Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Confessions of a Literary Street Walker: Why Not?

(the following is part of an ongoing series of columns I did for The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut)

This month's column comes from a request by my pal Tulsa Brown. Tulsa, and many folks on the ERWA list, have been frustrated by rejections for stories that seem to be just what the editor would be looking for: smart, stylish, deep, interesting, heartfelt, and all the rest. A sure winner, right? But even though Tulsa, and a lot of other writers, are trying their best, their labors of love keep getting shot down.

But first, a quick word about rejection slips. One of the other questions Tulsa asked was if those 'notes of doom' editors send out to let you know your baby isn't what they want for their precious anthology, are honest. Do they really express how the editor feels about your work? No, they don't. Now that doesn't mean that some editors aren't being sincere when they send out their rejections - especially if they include a personal message with their generic rejection - but it's just about impossible for one editor to write everyone who didn't make the cut. Answer: the form rejection letter. They can be polite ("Sorry, your story didn't meet the needs of our publication"), cold ("Your submission was not satisfactory"), sympathetic ("I know how tough this is") or even rude ("Don't you EVER send me this drivel again") but they mean the same thing: better luck next time.

But there is a bright side - really. Think of it this way; at least that editor spent the time to send those notes out. There are still some cowardly editors out there (shame, shame) who never reject; you just hear that your friends were accepted (and obviously you weren't) or the book comes out and you're not in it. At least getting a note - any note - means that you can now send the story somewhere else.

Now then, the Great Secret of Being Accepted. Ready? You sure?

Okay, okay, put the baseball bat down. The Great Secret of Being Accepted is ....

There isn't one!

If there were, don't you think I'd be selling it? If there were, then why the HELL do I still get rejected?

The fact is that even though you think, hope, and work really hard to give editors exactly what they want, the decision is still very subjective. In my own case, I've been rejected because:

a) The story is too long by a few hundred words
b) Didn't get aroused reading my story
c) There is already a story selected that's set in New York City
d) The editor doesn't like the use of certain 'words' in a story
e) The publisher may object to it
f) Some of the sex is 'objectionable.'

Now I've never used any of these reasons - either subconsciously or consciously - in rejecting a story, but that's just me. Every editor is unique, as are the criteria for taking (or not taking) a story. At first, that seems like a situation that should, nay must, be corrected somehow but that's just the way the world works. The editor is the boss and he or she is trying to put together the best book they can, using what stories they got, according to their own call for submissions. If there was a concrete method for selecting stories, we'd have books by machine, and anthologies created by a precise formula. Luckily for the reader, we don't, but this lack of a more scientific (or at least quantifiable) method for picking stories can be very frustrating for the writer.

If it helps, rejection never gets any easier to give or to get. As an editor, I hate to give them out, but have to because I feel writers deserve to know whether they made they cut. I'm also in a position of having to put together the best anthology - as I see it. As a writer, I still get rejection notices and will get even more in the future. It's simply part of the writing life; good, bad, or indifferent. The only remedy I can offer is to keep writing because - as I've said before - the only way a writer fails is not when they get rejected but when they stop writing.

And by keeping at it - trying to write each story better than the last one, never giving up - you'll stay on the road to becoming perhaps not a great writer but at least a better one; published, rejected, or not.

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