Another Rejection Letter? Here’s an Editor’s Point of View

You mean I have to do work for a PhD? Who would have thought?

The truth is, I’m enjoying my work for my doctorate, but it certainly is time consuming. I knew it would be, but crazy me I signed up anyway. I needed a new challenge, and this is it. I’m researching the teaching of writing (no great surprise there) and it’s fascinating. I’ll share some of my findings soon.

The new novel is coming along. Somehow I’m managing to steal a few moments here and there to scribble out a few words. Luckily for me season 5 of Downton Abbey is on so that’s giving me the inspiration I need to keep writing (yes, I live in America, and yes, I watch Carson and Lady Mary when they’re on in the U.K. If you ask nicely I’ll tell you how I do it). There will still be a new James and Sarah Wentworth story in 2015 for you Loving Husband Trilogy fans. I’m happy to say the box set of the trilogy is now officially an Amazon best seller, so thank you to everyone who helped put it there. The complete box set is still on sale for .99 cents at Amazon, BN, and Kobo.

It’s taking some time to learn how to juggle teaching full time, writing my papers and reading my assignments for school, and keeping up with everything else. I was talking to a friend at work the other day and she said, “You’re still smiling so that’s a good sign.” So there you go. I’m still smiling. While I’m busy working on my lastest doc assignment, known in polite company as a literature review, I thought I’d repost this oldie but goodie about those dreaded rejection letters and how, from an editor’s point of view, they’re really nothing personal.

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Contrary to popular belief, editors don’t find a sadistic satisfaction from sending out rejection letters. There is that one editor with a voodoo doll and a case of push pins, but that’s another post. Most editors are writers too, and we know there’s nothing like the prick of a rejection letter to pop the air from a writer’s bubble.

There have been times when I received too many rejections in a row and I couldn’t help but take them personally. Was it my storytelling? My habit of submitting acrostic poetry? Was my Aunt Ellie just wrong and I really don’t have a way with words? But then I became an editor, and I realized that decisions aren’t always about storytelling or talent.

Here’s the big secret that’s really no secret at all: most decisions are based on personal preference. There’s no complex system editors use to determine quality (think of the formula in the textbook meant to determine a poem’s value in Dead Poet’s Society). There’s no list of writers to accept or reject. It’s not about what MFA program you went to, or if you even have an MFA. Not everyone’s style is to everyone’s taste. That’s it. If we turn down a piece at Copperfield, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just not for us at that time.

At The Copperfield Review, we tend to have more literary, experimental tastes. I have great respect for Hemingway-esque simplicity, but it’s not the kind of work I’m drawn to publish. I love work that plays with, stretches, challenges the English language. We’re blessed to write in the English language. Truly. Our wealth of vocabulary, limitless possibilities for structure, and ability to be straightforward or lost in a stream of consciousness makes our language a vast artist’s toolbox to use to paint pictures in words.

Since Copperfield is a journal of historical fiction, we get a lot of submissions set in the same era—World War II and the Old West are two of the most popular. But because we receive so many stories set during the same time, we can’t publish them all. I know the consensus is that you should read literary journals to see if those journals have published pieces similar to the work you want to submit. Generally, that’s true. But let some time pass if you want to submit a story on exactly the same subject as one that’s just been published. If you see a story in Copperfield about the American Civil War in our Spring edition, wait at least until Autumn before you send in your Gettysburg tale. We’re open to it, just not so soon.

Once we received twenty World War II submissions for the same edition. No joke. There was nothing particularly wrong with any of the stories, but we couldn’t publish twenty stories on the same subject. We rejected eighteen of them, most of which might have been published if they had been sent at another time.

Which brings us to the million dollar question: how can you know exactly when to submit your work? Unfortunately, you can’t. Sometimes journals ask for specific types of submissions for certain editions, but otherwise timing can be the luck of the draw. There is an element of luck involved in sending your work to the right publisher at the right time. But the more research you do, and the more you submit, the more opportunities you have to turn the tides of timing in your favor.

I know the form letter rejections aren’t very helpful for writers, but they’re a necessary evil due to the number of submissions most journals receive. Just remember, the next time you receive one, it’s not about your talent. It’s about the editors, their personal tastes for the type of writing they prefer, and the type of stories they’re looking to publish at the time.

4 thoughts on “Another Rejection Letter? Here’s an Editor’s Point of View

  1. I’ve had so many rejections I’m beginning to feel like Leo Tolstoy, except that I don’t have the equivalent huge amount to pay for the publication of my War and Peace. Actually, I’ve also had my share of long, helpful letters from editors, for which I am very grateful. And I have had some awards for books published. I even sold 100,000 copies of one series of books for children at craft shows and schools! I am a part-time language professor, I teach privately, and I have written many novels, I am always waiting to “make it,” and, sometimes, I am literally starving. I would never give up being a novelist because I love what I do. I love doing the research for a book, especially the YA novel I’m working on now, which is set in the Middle Ages (my specialty). I love the writing of the book much more than I crave fame. In fact, I think I’m allergic to fame. I love to be at home, with my cats, working on a new book. It’s an exciting world, full of warmth and joy. I love riding my bike up our trail and coming up with the next episode. The only complaint I have about the writing life is the money – there hasn’t been a whole lot of that, but I keep hoping.

    • It sounds like you’re on the right path, Leigh! Writing is hard in many ways, but I always say that if writing is in your heart then you need to keep at it no matter what. I love the research part of writing historical fiction too. It sounds like you have already had many successes as a writer, and when you’re a writer you learn quickly that success isn’t determined by sales alone. Success is about being true to yourself and writing what is in your heart. Sales are great, and I’m thankful for every sale I’ve had and those still to come, but the joy I feel when I’m working on a new book is the best feeling of all.

      Thanks for your comment!