Originally published 2016-02-13: The Tarnished Silver Lining of Rejection with Adrean Mesmer | Inside the Mind of an Editor
If authors have a hard road to tread, we must never forget that editors are trudging along beside us through the literary muck. All of us who have submitted work to an editor know the sting of the rejection letter. No one likes to be rejected; to have our story come back to us unwanted is like a slap to the face that says, “You didn’t do this right. And you call yourself an author!”
But an editor’s job is tough. They are tasked with reading everything that comes in – the dreck and the gold alike – to pan out something extraordinary. It is their job to decide, amongst all the submissions that weren’t immediately rejected, which stories will make it into their magazine, journal, anthology, or newsletter. Think that sounds easy?
I first met editor Adrean Mesmer when I submitted a story to an anthology call from A Murder of Storytellers, a group of writers/publishers whose goal is “to always help each become better writers and foster a sense of community.” Since I know she’s awesome, and her job as Editor-in-Chief is an oft-misunderstood one, I asked her to say a few words about why your story got rejected, and why you shouldn’t hate her for it.
Editing is Hard
Editing is hard. Like, really, excruciatingly difficult. And it’s not one of those things that gets easier with time or practice. I mean, sure, I guess you learn to make quicker judgments.
I used to read the whole story. Then, I gave it a few pages, but now, it’s more like one page. If I’m not seriously invested in the piece by the end of page one, I move on. And I know that sounds harsh, but when faced with hundreds of stories, you’ve just got to keep going.
The worst part of the whole things is that we very rarely get any actually bad submissions. The vast majority of the rejections we send out have nothing to do with quality. It often comes down to little more than a coin flip.
Like, when we end up with multiple pieces that share themes or similar plots. We ran into that with The Quiet Company included in Beyond the Nightlight and The Wailing Women in Broken Worlds. They’re both zombie stories, a little atypical, and focused on teenagers facing very adult dangers. They both have a similar atmosphere of stoicism and muted emotions. And they both end with… uh, in the interest of not spoiling anything, the endings are not identical, but they rhyme. We simply could not justify putting both stories in one anthology.
But, damn. I didn’t want to let go of either one. Ultimately, we decided The Quiet Ones played more on the general adolescent fears we wanted to focus on with Beyond the Nightlight, whereas The Wailing Women was a more specific fear. But we still really wanted to keep both stories. So, we did the only thing we could think of. We begged Michael Rader to let us hold on to The Wailing Women for a while because we definitely wanted it, but couldn’t fit it into Nightlight, and told Robin Kirk she was in.
[Note from Adan: I’m proud to say I have work in Beyond the Nightlight!]
It was a hard decision and almost completely arbitrary. Both of those stories are personal favorites of mine. In that situation, it worked out great for us. We got both stories in different anthologies and lost nothing.
But it doesn’t always work out so well.
One of the heartbreaks that continues to haunt me is The Long Road Back by Ellen Denton, which has been published by Underground Voices, then later in an anthology called See Spot Run. You’ll notice we’re not on that list. It still kills me. I love so many things about this story; I just can’t figure out where to put it. I’ve tossed around so many anthology themes and ideas, but nothing has really stuck for me yet. This was one of the first submissions we ever received and one of the first rejections I ever had to write.
It is a good story. Every one of the Murderers loved it. We just couldn’t fit it anywhere. And this happens a lot.
There is no shame in rejection as a writer. Yes, it’s frustrating. Trust me, we all know. We’ve been there. The stupid, tarnished silver lining of rejection letters is that it means you are working, you’re writing and sending your stories out into the world. That’s pretty damn brave and awesome. A lot of people never get to that point.
Acceptance is always the goal. But just remember, it can come down to something as silly as which character name the editor likes more. The title of that piece is more evocative than the other. This story had a typo and the other one didn’t.
It is never personal.
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