Rejection Is Not Feedback
October 26, 2017 § 65 Comments
I need a sweater. So I go to the mall. (The mall is a temple of consumerism with an indoor ski slope overlooked by The Cheesecake Factory, because I live in Dubai.)
The first store specializes in argyle sweaters. Argyle is just not my thing. Do I:
A) Assume this brand is garbage and everything they will ever make is argyle.
B) Say “no thank you,” and head for another store, dismissing argyle from my mind because it’s not that big a deal, I’m shopping all day anyway and hey, someone else is going to love diamond plaids.
In the second store, I see a terrific red sweater. It’s got sleeves of exactly the right length and those cool little thumbholes so you can pull the wristbands over your hands, and it’s super soft. Then I look at the tag, and it’s 30% wool, which I am allergic to and makes me itch. Do I:
A) Laugh heartily at the incompetence and stupidity of anyone who would dare make a sweater with wool in it, exiting the store in the grip of near-hysteria?
B) Sigh, because it was otherwise just perfect, and remember the store because they will probably have something else I like another time, maybe a dress or a coat that is totally perfect instead of mostly perfect.
In the third store, I lay eyes on a gorgeous blue sweater. Sleeves, check. Thumbholes, check. No wool, check. In fact, it’s glorious!
My husband already bought me a blue sweater yesterday. I like that one too, and it came from a no-returns store (also a thing in Dubai), and today I really want a red one. Do I:
A) Think whoever made this sweater sucks, and they should never make another garment.
B) Sigh sadly because I already have a blue sweater, and resume the hunt for a red one.
You get where we’re going, right?
Rejection is not feedback.
Rejection is not feedback.
No really. Rejection. Is not. Feedback.
As writers submitting our work, we often get mad at ourselves and the process when our work is rejected. It’s easy to feel they thought my work was terrible, or I’m a bad writer, or I’ll never be any good.
None of those things can be determined from any single rejection.
The process of reading work for publication is not the process of reading to give feedback. When journal editors read, yes, they are evaluating the overall quality of the work. But they’re also asking, Does this fit our mission? Do I personally like it? Did we already accept something similar last week? They are assessing where the work fits in the overall structure of the magazine and its mission. A piece that isn’t the right fit must be let go, regardless of how good it is.
Our job as writers is to display our work to its best advantage, with skilled craft and professional format on the page. To enlist friends and fellow writers and teachers and mentors to give us constructive criticism, and to incorporate the notes that help us write the best essay or story or book we can. To do many drafts until we truly feel a piece is ready to send out. And that’s where our control stops. We can’t make the customer want our particular sweater–we can only be ready with an excellent sweater when they walk in, or a rack of sweaters we’ve prepared to appeal to a selection of shoppers. We must focus on knowing our buyers, reading their journals, finding out about their taste and style and mission and what else they recently bought–not agonizing about why one person didn’t want one thing.
Rejection is market research.
One rejection tells us one specific thing: this journal couldn’t use this piece at this time. None of those variables is a judgment on the quality of our work. Once we have ten or twenty or fifty rejections, that’s enough information to start reassessing. Is the piece really ready? Have I gotten any personal comments in my rejections? Have I gotten an outside opinion from a reader I trust? We don’t get better from nursing hurt feelings. Considering the answers to those questions helps us improve.
Rejection will always sting at least a little. For me, it hurts less when I have more submissions out, and when I remember that rejection is part of the job, that a 10% acceptance rate is excellent for a full-time professional writer and more than that is gravy.
Every “no thank you” is proof we’re doing the work, and getting our work out there. Any single “no thank you” is the equivalent of a single shopper not buying a single sweater–one failed transaction says nothing about that particular piece.
Besides, it’s Dubai. No matter how amazing it looks and feels, nobody needs a freaking sweater. Anybody got a nice cotton tunic?
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!
Thank you, Allison. I needed that. Onward and ever hopeful!
Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog.
RIGHT ( write) -ON! thank you.
This heals my faith on my own works. Thank you so much!
A good reminder. Thank you 🙂
A great analogy. Thank you–sharing with all my writer friends!
Perhaps the most generous thing a person could write for other writers. Especially as I had a mini breakdown about finding a new career last night. But maybe all sweaters are garbage? Who knows.
You can do it!
Oh how many ways can I relate to this! Years ago I wrote a “rejection letter” in response to those I was getting. It’s here on my web site, reminding me how I’ve managed to survive in this writing life for over 20 years: https://umakrishnaswami.org/for-writers/ (Scroll down to the end). You can see why your post resonates with me. I’ll pass this link along to the students I now work with, a generation of whom are now starting to publish and establish writing lives of their own. Finally, I’m a knitter, so the sweater analogy is akin to yarn shopping for me.
Another great analogy! And enjoyed your post!
Get a cotton tunic with matching soft
t cotton underwear.
Excellent. Thank you for this. Wonderful reminder.
A fabulous post. I loved the comparisons you used here, Allison. Thank you.
Your extended analogy is excellent. Thank you for this, Allison. I needed this today!
Thank you Allison this has increase my faith in my writing
Thanks for this post… I like the clothing analogy. It makes a lot of sense.
[…] like I do, especially when you want something so badly. But, after reading the post on Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog Rejection is not feedback written by Allison K Williams; I think I probably need to hear or feel a bit rejected a bit more […]
A thunderous applause for this.
Reblogged this on Indie Lifer.
I truly like people, but rejection is met by rejection on the other side. A doctor once told me that you can only be angry (or traumatized for that matter) by those you love. That said, I truly hate some of the things people do. I hated divorce, and everything that went along with it, but I lived through it and I truly love the two women that I divorced with. That is not to say that everything was peachy keen or not painful. I won’t mention it again and I care for constructive criticism within context, not destructive banter and gossip from others that will never ever understand. As Always, Dano
Well said, I will be sharing this with some fellow writers that I know. Thank you for sharing.
Sometimes rejection IS feedback. Sometimes the sweater has holes or loose threads or three sleeves instead of two.
As I mention above, look for a pattern, rather than extrapolating from a single rejection.
They say that some garments have four tassels and a star. I like to think that those frayed shirts that are SO much more comfortable than any shirt and tie that I might wear, have more character than any three-piece suit. Wouldn’t you agree? As always, Dano
Reblogged this on Lightning Droplets and commented:
Thinking about doing another submission bonanza soon. This is a helpful read.
Thanks for the reblog!
You are absolutely right. But when you keep receiving rejection on a work, even if you keep working at it based on whatever feedback you do get… you have to assume something is wrong with it.
Unfortunately, you’ll probably never know what it is…
Depends on the kind of feedback you’re getting 🙂 I’d say, if you honestly feel a piece is the best it can be, and it’s still racking up rejections, ask a writer or editor who you believe to be skilled to read it and honestly tell you the problem.
Terry Heyman mentioned this in an interview: “For me, hiring a professional for an objective critique was money well spent. Friends may not be comfortable telling you harsh truths about your writing nor recognize them.” Here’s the whole interview – http://www.jimbreslin.com/blog/2017/4/27/on-writing-terry-heyman-on-her-mcsweeneys-obsession
Thanks. I’ll read it ^_^
Two different editors worked at my stories (I’m well past the stage ‘let friends and family read my work’) and they both had words of appreciation. Which makes it even more frustrating…
I agree–getting an objective reader is a good idea. But if you already did that and still don’t have a sense of why this isn’t clicking on submission, there could be a lot of things going on:
1. Could it be just a matter of taste? Then you need to find an editor whose tastes align with your work.
2. Is the market saturated with the subject or the style or something else related to your work?
3. Or the opposite–are you ahead of your time?
I had work accepted a couple of years ago that had been rejected 10 years earlier. I reworked it before sending out again, so does that mean it really got better? Well, maybe. I’m a different writer now. But it’s also possible that the time wasn’t right for it.
I loved the way you did this !
#1: Such a great reminder, thank you. #2: Now I want to visit Dubai.
I’ll show you around, ski slope and all 🙂
The tedium, frustration and exhaustion that shopping engenders in my is very much in line with the challenges of submission. A nice analogy. And sometimes, you just have to move on from the red sweater and shop for something else. Perhaps the perfect red sweater will present itself at some other outing down the line. Meanwhile, tend to the knitting (to mix the metaphors) – write something new.
I’m still fixated on the indoor ski slope. It must cost a bajillion dollars to keep it running, in the middle of the desert. And I have to know: If you fall, do they send out a Saint Bernard with a little brandy cask?
Good advice on rejection, but you’ve overloaded my attention span.
Uh…couldn’t you have told this story without the way-more-interesting indoor ski slope in Dubai…?
It is insanely wasteful 🙂 I have not seen St Bernards but they do have a penguin encounter…maybe one of them waddles out with a snifter?
Just what I needed to read today, thank you! I especially appreciated the 10% comment, so good to know.
Shockingly reassuring, right? I was at a panel discussion at a conference, and someone asked what a good acceptance rate was. Six full-time writers were all nodding solemnly at 10% and everyone in the room was floored!
Reblogged this on theshammuramat.
Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio.
Great examples for creating perspective on rejection. Thanks!
[…] Thank goodness I’m lazy and don’t post often. I’ve found that this seemingly negative personality trait leads to the universe covering for me. If I wait long enough, the post I would have written–intended to write–appears out of thin air (or on my Twitter feed). In this case it’s on Brevity Magazine’s blog, a post by Allison Williams called “Rejection Is Not Feedback.” […]
Thank you for your advice. As a would be author often doing the hard work to make your writing shine is daunting to say the least. It is all about writing interesting characters, plots and dialogue and making it catch the reader on the very first pages. If you do not catch their interest right away they are not going to read it.
Knit the best sweater we can 🙂
Such a helpful perspective—thank you! I’m encouraging all of the writers I know to read this post.
Thank you for spreading the word! Glad you liked 🙂
I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know where you were going until you told me. I was thinking that mall sounds awesome and who knew Allison liked to shop that much~ Oy! Great advice always worth repeating.
I just had my paper rejected yesterday, and wrote a piece about how awful it made me feel. So if ever I needed to hear your insightful advice. It is now. Thank you.
Great advice, and an awesome motto to have!
Great post, and for me this was a perfect sweater this morning!
Wonderful, just plain wonderful. Thank you for posting this.
so true and wonderful, would love for you to check out my site 🙂
Great piece. I wrote a blog post on rejection as well. If anyone is interested, you can find it at this link. https://teachinganoldcooknewtricks.blogspot.com/2017/10/ill-probably-get-rejected.html
Reblogged this on A Witch of a Woman.
[…] publishers were looking for, for this particular submission call (I highly recommend checking out this article by Allison K Williams for a helpful perspective on dealing with rejection). Don’t feel as […]
You’re totally right! Rejection doesn’t count as feedback and we shouldn’t be pursuaded to think so!
Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
Regular readers know I champion self-publishing…
Still, there are folks who just don’t want to do it…
Today’s re-blog is for them 🙂
Every single choice we make in life is a rejection of an alternative choice and that rule applies to ordering lunch, our career, our friends and just about everything else.
We don’t want or expect Feedback from the chef as to what we didn’t select for lunch, or Feedback from anybody about the life style choices we didn’t make.
Rejection is simply the opposite of selection and Feedback isn’t going to change either option.
Live with rejection, it happens everyday to all of us and putting greater importance on one rejection above all the others isn’t going to change anything.
Enjoy your selections and don’t worry about any rejections.
[…] query with energy but without hope. Treat it like a trip to the mall. You’d like to find a great new jacket, but you’re not devastated if your favorite […]
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