x 2 Dear Dejected
Rejected, for using this time to complete your essays, I applaud you. You may be rushing to submit your work before it is ready. You might be tempted to send out a version of your experience that is more real during a catastrophic time. It’s not enough to describe an emotion or intimate event to make a piece compelling. Why should anyone besides your boyfriend care about your fear of having sex? What bigger question are you trying to answer about your fears? Do you organize your thoughts in a focused, organic way? Is every sentence well written? Do you allow an impartial friend to read the manuscript and give you honest feedback? Did you research the publication and make sure this is the type of essay they want, not only in terms of subject, but also style and tone? They are the exception to the guidelines. The editors say they won’t read anything longer than 2,000 words, but once they start my 20,000-word essay, they’ll get hooked and accept it.
I can feel your frustration as a writer who has spent many years editing other people’s work. Most editors struggle to keep up with all the emails, manuscripts, and phone calls that come at them. They are reading and responding to a lot of pitches and submissions, as well as negotiating rates and contracts, editing the work they have accepted for publication, arranging for artwork to accompany each piece, and attending meetings with colleagues. Editors prefer to work on their own work than work on yours. Ordinary transactions are going to be more fraught now that most of them are editing from their kitchen table.
You shouldn’t ask an editor to explain why they didn’t accept your work. Editors wouldn’t have time to edit the essays they accept if they were to respond to every submission they reject. Asking someone why they won’t publish you is like asking someone why they don’t want to date you. Do you want to hear that they like you but don’t feel the need to take the relationship to a higher level, but you do?
Rejected, if you keep getting turned down by the same publication, maybe you should take the hint. Persistence is admirable if you persist in sending a personal essay about your struggle against bulimics to a publication that wants formal, well-researched articles on current events. You can either read the magazine’s guidelines and write an essay that will fulfill them, or you can submit the essay you have already written somewhere else.
You should be happy if an editor encourages you to send more work after rejecting an essay. The editor really wants to read what you send them next. Female writers and writers of color are discouraged by rejections and rarely submit new work, while white male writers immediately send another dozen essays. No editor would risk getting buried in an onslaught of submissions from a writer they don’t respect so take such invitations seriously and send that editor your best new work.
The truth is that your essay, as moving, original, and poetic as it is, isn’t as good as the two or three submissions the editors found room to print. If an editor is knocked out by your potential, they won’t offer advice on how to revise it. How angry would you be if the editor turned the piece down a second time?
My experience as both an editor and a writer is that at least 85% of the time, the editor is right in pointing out the weakness in a manuscript, even if their suggestion for how to fix that weakness isn’t as effective as the solution you might come up with. When I was younger, I would get so upset by an editor’s response that I would dash off a heated argument or start revising immediately. You should allow your emotions to cool before reacting. A lot of editing is required for almost every submission that is accepted for publication. My editor friend was upset that writers thought his heavy mark-ups were meant to show contempt. He said that they were editing hard because they believed in the piece.
Not Rejected brings me to you. All of us feel angry, insulted, frustrated, depressed, and sick to our stomachs when a draft we thought was ready for publication comes back covered with a vine of comments. We think how dare you! Why did you accept my essay if you hated it so much? You are trying to show who is your boss.
Allow an editor’s comments to trickle through your consciousness instead of jumping in with a quick response. Suggestions will make sense to you. You already know that you should cut that paragraph, smooth out those awkward sentences, fill in that missing context, and include a scene or two to relieve all that exposition. Your editor forced you to admit what you knew and meet your own high standards. Editors spend hours, even weeks, editing a submission, only to have the writer get so angry, intimidated, or scared that they refuse to work on it further. The editor loses time and the writer loses the chance to see the piece in print when they lose the time they invested.
You might not know how to accomplish a particular revision if you accept what your editor suggests. Don’t be afraid to ask the editor more questions. Editors help their writers revise their work. If you don’t send five emails in a row or need too much hand holding, your editor will help you.
Other suggestions will make you think you are too difficult to carry out. How can you restructure your essay without taking it apart? Do you want to do more research than you have already done? Do you rethink your argument? You can sense that following your editor’s suggestion will improve your work. You will find your heart racing as you think about how much better your essay will be once you revise it.
As an outsider, your editor can alert you that an argument isn’t logical or that you have omitted a detail that is crucial to our understanding of your narrative. Your editor will not see the flaw if you argue all you want. Their suggestion as to how to revise your essay might be incorrect. If you can come up with a more elegant way to fix the weakness, your editor will appreciate you.
Argumentation does little to improve an editor’s advice. The editor might point out an aspect of your essay that is unclear. You want to scream. Can you not read? There is an explanation on the page. You are closer to the material than your editor. Paragraph five of the article mentioned that your soccer coach was your mother’s brother. Most people will read more quickly than that editor. Most readers won’t even know what a transmission is, so you might be so good at fixing it that you don’t realize.
Don’t get too precious about your prose. An editor might change or destroy a sentence by cutting a word. The benefit of eliminating wordiness and repetition outweighs the loss of a rhythm only you can hear. The editor can make your usage conform to the publication’s style guide. Unless you are a poet, such small changes are not worth the argument. Your editor’s voice is used instead of yours for passages. If you acknowledge the original sentence was confusing or awkward, you can point out the new version doesn’t match the style of the rest of the essay and then change the editor’s version so it sounds like you.
If your editor pushes you to make changes you can’t abide, hold your ground and politely. Let’s say your editor wants you to cut a scene that is emotionally moving, beautifully expressed, and essential to the essay’s meaning. You might want to ask a friend if the editor’s suggestion is misguided. Wait to bring up the disagreement until you have fulfilled all of the editor’s requests. Thank the suggestions that improved the essay. Explain how and why you disagree with the advice to cut that scene. To clarify its importance, offer to add a sentence or two. If the changes your editor has suggested come across as sexist or racist, tactfully point this out.
If you don’t fight with your editor over the difference between a colon and a semicolon, you can save yourself a lot of time. You might not be able to hold up in court. If you haven’t made your intentions clear, your editor may push you to take your piece in a different direction than you intended. Make sure you can articulate the essay’s central question and line of thought before you begin drafting a defensive email. There is a line of argument on the page. Thank your editor for pointing out the lack of focus and promise to revise accordingly.
If you treat your editor well, they will back down from their suggestion. I’ve known editors who admitted that they were wrong.