Just One Editor’s Opinion
By Vonnie Winslow Crist
This is the first tale of perseverance I usually tell a writers’ group or classroom. It’s not a pretty tale, and alas, it is only one among many moments in my writing and illustration career where good old-fashion determination opened a door. Or in this case, a magazine page.
I’d already had several dozen poems published in literary and speculative (science-fiction, fantasy, horror) magazines in both the USA and UK when I started to submit fiction. My stories were very short at the time – barely drifting to word counts above the flash fiction level. Still, it was a big step for me to leave the comfortable poetry niche and venture into the unknown world of prose.
When you have even slight success publishing your writing (which you can cheerfully list in your cover letter), many people think all of your worries vanish. I’m here to tell you, “Nope!”
Whether you’ve had one story or 100 published, the acceptance or rejection letter will most likely be based on one editor’s opinion. What if the editor is having a bad day when they read your submission? What if the editor has a cold or their babysitter didn’t show up or they had a fight with their mom or a deer ate their bean plants or… Well, you get the idea.
Let’s get back to the story: I’d completed an odd tale about animal crackers. Using a market source similar to www.ralan.com , I’d found several markets which sounded like they might be a good fit for “Animal Crackers.”
I carefully typed (yes, I’m talking a typewriter) a copy of “Animal Crackers” along with a cover letter. Then, I folded the 6 pages of white paper in thirds, and slipped the submission along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope into an envelope carefully addressed to a small press speculative magazine published in New England.
How do I know it was six pages? In those days, you could send a cover letter, a 5-page story (or 5 poems), and a SASE for one stamp. If you sent 7 pages or used really “good” paper, then the envelope was too heavy and you needed to get it weighed at the post office. (I live in a rural area, so the Post Office is not close).
While I waited to hear from New England Editor, I worked on other stories and poems. About 10 days later, my SASE arrived in my mailbox. Hoping for an acceptance, I opened the envelope and read one editor’s opinion of my story. I will paraphrase, but rest assured this is nearly a word-for-word rejection letter:
“Dear Mr. Crist (yes, I am a Ms.), This is to inform you we won’t be using ‘Animal Crackers.’ It is a terrible story, and I see no value in your writing. Please do not send anything else to us. In fact, I would encourage you to stop writing and find something else to do with your time. Regards, New England Editor”
For a minute, maybe 2, I felt like crying. The rejection note was personal and unkind. What sort of person would write such a mean rejection? Then, I did what I’ve done many times since, I sat up straight and looked up the next magazine on my list of prospective publishers for “Animal Crackers.”
New England Editor had returned my story in excellent condition: no tears, no coffee stains, no smell of cigarettes – so I didn’t even retype the story. I wrote a new (though nearly identical) cover letter to Virginia Editor, slipped it and the story along with a SASE into an envelope and sent it to the next small press magazine on my list. Then, I went back to work on other stories and poems.
About 10 days later, my SASE arrived in my mailbox. I opened the envelope and read one editor’s opinion of my story. I will paraphrase, but again, this is nearly a word-for-word acceptance letter:
“Dear Ms. Crist, This is to inform you we will be using ‘Animal Crackers.’ It is a wonderful story. Please send us more of your work for future issues. You should receive your contributor’s copy in about 6 weeks. Best Wishes, Virginia Editor.”
So why an acceptance the 2nd time around? Both Editor #1 and #2 were male and about the same age, ran a speculative small press magazine, paid in free copies, and had similar circulation numbers. Both editors had professional credentials of about the same level.
The difference between a nasty rejection and a gushing acceptance letter was simply: One Editor’s Opinion. Whether an editor loves your work or hates it often has nothing to do with your writing. It can have everything to do with the editor and what’s going on in their life. Or perhaps, the editor has just accepted a story thematically similar to yours or maybe they have a prejudice against stories told in the first-person or they only have room for a 2,500-word tale or…
Rejection letters are not something to shed tears over, rather they should challenge you to submit again (and again and again if necessary). You need to believe in your writing. Let me repeat that, you need to believe in your writing. Double-check for errors (or coffee stains) and submit rejected work to another editor. Because in the end, it’s just one editor’s opinion.
Vonnie Winslow Crist’s poems, fiction, and nonfiction have been published in Italy, Spain, Finland, Australia, Canada, the UK and USA. Her YA fantasy novel, “The Enchanted Skean,” was a 2014 Compton Crook Award Finalist, and both of her recent story collections, “Owl Light” and “The Greener Forest,” were voted Top Ten Books in the P&E Readers Poll. A Pushcart nominee and 2-times Writers of the Future Honorable Mention winner, Vonnie’s stories regularly appear in speculative anthologies and magazines.