A couple of years back, I had a story do well enough at tor.com that it was hung up in submission for almost a year. Ultimately, the editor sent me some very thoughtful, smart feedback, but rejected the story.
A week or so ago, I got through a few phone interviews and up to an on-site interview at a very cool company in New York City. We’re developing a theme here, so: Rejected.
Just today, I got a reply from an agent who’d asked me for a full manuscript of The Eighth King. It was a hugely complimentary letter, honestly some of the nicest feedback I’ve ever gotten on my writing. But: Rejected.
Everyone makes the best decision they can for their business. I don’t begrudge any of these parties one iota, either for “leading me on” (scare quotes because business ≠ flirtation) in the early going or for taking a pass later. And the almost-success I’ve achieved in those three cases really does help encourage me to keep going, so I’m certainly not here to say that getting rejected with compliments after a lengthy engagement is worse in some plain, objective way than a quick form rejection.
But it does have its own particular flavor. For one thing, you can’t console yourself with “They just didn’t look quite hard enough”; this is my typical psychological self-defense against most query rejections, which are typically form letters or non-responses. When you’re the runner-up, the agent or editor definitely put a lot of time and thought into stacking you up against a very concrete, very Googleable set of competitors and found you wanting. For another, when you have gotten close enough to what everyone acknowledges is a very high bar, you can’t help but wonder about the “real” reason you fell short — if your story or your CV was in fact as badass as the agent or editor or recruiter led you to believe, or if you haven’t in fact given off some emanation of unpleasantness or unreliability that the person in charge of your fate has picked up on.
Let me emphasize that rationally, this is crazy: a very high bar is by definition hard to clear even for very strong contenders, and in the face of close competition, the reasons for rejection are going to start getting a lot less hard-edged, which is typically reflected in vague language in the feedback (although the tor.com feedback had some concrete reasons why the story fell just short — which, though I wouldn’t dream of insisting on, I hugely appreciated). But, you know, I am a pattern-matching ape just like everybody else, and when my brain can’t match a pattern, it’ll create one.
Luckily, I am also an ape that is set in its ways. Wherefore the queries will continue until morale improves. Or that’s the plan.
So this is where I am today. How are you?