According to our submission inbox, I sent my first ever rejection on December 3, 2015, at 11:00 p.m. It was the first of 1,158 first round rejections I sent during Liminal's first open submission period. Meanwhile, as a writer, I've received 96 rejections since I started recording them in 2012. (It's probably around 120, if you count the rejections from before 2012.)
Clearly, I've added more rejection to the world than I've received from it. And yet, rejection is still difficult for me, from both sides. I don't like sending them, and I don't like receiving them. As a writer, it's easy to imagine writing like a game of soccer. Your story is the ball, and the editor is the goalie. And maybe that's why, sometimes, we feel like we somehow tricked the editors who buy our stories. Because the editor feels like an adversary, someone who has to be overcome to succeed. And how could the relationship feel anything but adversarial? We pour ourselves into stories, and then send them out for rejection after rejection after rejection.
But, from the editor's chair, everything looks different. It's more like a game of Perfection that you're playing blindfolded. You have a series of holes, and maybe you have a general sense of their shape. The submissions you receive are the pegs you're trying to fit into them. Sometimes, you know immediately that a story won't fit. It's all spiky edges, and the holes you have are sort of smoothish. Other stories you're not immediately sure of. They're sort of smoothish, but maybe too spiky? Those you hold on to for a bit, twisting them this way and that, hoping they'll fit. And some stories just slide immediately into a hole. Perfect.
In this version of events, the editor and the writer are playing on the same team. If a writer sends a story that doesn't fit, you hope the next one will. If a story almost fits, you get all hopeful. That writer seems to know the shape you're looking for! Maybe the next story will be just right.
I'd like to say working on Liminal has taken the sting out of rejection. After all, I understand just how many rejections are required to get to a few acceptances. I understand it not just as numbers, but as hour upon hour spent sifting through an endless mountain of words, sending rejection after rejection, and hurting after each one. I don't like saying no. And I said no to stories I loved. Stories that still sing in my heart when I think of them. But they weren't the stories that fit, so I had to let them go.
But rejection still hurts every time. And sometimes, it still feels like I'm on one team, and the editor's on the other. Or, if I'm being a little more rational, it feels like we're on the same team, but I'm an inept teammate, with handfuls of spiky pegs that I keep handing to editors who want smooth ones.
I want to say something to all the writers who are reading this, and also to myself. Keep submitting. Editors don't hate you. They're not tired of getting stories from you. Your story isn't broken because it's been rejected. And whatever flaws an editor pointed out in their rejection may be seen as features by the next market. The editor who says, "This has too many pointy bits" isn't looking for pointy bits. But that doesn't mean pointy bits are bad. The next editor you send it to might just be working on a special pointy bits issue of their magazine.
And if we've said no to you, I hope you'll submit to us again. Because what we want to say, what we're hoping to say, is yes.