thick skin report ~ it stings this time

So I recently received a no-thank-you from a magazine for one of my Fathers and Sons stories. That much is nothing special. It’s the nature of our business, right? But this one stung a bit.

I peeked into Duotrope’s Digest, where I log nearly all of my submissions and track their fates, to see what my acceptance-to-rejection ratio actually is. I’ve recorded 92 submissions there, but I had withdrawn 10 of those because they were simultaneous submissions that were accepted elsewhere. Eight more fall in the “Never Responded” category. So let’s say there were 74 viable submissions. Of those, five are pending a response, and fifteen were accepted for publication. (I have 19 published stories, so the calculations here won’t be exact — and anyway, I’m not a math person.) My ratio, then, is around one acceptance for every five submissions. (Check my math since, again, I’m not a math person.) According to Duotrope, I have a higher than average acceptance ratio.

That’s all fine and good, but a rejection is still a rejection, and this one hurt.

I really thought I had a good story for a really good market, and some part of me was certain the editor would feel the same way. The editor was quite gracious about the rejection, writing me a detailed email explaining why my story (“Runaway”) wasn’t right for his magazine. Every word he said was right, and that’s perhaps why it stung so much more than normally.

In retrospect, it was not the right story for his magazine. My story is more reflective and internal than the typical thing he publishes. Had I not been so impressed with my story and its worth, I might have realized this and not sent the mismatch.

Still, his detailed rejection response gave me plenty to fret over. While he liked the opening (and said one of his staff found one image will likely stay with her) he thought the story slowed down after that. He said it had too much back story, exposition, and reflection. That’s certainly true, but that is also pretty much what my Fathers and Sons stories are. They span three generations of men and their sometimes difficult relationships with each other. Events that happen 30 years before have influences much later. There must be some back story, and there certainly must be some reflection.

What stung the most — and I’m not saying the editor is wrong — is that he said the story was too “sentimental” for their tastes. I’m troubled by this because, I guess, it’s the only way I know how to tell the story. It’s not humor. It’s not speculative fiction. It’s about the joy and anguish of three men related to each other as fathers and sons. There is a ton of sentiment in their lives.

I realize that half the tale is in the telling, and maybe I’ve laid it on too thick in this piece, but part of me feels a little helpless. Sentimental. That’s a big word, and if it’s a flaw, it’s a big flaw.

Still, I’m already thinking about ways to revise the story to maybe diffuse the heavy dose of sentimentality in the last paragraphs. Maybe I did overdo it.

So I’ll lick my wounds and stand up straight and move on. (But it still stings.)

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4 Comments on “thick skin report ~ it stings this time”

  1. Pete Says:

    I wouldn’t waste much time fretting. The next editor might love reflective and internal stories, and even sentimental ones (if this story is even sentimental at all – that might just be this editor’s bias). I had a story several years ago (“The Last Final Copy”) that I sent to a hip journal here in Chicago, and the editor loved it but wanted me to rewrite the ending. (It was too ambiguous and open-ended for him, but those qualities were exactly the point: both of the main characters were about to lose their jobs and worked in a dying industry. So they had no idea where they would work next, thus the ambiguity.) I liked the ending, and never worked on an alternate. Then a few years later, the story was accepted and published in an anthology of stories about work – it was exactly what those editors were looking for. So, patience.

    If your Fathers & Sons stories echo and comment on each other, maybe they do better as a collection than individual stories. In which case, maybe you should focus on finishing the full collection and getting that published, instead of killing yourself finding homes for individual stories. And when the collection is done, the stories might have more appeal for a journal editor, knowing they’re smaller parts of a bigger whole. Just a thought.

  2. Annam Says:

    So much of what editors like/don’t like is so entirely subjective. I wouldn’t revise based on one person’s opinion, unless you felt the same way or had others comment similarly. If it helps you feel better– I recently got a “Dear Writer” rejection. Could not believe it!

  3. Michael Says:

    Just found your blog from your comment on mine. Sorry about this rejection…that would sting. So where can you find what you have written? I’d be interested to read some.

  4. Paul Lamb Says:

    Pete – Yep, you’re right about collecting the stories. That’s the ultimate plan. But they’re taking up so much of my mental self, that it’s good to get an occasional one validated by publication.
    Annam – I don’t know why this one felt so different from the many others I’ve received, but I’m getting over it.
    Michael – There is a link on the top right of the blog called My Stories that gives you links to all of them. Maybe you’ll enjoy them.


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