Rejection is part of being a writer, and a writer must have a thick skin. Yet I could not help but be disappointed when my short story, "Death Rattle," was rejected by the editor of an anthology. Now any author is most often the worst judge of his own writing, but given the reaction of readers in a former writing group and my own re-reading of the story, it is by far the strongest story I have written. A writer must realize, however, that rejection occurs for many reasons, and editors are often too busy to send back any reply other than a form letter. It may be that the anthology was not considering Southern Gothic stories--and the editor of a traditional horror anthology may not believe that that kind of story is a good fit with the others. What I do know now is that while I hope to work on novels and screenplays for the professional market, when it comes to short stories I am more willing to send them to literary magazines who may not offer monetary compensation. I would like people to read a short story; if I want to make money, I could write magazine articles or ad copy and do that. There are so many quality writers who work with short stories, and the competition is so fierce, and horror editors are so picky, that I now believe it would be better to write more literary works with perhaps Southern Gothic or horror elements and send them to literary magazines. Many writers are more comfortable, as I am, with large-scale projects such as novels or full-length screenplays (although I do enjoy writing poetry). Literary fiction may have its problems, but genre fiction is becoming too much about the "in crowd" and not enough about writing a work of art that through the story communicates insight (as do Shakespeare's plays) about the human condition. Would Ray Bradbury's short stories be accepted today by a horror or science fiction magazine or anthology. Perhaps it would have a chance in Fantasy and Science Fiction, which still publishes some fine literary works, but even some the best genre magazines still publish works that I cannot believe get published. The dirty little secret in writing is that while quality is important--you cannot get total crap published--an editor's aesthetic taste, which is notoriously subjective, ultimate makes the difference between acceptance or rejection. There is no shame in that; it is not wrong for this to be the case. Editors decide which stories are accepted to a journal or to an anthology, and their aesthetic preferences inevitably shape the contents of the magazine. That is why it is essential for writers to read magazines and find which ones publish stories similar to those the author writes. When I did that a few years ago with my poems, I sent ten sets out, and two magazines published poems--and believe me, 20% is pretty darned good in poetry. Short stories are much more difficult to publish--I know one writer who simultaneously submitted a story to forty journals--one published her story, and after that breakthrough, other editors were more willing to examine her work.
No one is being evil or devious. Editors are not evil b....rds trying to screw over writers' careers to break their spirits. They are people who love literature and self-sacrificially edit literary magazines and anthologies, often with little thanks and much derision from frustrated writers. Some editors are under pressure to accept only what will sell--and what will sell may not be writing of the highest literary quality, especially in today's dumbed-down world.
I have had a great deal of success this year in some respects--a screenplay making finalist in two contests, for instance. The frustration of having another short story rejected, though, really got to me today. Still, I will try to, with God's help, create the best work of art I can, hopefully one that can be called a thing of beauty, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.