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What writers and editors want each other to know about rejection

Plus, how to cope with receiving them.

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Not the final word

As journalists know, there are always two sides of the story. Writers have their strong opinions about rejections. Editors do as well. I also had the opportunity to talk with editor Amy Cipolla Barnes, who wrote that the biggest misconception about rejections is that a “no” from one editor is the final word. She said, “If you write a topic well or in a way that fits with [a] journal, it will find a place.” 

For writers, that’s an important thing to remember. One rejection or even 10 rejections does not mean the article will never see the light of day elsewhere. I’ve had articles I’ve spent years dreaming about writing and have received many rejections. After trying many times, I found them homes. 

Adding to that idea, Cipolla Barnes said, “Each decision is only a moment in time. There are specific editorial needs and issue space (especially in print) that might make a piece a ‘no’ when another month it could be a ‘yes.’” Sometimes it’s a matter of what the publication has left in its freelancing budget or what else it has in the queue. It’s a good reminder that the pitch may be a perfectly good one, but the timing does not work out. Sometimes it’s all about finding the right outlet with the right editor at the right time.

Rejection isn’t easy for anyone

While it may seem that editors send out rejections at the drop of a hat, Cipolla Barnes said that many editors “agonize over declines as much as an acceptance.” They are often writers themselves and have experienced plenty of rejection.

Cipolla Barnes said, “When editors send rejections, they imagine their own work in the queue and wonder at the enormous talent of writers that they have to send declines to. When you read hundreds of submissions, it is eye-opening and colors how editors take in their own rejections. I think I’ve learned far more about writing by being a reader and editor than through my own writing.”

Christopher Monks, editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, noted in a 2019 Vulture article about rejections, “I’ll be the first to admit that sending rejections is a lot easier than receiving rejections, but just the same, ‘killing dreams’ (as my wife refers to it) is not something I look forward to.” Few editors enjoy the experience of rejecting people’s work.

And some editors are very careful when they reject the work. Cipolla Barnes noted that she tries to avoid sending rejections on sensitive holidays. She said, “There are often very touching essays about mothers and babies around Mother’s Day. They might be rejected only because they were submitted too close to the holiday, not the content or the writing. I’m not going to send a rejection for an essay on child loss on Mother’s Day. It can wait.”

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