The terrible, inevitable subjectivity of rejection

If you are a writer, you will be rejected. Not once. Not twice or thrice. Hundreds of times over decades of writing your guts on a page. And sometimes the reason you are rejected is entirely subjective – the editor, the editorial board, the publisher, the agent – just didn’t like what you wrote. It has nothing to do with the character, detail, and depth of your prose – they just didn’t like it. Personal preference. Think of your writing as cilantro or opera – some people will love it, some will hate it. Such is the writing life.

Subjectivity gets an unnecessarily harsh rap in the publishing world. We writers bash editorial subjectivity ruthlessly, and yet we claim it jealously for ourselves. Hmm. Something rotten in the herb garden here. We hate it when applied to our work from an external source, but we demand our right to it when we review others’ writing. See the hypocrisy?

The fact is that most of the time your work will be rejected because it just didn’t fit what the editor was looking for in a particular issue, as long as that work is, in fact, extremely strong, well-composed, and grammatically sensible for its purpose. All else being equal, the editor may love your piece, but knows that it just doesn’t fit. I recently received such a rejection for a piece I wrote and submitted as a blog post entry on a literary journal’s web site. They announced a call for posts, a friend shared the link, I looked over the submission guidelines and decided that my piece wasn’t a precise fit, but I wanted to give it a go just to test the waters. Turns out, within a few hours, my piece was rejected, but the editor called it a “very provoking read” and wished me the best in finding a good home for it, explaining that their scope was focused more on stories with clearly defined broader cultural connections.

I was glad to receive this response and immediately sent that piece off to another journal for consideration in an upcoming issue (not a blog). Currently, my Submittable account shows “In Progress” for that journal, which is good news. It hasn’t been rejected yet! However, if it IS rejected, I know that it may be because they just didn’t like it. And that’s okay.

Being rejected for subjective reasons HAS to be okay. We writers must accept this as part of our reality and stop fighting so hard against it. If you hate cilantro, you don’t want other people demanding that you eat it anyway. So think of your prose as literary cilantro – some will love it; some will say it tastes like soap. Your job as a writer is to keep pressing on until you find the editors who love your type of cilantro.


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