craft of writing I finally have a handle on this rejection thing, a way to look at it that is constructive. There is no need to feel horrible just because someone happened to have that opinion of your manuscript. The thing to remember is that word "opinion." All publishing that isn't self-publishing relies on personal opinion and personal taste.
The truth is, whether a story is accepted anywhere doesn't depend on how "good" it is or isn't. And just because a thing is accepted or rejected isn't a yardstick to measure it or the writer.
When a person opens an archive, or a magazine, or a publishing house, they generally have an idea what kinds of work they want. An editor wants his magazine to have a certain mood, a certain flavor. A Star Wars archivist may have a soft spot for a certain type of story, and not want to include other types. And it is their right to determine this. They are putting in their time and effort, and in a professional venture, their money.
When you submit something somewhere, it might be helpful to think of yourself as asking the editor of that archive or publication, not, "Do you think my story is good enough to publish?" but "Is this the kind of story you want?"
In preparing this article I polled some of my colleagues here at the archive, and, as an example, these are some of the things our staff members said they were looking for:
" ... we pretty much decided that we wanted to use it (the archive) to introduce a lot of people to fanfic who never would have read it before, and to give them a great impression of it as a genre... to put fanfic's best foot forward."
"I'd really like it to be a place where people who started writing fanfic on a lark can actually come and improve their craft, which is the point of the tips and articles."
"I would like to see professional quality stories here, things that could easily be published in a hardcover collection (except for not worrying about continEUity, which I believe to be one of the great strengths and advantages that fanfic has over profic)."
"As a fan, I want quality work not restricted by the developments of the EU; works that explore character motivations that are so sorely lacking in the novelizations of the movies; and works that explore alternative universes within the movie settings. I hope to see characterizations that surpass those of the professional authors, since these stories are written as a labor of love by devoted fans. I expect to see grammar and mechanics of above average quality, not a bar set as high as for the pros; afterall, fanfic authors don't have professional editors working with them. I expect plots with at least as much realism and depth as young adult novels, preferably much more."
"As a fanfic writer, I hope to showcase the very best of fanfic to get the same level of recognition from Lucas & co as the fanfilms. I hope to get an opening for AUs to be published beyond the comic books just recently allowed. I also hope to send a message to the publishing houses that these are the sorts of stories and characterizations the hard-core fans want to see."
And my own response was: "I wanted there to be an archive somewhere in the fanfic universe with stories that were uniform in superior grammar and spelling, good ideas, great creativity, and good writing, because of the view I find out there that fan ficcers are crocks who can't write, or frustrated loners who are just acting out fantasies.
"I have been sneered at by professionals who feel that since we are 'only' fans, we couldn't possibly write anything that deserves to receive payment or see the light of day.
"Therefore I look for work that I think competes with the published work in quality.
I want this archive to prove that fans CAN write Star Wars!!!"
If you don't understand this aspect of publishing -- any sort of publishing -- you run the risk of taking the submissions process a little too hard, and stressing yourself unnecessarily. No one who reads, evaluates, or otherwise comments upon your story should be taken as an indictment of its worth from God. It's easy to do that when you are a new writer ... and even when you've been at it for some time! It's also a good way to drive yourself nuts.
The fact is that an editor has a right to his/her own opinion, and we are all different people and won't see things in the same way. The only person who really could make a judgement about the absolute worth of a work of fiction is God. (And editors, God bless 'em, may or may not agree.) Whether or not your story fits with the "flavor" of a magazine, or an anthology, or a fanfic archive, depends on what the editor wants that flavor to be, and how well yours fits their personal criteria.
Different people have different ideas about what they call "good." In nearly all cases, "good" means accurate grammar and spelling, and prose that does not contain mistakes such as inappropriate point of view shifts, character names that rhyme, taking too long to get the reader into your plot ... I could go on. But the thing to take home here is that there are basic mechanics of writing that most editors look for. As we want this archive to reflect that fan writers CAN do professional quality work, we are sticklers on this one. Some fan archivists aren't. But here and in the professional world, top-notch spelling, grammar, and writing mechanics are the rule and not the exception.
As an editor/reviewer outlines more criteria, making finer distictions between what gets in and what doesn't, that issue of personal taste usually does come more into play. For instance, one of my pet peeves is to see a writer violate a basic tenet of George Lucas in his or her story in a way that I feel shows disrespect for the filmmaker's better ideas. I think everyone agrees that George isn't always a genuis (need I say: Jar Jar Binks??), but my personal feeling is that if you are going to change something from the way George had it, you had better have a good reason and the change should be thought-provoking and well-executed. This is a personal opinion of mine and a story that is unlucky enough to be rejected by me on this basis may well make it past some of the other staff. Another reason I personally reject is that I have seen too many stories that are just like the one I am reading. It is a preference of mine that I would like to archive the story that stands out, that is different in some way, instead of one you could find anywhere else on the net. That doesn't mean it is "wrong" to write an angst-ridden Ani-Ami romance ... just that I am likely to be tough on yours! A colleague of mine may feel that this is part and parcel of the genre, and love to archive this stuff. If we claim the same story and vote against each other, then an editor steps in, and your fate rests on ... yet another personal opinion! So you can see how personal preference plays a big part here. In the professional world it plays an even bigger one, since there is usually only one person doing the choosing instead of a committee with varied preferences among the staff.
Add to this the simple -- but important -- factor of pure chance. Perhaps an editor read and liked your story ... and just archived one almost exactly like it last week. Now he has to pass on yours just because someone else crossed his desk first. Perhaps he likes yours better, but the the first author (if it's a professional submission) has already been paid and the issue is too far on its way to press to change it. Bad luck can and does happen.
The bottom line is, when you receive a rejection letter -- from anywhere -- try to look objectively at the reasons it was rejected. This is a lot easier to do here at TFN than it is in the pro world, because we have a big staff, lots of time, and comparatively fewer submissions than most paying markets. If you are getting comments about grammar and spelling, pacing problems, plot problems, or Mary Sue, chances are you may need to get some help with the way you write and the mechanics of telling a story. Many if not all pro editors would reject you for the same reasons, as we all share the opinion that we don't want to publish something with mechanical errors.
But if these are not the problem -- and here at TFN you can email most of us and we will tell you -- don't automatically assume your story is somehow "bad" or "wrong," or that we are saying you can't write. It may not be what we personally prefer to showcase here ... and we all have our reasons, to which we are entitled. We're the ones doing the work to set this up, choose the stories, code them, and find art for them.
If you are going to decide what gets into an archive, and you can't take everything, you have to have some criteria to help with the decision, or nothing would ever get done! I personally will not change my own preferences simply because someone else has different ones. But, you know what? Neither should you!
All publishing is in large part a matter of luck. Keep writing, and don't lose faith in yourself.
Current Rating is 7.96 in 25 total ratings.
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Author: Viari Skywalker
Date posted: 6/18/2002 11:27:34 AM
Viari Skywalker's Comments:
Wow! That really hits home. I've been rejected, and at first I thought that I was the problem. I've since learned otherwise, and I'm glad to see someone writing about how to deal with and understand rejection. Thanks!
Date posted: 6/18/2002 12:41:00 PM
I've never tried to get any of my stories archived because I've been afraid to get rejected. I can't say that this article makes me feel better, but I would love to read those good stories that just got rejected for some reason or another. It would be nice if there was a site dedicated to ONLY GOOD SW FANFIC.
Date posted: 6/18/2002 2:35:01 PM
A very good article. Not only did it give insight into the behind-the-scenes action here at tf.n, but it is applicable to most any publishing operation. I've heard rejection explained in terms of whether or not a story is a 'good fit'. As a writer, I am searching for a home for my story. If an editor says no, it simply means it didn't fit his/her vision and I have to keep searching -- and it is *my* job to do find the right home, after all, no one asked me to write the story. (It can be a tedious process. Only the persistent survive.) Believing in your story is paramount to this process. As LLL said: we have to keep at it.
Author: Nikkos Tyris
Date posted: 6/19/2002 10:49:12 AM
Nikkos Tyris's Comments:
Yes indeed. Max Allen Collins (a professional writer you lives in Muscatine, IA a few blocks away from me) once said to me, "Kids who want to be writers should write what they want to read, and as much as they can. Then, maybe when thy're forty years old, they can get a book published." No, he was not kidding and no, he was not being unoptomistic toward kids. That's the way it is, and you have to learn to deal with it. I recently got my third submiited story to TFN rejected. That makes three out of three. Did I get mad? Did I get sad? Nope. Because I know I'm getting better. My first story had narrative problems, pacing problems, spelling and grammar problems. My second had only narrative and spelling problems. Now my third had only narrative problems. Progress. Don't lose hope! ;) And thanks to LLL, my good friend, for writing this encouraging piece.
Date posted: 6/20/2002 9:53:53 AM
Very nice article LLL! It's great to finally see someone write an article on this topic. I think that at first everyone thinks that the reason their story was rejected was because it wasn't "good enough", but then sooner or later we realize that it just depends on what the personal tastes of the Reviewer are :).
Author: Nikkos Tyris
Date posted: 6/20/2002 7:16:55 PM
Nikkos Tyris's Comments:
Again, correct. I still at times despair over my writing styles. I think it is because I'm best at writing Episode I and II pieces. (Episode I REALLY got me into Star Wars, back in '99. Before then I couldn't figure out what the big deal about it was. It shot my head from my shoulders and up to the stas). And because I absorbed all that info on Episode I (especially on Qui-Gon Jinn) I got an award in my county for having the most knowledge on the subject :) We should all brag just a bit, it takes down the tension.
Author: Jane Jinn
Date posted: 6/20/2002 11:24:39 PM
Jane Jinn's Comments:
Excellent article! I never really thought about that question before, but it makes sense to ask if your story is the kind of story the editors are looking for. Good insight into this archive, too, by the way!
Author: Kenya Starflight
Date posted: 6/21/2002 8:01:05 AM
Kenya Starflight's Comments:
After having two of the three fics I've sent here rejected I was about ready to throw away my pen and give up fanfic -- if the people here didn't like it, I must not be a good fanfic writer. This article not only helps me feel better about my writing, it lets me know that there may still be a place here for my work.
Date posted: 6/21/2002 1:53:35 PM
Thank you! I'd just like to say I honestly enjoy reading the fanfictions that you do post on your site. There are many sites out there that have stories that have hideous grammar, impossible to read formatting, zero plot-lines and nearly all the same scenes! I know *anything* I read on this site WILL be good; no matter if I personally like the story or not, the writing quality will be amazing.
Rejection is tough to handle, but it's the price that you pay for quality work. Besides, like you said, it's based upon personal opinions. If you like your fic, then by God, you like it. Who cares if anyone else does!!
Date posted: 6/21/2002 8:43:31 PM
*looks at the typos and sighs*
Although sometimes, typos will slip in no matter WHAT you do ...
AnnonJedi: The only trouble with that, as I've pointed out, is that there will never be a definition of "good" that everyone can agree on. But I follow your drift.
And Kenya, don't give up. One thing that REALLY helps is a good beta. If you find that you are using the same betas and getting rejected over and over, try different betas. One thing we reviewers find frustrating is betas who aren't catching all these grammatical and writing errors ...
Actually it's doubtful that much is getting rejected here due to personal leanings in the genres people like. I've often wished that writers could submit directly to certain reviewers -- that way your type of story could go directly to its connoissuer, LOL! As it is, though, we try to stay away from a genre we know we don't like and leave it for someone who does like that genre.
Author: Viari Skywalker
Date posted: 6/22/2002 6:59:12 PM
Viari Skywalker's Comments:
I just wanted to say something to all those writers who are discouraged by rejection. Like I said in my first comment for this article, I submitted a story here that was rejected. I was a little - okay, maybe more than a little - upset. I felt like I wasn't good enough for TF.N, but I decided to try again. I had my betas tear my fic apart. hey both went line by line, telling me what they thought should be changed. I asked my two reviewers to tell me the problems they saw with my fic. I worked on it, heeding the advice of my betas and reviewers. Then I submitted it again. The day after my first comment on this article, my fic was accepted! I didn't know if it would happen, but it did! So don't be discouraged by rejection! Just get back up and try again!
Date posted: 6/24/2002 4:15:26 AM
Cool beans!! Welcome, welcome!!
As I said, the number one reason for rejection is writing mechanics.
Author: Mcily Nochi
Date posted: 6/24/2002 3:25:33 PM
Mcily Nochi's Comments:
Everybody should read this article. When people get rejected, so many become bitter or discouraged. They don't realize the politics and motives behind the acceptance process.
People may scoff when I try to help them deal with rejection because I have several fics on the Archive, but I've had as many rejected. I've found that you just have to decide what your feelings are going to be. With one fic I just shurgged because it didn't really matter; with another, I'm now revising it again because I would really like to see it Archived.
So don't get discouraged-- just switch tracks and try again.
Author: Raven Nyquist
Date posted: 8/26/2002 1:56:03 PM
Raven Nyquist's Comments:
This article actually brought a question to light.
When a fresh-sounding idea turned into story "_______" is rejected for grammar/plot/pacing problems:
If the author were to correct the errors with the story, but keep the exact same idea within the story, can the author resubmit the fanfic?
Date posted: 9/12/2002 10:46:47 PM
Any author may resubmit at any time.
Doesn't mean you will automatically get accepted, however. I just saw two stories get resubmitted TWICE before making it on the third try.
Date posted: 11/30/2002 3:13:06 PM
I believe, it is not the actual rejection itself that causes people to get angry and disappointed, but the fact that TheForce.Net's Fanfiction Archive feels the need to use rather anonymous, pre-formulated standard expressions.
Maybe this is just the private opinion of an easily offended author with a bruised ego, but if a submitted work has been carefully beta-read by several competent persons, vague statements like
"Unfortunately, we feel we needed to reject this particular submission for the reasons stated :
-- grammar and/or spelling errors
-- narrative and/or pacing problems
-- characterization problems"
strike me as arrogant and rude. Even more so, because I had to learn that a story's approval doesn't only depend on its actual quality but also on such arbitrary factors as "archive policy" and the personal tastes of the involved reviewers.
Apart from being extremely helpful when dealing with the "bruised ego problem", this article offers quite an amount of valuable insights and interesting truths. I therefore truly enjoyed reading it and seriously thought about its contents. But frankly spoken, the next time I wish to publish one of my SW stories, I will try to find a "friendlier", more personal archive ;-)
Author: Darth Breezy
Date posted: 4/9/2003 7:03:53 PM
Darth Breezy's Comments:
Intersting to note that at least in this article, personal preferance of the reviews is a factor that is not only addressed but admitted to. I find it highly depressing that many reveiwers say that this isn't a factor. The difficulty is in finding a reviewer who actaully likes your style of story that actually has time to pick up your piece.
Date posted: 9/4/2003 9:01:04 PM
I haven't worked in here as a reviewer for a while, but as to the comment about the impersonal letters ...
I actually wrote those! I was going for something that sounded close to what you might get when sending your story out to a magazine, because many of you are going to do that someday. You might as well get used to an impersonal letter or postcard. The acceptance letters are form letters, too.
The real reason for it is the number of submissions. The reviewers who vote on your stories aren't the people who do the letter; the editors are, and there are only two or three of them at any one time. If you get a week where there is only one editor working and 30 stories that need acceptance/rejections letters, you can see why there isn't time for these people to do a personal response to everyone.
That way, if you want more details, you can email the reviewers who first voted on it, and they can respond, and that way the correspondence is broken up better among the staff. Easier on everyone, time-wise.
When EpII came out, you would not BELIEVE the number of stories this place got flooded with. Without the form letters, we never would have made it.
Hope this helps.
Author: Hermione Organa
Date posted: 4/23/2004 3:54:52 PM
Hermione Organa's Comments:
I just sumitted a fanfic a month ago and I got the email for rejection. At first, I was not very happy with myself, and then light dawned - why exactly did it matter? I can always fix up my fanfic, but I have decided that maybe I'll just let it go. It's Star Wars all over again from our nemesis' point of view, and people will be looking for something completely new. Look at "The Sands of Time" for instance (I love that one). I mean, really do you have to repeat everything? I like references to the films, but in Fan fiction, I personally think that events should be new, even if characters aren't. This article helps me deal with rejection. I'm very happy to have read it - thanks LLL!
Date posted: 6/2/2004 7:34:53 PM
I'm very nervous because I just submitted my first story in hopes of being archived on my first try, and I am less nerve wrecked now due to this article. I am still worried because no one has even reviewed my story yet, but I hope they do soon. I should think that a rejection would be more satisfying at this point then to see that no reviewer has even taken interest in my story. Again, thanks for the article! Laugh out loud (Why did I just spell that phrase out?).
Date posted: 3/15/2005 10:06:02 PM
I'm a Beta reader for several friends and I tell all of them that they should have mroe than one beta. I've frequently looked at the same story a second and third time and spotted errors I missed all the times before. I think that's the main problem sometimes, insufficient editing. we all are only human, after all.
I've submitted and been rejected here. I told a friend and the response was not kind toward the editors and reviewers here. The problem was, the friend I spoke to had no direct experience with the site. they only had the heresay of other rejectees. I discovered, through much discussion, that hte other rejectees had never even bothered to read through the articles on this site. I'm tempted to believe their work was not even beta read, though I do not know for sure.
But I'm straying from my intended topic. I read this article (Discussions like the one I mentioned above made me read all of them before I submitted) and remembering it as I ready my rejection letter helped tremendously. I don't handle rejection well, but keeping in mind the various reasons helped me from becoming too discouraged. After I mourned for a few hours, I read back through the rejection letter and my story, found many mistakes, and started working again. I intend to continue in this method until I either get archived, or I find a better methode.
Thanks for the tips!
Date posted: 4/18/2007 2:22:18 AM
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