Ah, a topic no doubt close to writers’ hearts, especially short fiction writers.
The motivation for writing this post was because I did something I have never done before – I complained to an editor that rejected me. Surprisingly, the editor responded, and it was rather vitriolic. I responded back, and I am waiting for the completion of round two. Hopefully, it actually has already ceased. Why did I complain?
I should point out that it is not my style to respond to rejections, and in fact I consider it poor form. We live in an unequal world, and for several reasons. Firstly, the writer is knocking on the editor’s door, and it is up to the editor to open it or not. This leads to the second reason why it is unequal – the editor’s skill can range from brilliant to moronic, and it doesn’t make a difference. From an editor’s perspective, of course, they have their own issues to contend with, including a wide range of author capability, as well as the whinging, whining types (the ones that complain on rejection on a habitual basis, or for no good reason). For these reasons, there is normally no point at all on dwelling on rejections.
The irony about my complaint in this case was that the editor took the trouble of providing content and style feedback – which is, these days, refreshing. However, editors expose their own skills in communication and assessment by doing this. Add the whinging, whining authors, and it isn’t surprising at all that most publications don’t provide feedback (not to mention the sheer logistics of spending time on feedback).
My complaint was directed to this particular editor because he made an assertion outside of my writing capability – I submitted a story that has, as its central antagonist, an antique porcelain doll. I wrote it as part of a regular challenge among some peers, where in this case stories had to be written based on a photograph of a doll. I submitted my story to this particular publication because it was running a theme on dolls, marionettes, etc. Perfect fit, for submission purposes. My story was rejected, and some constructive criticism was presented, as well as notes on strengths – all appreciated, but it then asserted that I retrofitted an older story to include a doll, in order to justify submission.
This was too much for me. As a writer, trying to be professional, I will take rejections on the chin and go to the next market. And gladly, even if comments (as rare as they are) are facile. ‘Water off a duck’s back’, as I stated to the editor in question. But I also stated that I do not kindly accept second guessing on my motivations, and would rather have feedback on the delivery of my story – otherwise, I would rather have no comments at all.
The editor responded in shotgun fashion, ignoring my point altogether, simply stating I was ‘sensitive’ to criticism. I suppose I was sensitive (as he clearly was), but it wasn’t to criticism.
I don’t necessarily recommend that authors do what I do – it took mental and nervous energy to write an email, and ultimately to construct this blog. For what purpose? Not entirely sure – I was hoping that I could send a message to the editor (a criticism in itself – despite our unequal world), but perhaps there was also a bit of venting one’s spleen. The only saving grace is that I do not do this very often (in fact, this is the very first time, and probably the last).
As a writer, we live in an unequal world. Pick your battles, and avoid getting damaged. Most of the time, write instead.