I saw the contest about six months before it was to open. Oh, I know the subject! He went to my college, briefly. Let me read one of his works. Saaaay…..I could really write a kick-ass story about seance from the future, all that stuff. I spent an entire week on research. Timeline, idiom, writing patterns. Wrote it, proofread it, had The Wonderful WIfe ™ go over it, revised, you know the drill.
Submitted it. Made the first cut. Got past the second screen. Into the final round – 25 stories out of some 200 submitted. Even had a dream where the tale not only got accepted, but made the cover. Two weeks later, I get the email that I have been rejected.
I read it on the train ride home, closed the laptop, and sat, stunned, for about twenty minutes until the train makes my station. I somehow manage to drive home without plating some pedestrian across my hood. Get home, mumble to the sons, TWW is not home yet. Climb into bed, and sleep until 2am.
Yeah, I was that perturbed. I was almost too wiped out to talk to the editor, but I did. She was quite nice about the whole thing. She explained:
Your story was good. It’s hard to make an epistolary style work against stories with direct action,
I think. There wasn’t anything wrong with the story, really. It just didn’t really work with the other stories we ultimately decided to publish. But I really would see to see more of your work in the future. Thanks for the great read–
You know what? I got back on that porch and started writing again. Sometimes, the story is good enough to accept, but sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest, and they can’t accept it. If I continued to lay in the fetal position, sucking my thumb, I never would have found out that I cleared the ‘pro-level’ hurdle. I would continue to doubt my ability, to my detriment.
The lesson: Always politely ask the editor where you failed. Sometimes the answer will surprise you. Check out the ‘rejection’ tag on here – I write about it a lot.