Rejection Slips: Doing the Devil's Work
Anna Yeatts, publisher of Flash Fiction Online, writes about the painfully necessary task of sending out rejection slips.
Isaac Asimov said, “Rejection slips, or form letters, no matter how tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them.”
Growing up, I was that kid—the bookish one in the front row who the teacher left in charge when she left the room. There was never any doubt that I would remain quietly in my seat, reading my book, while silently imploring the rest of the class to please be good. The last thing I wanted was to identify the whispered voices in the back of class and make the long trek from my seat to the blackboard and write a name on the board. (Yes, I’m that old. Actual chalk was involved.) But I would do it. Because it was my job.
I am a publisher. It’s the type of thing that’s said at the beginning of a self help meeting. “Hello, my name is Anna and I am a (fill in the blank).” Only in my case, I’m either the person responsible for sending out those dreaded rejection slips, or the new (temporary) owner of an author’s darling—their manuscript, upon which I will work my evil capitalistic mojo, while trying to usurp their rights at every turn.
With Big Publishing going the way of the dinosaurs, publishing in the modern era has gained a bad reputation.
As publishers, our street cred is a bit dire. Just swing by WriterBeware, or any of the other Publisher/Editor/Agent warning message boards floating around the internet. Take a good look. There are some shady publishing deals going down. Rights grabs. Non-existent royalty statements. Non-compete clauses shutting authors out of writing any other manuscripts, including blog posts. Massive pre-payments to vanity presses (we’re talking up to $8,000 out of the author's pocket) to self-pub your own novel. A required number of reviews within a novel’s first week (fifty, at some venues, because of course that’s a reasonable number for every author to shoot for). Basically, if there’s a way for the publishing house to squeeze an extra cent out of story, there’s a publisher out there doing just that.
Based on these kinds of tactics, if everyone in the industry was being chased by plaque-infected mutants, publishers would be thrown in front of the horde. So yeah, it’s a great time to stand up and self-identity as a publisher.
To be fair, I run Flash Fiction Online, a professional semi-prozine and a SFWA qualifying market. It’s not exactly a major publishing house churning out millions of dollars worth of ebooks every year, and the vast majority of my interactions are overwhelmingly positive. Most authors are delightful and their requested contract emendations reasonable. When in doubt, I do my very best (I swear on my laptop) to err on the side of the author—because I’m an author too.
My people (as I like to call them) are writers, and they are important to me on both a personal and professional basis. My reputation in this industry is all I have to go on when I ask an author to trust me with their manuscript. Tarnish that, and authors will think twice before working with me. I know how I like to be treated—for both my work and myself to be treated with respect—I like polite, personalized replies when I have questions, and speedy payment that doesn’t bounce. And I like to keep my rights. I wrote it. It’s mine. Yes, the publisher can borrow it for a while, but eventually I’m going to want it back, please and thank you.
Equality in publishing based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or ability is easily another essay all on its own. And those are tricky waters to navigate. There are things that I, as a cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied Caucasian female, will never be able to fully wrap my head around. But my job is to do the best I can for every single story that comes across my virtual desk, because that is exactly what I hope for with my own manuscripts.
So when a rejection letter lands in my own mailbox, I wince. I do. But not the way I did as a rookie. A rejection is really not personal. A story fits a particular magazine at just the right time. Maybe the theme is wrong, the issue full, or there are too many stories about cats this month—there are so many possible factors that weigh into each decision to buy, which the author rarely knows about. But for all my flaws, I don’t relish sending rejection letters anymore than I do receiving them. Maybe it’s my half-baked notion of karma.
Or maybe I hope that someday when I stand up and say, “Hi. My name is Anna and I’m a (fill in the blank),” the answer will be “decent human being.” Until then, I’ll be over here writing, and publishing a little monthly magazine that brings me a tremendous amount of joy. Maybe you’ll even swing by and read it someday. Or better yet, send me a story.
Anna Yeatts publishes Flash Fiction Online, a monthly literary and genre magazine that brings her great joy and an overwhelming number of submissions about cats. When not fielding a never-ending slush pile, Anna writes horror and dark fantasy. Her short fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Mslexia, and Penumbra eMagazine, among other print and online venues. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @AnnaYeatts, or on her website.