The Relative Levels of Rejection, Part II


We’ve looked at the silence residing at the base of the rejection pyramid in the publishing world. Now let’s drag ourselves up a step and see what other forms of discouragement are waiting to greet submissions.

I used to think the form rejection was a sad comment in and of itself, but then I discovered its extraordinary, toxic cousin. I call it the Drunk-With-Power rejection. Now, I’ve only received one of these, and only heard of a couple of others that found their way to writer-friends, but, boy-howdy, do they stick out. Here…you’ll see what I mean:

“Thank you for thinking of ***** Publishing. I only accept the very best. Lots of writers send me their work, but they have to be really good for me to consider associating my name with them…”

And then:

“I’m sure there are other agents who’ll want this, but I only work with writers I believe will make it big. Really big.”

Now, serious writers do their homework when contacting agents. I make it a point to visit websites, Google client lists, read bios. Your aim is to find the best fit, the most receptive ear for your voice. Failing that, you hope to find the best possible slush pile that will give your work a soft landing when it skitters its anonymous way onto the heap. You also send submissions out in batches, so the details of your research probably don’t reside in your long-term memory. They’re overwritten by subsequent searches.

But I just had to go back and retrace the path that led to the producer of this particular rejection.

As I tapped away on my humble keyboard, expectations blossomed in my mind. Surely this pundit of the publishing industry would have a client list of luminaries that included those worthy of sharing shelf-space with the likes of Hemingway, Steinbeck…Shakespeare, for God’s sake! What I found staring back at me was someone who looked as though she still shopped in the junior section for her wardrobe using Mommy’s credit card.

Someone who had been working as an agent for a grand total of two months.

Someone who I had selected, because she described herself as eager to build a client list of up-and-coming writers who worked with speculative fiction and the darker side of fantasy.

Someone who, today, is no longer with that publishing company. Or any other as far as I know.

Hmmmmm…I wonder why….

So on my ladder, one step up from silence, is the rejection that kicks you to the curb as it strokes the agent’s ego. Drunk-With-Power.


Next time, the many faces of the form rejection….Ooh, yippee!



The Relative Levels of Rejection, Part I

thumbsdownEvery hopeful writer knows about the special rejection spawned by the literary world.

It’s not a big deal after a while. It’s an undercurrent flowing through your creative life, but one that’s relegated to its own ignominious cesspool. So when I see people tweeting and blogging and otherwise digitally whining about how undeserved or unkind rejection is, I have to stop and analyze my own reaction to its various faces. Bear in mind, this isn’t necessarily reality…only my interpretation of it. And since it makes me happy, I’m loathe to abandon it.

The fact is, rejection occurs on many different levels when it comes from publishers and agents; somewhat akin to Dante’s levels of Hell. Let’s reflect on the path to success by  investigating failure…beginning at the bottom and clawing our way upwards. Today, we visit the dregs, the bottom, the base of the rejection pyramid.

A low point in rejection is silence. No reaction at all. Inside your head a tiny, malevolent voice squeaks, “See? Your work is completely negligible.”

Then it goes for the coup de grace. “YOU’RE completely negligible.”

If you enjoy wallowing in a moment of self-pity, go ahead. Sometimes a little inner angst can be fun. You can use it for the next tortured character you write. But then, kick that little voice in the nuts…realize it has none…and recognize it for what it is: a nothing that could mean anything.

Maybe your submission got lost in the mail, or was eaten by internet gremlins.

Maybe the recipient was sidelined by salmonella, or a vacation, or death. Depending on your proclivity for anger, revenge, or forgiveness, take a moment to imagine whichever fate restores your equanimity.

Or maybe…just maybe…you didn’t follow the submission guidelines.

Or maybe…just maybe…your query was so out there, it’s now making the rounds of the recipient’s water cooler crowd, which today means any of the proliferation of social networks, garnering raised eyebrows and vicariously embarrassed giggles.

Choose one of the above possibilities. Go back. Investigate. Rework. Try again. Because this particular rejection isn’t failure. It’s a wakeup call to develop professional skills like discipline, attention to detail, and persistence.

As someone once said: “There’s a word for writers who don’t give up…PUBLISHED.”


Next time, let’s look at what other delightful genres of rejection await one step up from silence. Oh, goody…



Dark Side

She sees her in the mirror
from the corner of her eye.
Pretending to be strong,
she’s actually quite shy.

When she sees others suffer,
she sometimes feel her grin.
As much as she dislikes her,
she’s trapped within her skin.

She’s cold and mean as iron.
She helps her get ahead.
She stole someone else’s husband
in someone else’s bed.

She tries to reason with her
before she lashes out,
but her anger and her cruelty
are all that she’s about.

So she looks into the mirror
and once again she’s there.
When she asks her why she’s bad
She shouts that life’s not fair.

Her charity and kindness
are things she can despise.
She sees them as a weakness
in a world that runs on lies.

She wonders what to do
to make her go away,
but she’s everything that’s strong,
so in shame she hopes she’ll stay.



Show and Tell


It was a critique in the wake of a flash fiction challenge that hit with thunderous force, meaning it was long overdue and something I really needed to hear.

“Show. Don’t tell.”

Of course, I knew this. Had known all along. But for some reason my poor, beleaguered synapses never fully made the connection…never saw the alternate path Show-Don’t-Tell could blaze through my own writing. In truth, I’d thought that’s what I’d been doing already. All that endless backstory, rife with exquisite detail. Surely it was evoking an elaborate picture in the reader’s mind, and isn’t that a worthy goal? Painting with words. Isn’t that what writers do?

Sort of. But, no.

Not by a long shot.

Backstory has its place. So does description. But both definitely fall on the ‘Tell’ side of things. At least the way I was doing it. I hadn’t made the jump. I hadn’t realized that the portraits writers produce owe their power to visceral as opposed to visual detail.

Which gives you more insight into the character? ‘He was a reluctant telepath,’ or ‘Clamping his hands against his skull, he tried to still the buzz-and-mutter in his brain.’

You’re free to disagree, but I’d choose door number two. That’s more the bullet-to-the-brain kind of depiction that might keep editors and agents reading.

There are endless lessons out there; endless options for a writer when it comes to the discovery and creation of individual style. There is no single, ‘right’ way. But the difference between visceral and visual detail can make a sea-change in your work. So I’m making it a personal rule-of-the-road. Putting it right up there with ‘Adverbs pave the road to Hell…’ and ‘Write every day, no matter what.’

As roads go, mine doesn’t have many rules. Too many would be stifling anyway. And it’s okay to break them as long as you know their value in the first place.

Still, the signposts along my route are increasing. They don’t feel restrictive, though.

They feel empowering.





Little Meg Fallon is a beautiful one
only when compared to none.

An airy look about her face,
a different kind of inhuman grace.

She is quiet and alone all of her days,
unable to navigate the social maze.

Instructors find her strange to teach,
a quicksilver mind they just can’t reach.

But little Meg knows deep in her heart
lessons worth learning require an art;

a stillness of soul at which she excels;
a talent for reading natural spells.

Education came in a secret way,
while in a snow-bound wood one day.

The exquisite drifting of the flakes that fell
imparted a knowledge she never will tell.

Such patterns she saw by sitting so still
will never be transferred to paper by quill.

The teachings of books and lectures dry
cannot touch what is taught by watching the sky.

An instructor as vast as the atmosphere,
open to children with the talent to hear.

So little Meg reads what nature has written
and smiles to herself like a satisfied kitten.

A mind full of magic she cannot share;
such children of mystery need special care.