How many times have you heard an editor’s rejection of your work is subjective? Especially from prominent, published writers? You know, the really really big ones?
Receiving rejection, especially over a piece we hold near and dear, is most difficult. Some editor’s feedback is simply cruel and it’s difficult to push through it, their words forming a dark cloud in the writer’s already self-deprecating mind.
There is truly only one super-negative rejection I have received and whenever submitting that piece thereafter (yes, the one near and dear to my heart) I hear that particular editor’s indelibly negative words as I hit the send button, dooming any future hope of publication.
Employ Constructive Feedback
I am here to tell you writers to hold fast – an editor in receipt of that 100-times-rejected piece may someday take the time to shed some constructive feedback that doesn’t shoot a hole in your heart. And Kendra, the editor of The Fiddlehead, did that for me concerning my essay Saboteur. Her feedback triumphed over the not-so-great feedback I had previously received from the editor at The Tishman Review, which read:
We publish prose at The Tishman Review that we feel speaks with emotional depth and substance and that sheds light on the human condition. When I saw your email, to be quite honest, I could not even remember your essay and had to glance over it to remind myself of it.
There is no sense of conflict or tension that has a true stake for the narrator. I could not find a hook to draw me in. The essay is primarily about lusting after someone, and it is a play by play of how this works out. The hotel scene in particular is not very engaging.
For the reader, the friend’s behavior did not seem a betrayal but predictable. Maybe something is missing from the essay to show the friend felt the same way about the essayist or maybe I did not understand this from what is present in the essay.
However, the writing at the sentence-level is strong.
This essay is just did not a good fit for TTR but may well be somewhere else.
I’m sorry to disappoint you.
Now, Kendra’s feedback which renewed my hope:
Thank you kindly for offering “Saboteur” to us here at The Fiddlehead. I found your handle on word choice made the piece (while already intriguing at its plot) extremely gripping and rich in description. I’m afraid, however, we’re not able to accept it for publication, mostly due to the overwhelming amount of submissions we receive regularly. With that said, I think it has really strong features: the characterization of Lexi, the chemistry she and the narrator have seemingly immediately, the interwoven themes of statistics and its practice. As well, its narrative is very vivid, has great word choice, and is fluid in its movement from one space and time to another. My only suggestion would be to pare back on descriptions of space, namely near the middle to end of the piece (around pages 11-12 particularly) to keep the momentum the piece gains in the first few pages. You’ve got a very strong handle on your craft, so I wish you the very best in finding this and other pieces of your work a good home.
Don’t Give Up on Submitting Your Work
Writers, I beg you, keep the faith. Push through the criticism; incorporate meaningful feedback into your work. And don’t kill your darlings! Just rework them!
BTW, Saboteur, has recently been picked up by a new literary journal. The editor advised cutting the last paragraph and I agreed, it read much better!
And take a glimpse at “JK Rowling Posts Letter of Rejection on Twitter to Help Budding Authors” here.
Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on the sequel. You can contact Lisa at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.