Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rejection Versus Criticism

My writer friends are all over the map.  There are lots of them who are going the indie route.  Others are going the traditional route.  It's this last group that drew my recent interest.

A buddy of mine said, "I've gotten rejected a million times, but they're making me a better writer."

"How?" I asked.

"Well, I've learned what to do and what not to do.  When I finally do get picked up, my work will be so much more polished."

"Oh," I said.  "So you're getting personalized rejection letters and critiques of samples you've submitted instead of form letters?"

"N-no," the person stammered.  "But everyone knows that getting rejected happens to everyone."

I then changed the subject so as not to make him any more uncomfortable, but I was left with the obvious question - how can you get better if the person rejecting you doesn't tell you why?

This is one of the biggest problems I have with the traditional publishing world.  So many agents and publishers reject out of habit and don't read any of the writer's work.  Instead, they'll decide your fate based on a query letter, which is so much different than how you tell a story.  Further, many will reject someone out of hand simply for not being established enough, going back to the old contradiction of how you can't get credit without enough money that you don't need it.

A form rejection letter is meaningless.  Even agents will say that a rejection is nothing personal.  Perhaps you caught them on a bad day or after they've had enough clients to fill their dance card for the time being.  However, it does nothing for you if they haven't seen your work and you know why you were rejected.

This is why I prefer critiques.  I don't mind if someone hates my work - okay, that isn't entirely true...I do indeed like for people to like my stuff - but if they do hate it, I want to know why, no matter how painful that might be.  Was it the storyline itself, or the way it was told?  Did I not develop a character enough, or did they find the main guy unlikeable?  Did the story drag?  What was it?

A rejection without context doesn't give you that, and, by extension, doesn't let you grow as a writer.  If you want to improve, don't rely on agents and publishers to tell you how - find a critique group who can tell you about it(and many will do so in very blunt terms).  It might sting, but it will let you get better.

So next time you get rejected, find out why.  Without that, the rejection is as useful as a bag of cat turds.


  1. Rejections are the worst. I wrote about this a few months back because I had queried a magazine, got the go ahead to write an article worth several hundred dollars, and then, once it was written, it was rejected. I wrote back to ask why, and I never heard from them again. Editors (traditional ones at least) are seldom interested in providing real feedback. It stinks.

    1. Maybe they're so afraid of hurting feelings that they won't say why. I can deal with rejection, but I have difficulty doing so when no one will tell me the reason.