Understanding slush, a primer on rejection. Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor at Tor who’s been in publishing for enough time to have developed some very advanced theories on the inner workings of the industry, has published a detailed account of the action on RejectionCollection.com, a site where writers post and complain about the rejection slips they’ve garnered from publishers.
Teresa invites us into the world of the “slushreader” — the editor who goes through the unsolicited manuscripts, deciding which will to have a chance at publication and which will go back to their creators, and then analyses the mental model of this process implicit in the RejectionCollection.com commentary. The disconnect is profound and highly thought-provoking. At the very least, this should be required reading for anyone who aspires to a career in the arts (where the stiff competition from your fellow would-bes gives decision-makers the ultimate buyer’s market).
But even if you don’t want to write or paint or sing for a living, this is important stuff, illustrating the core principles of life in a world where we strive to get busy people to recognize the merit of our contributions.
Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:
1. Author is functionally illiterate.
2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, incentiary, reeking havoc, nearly penultimate, dire straights, viscous/vicious.
5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.
(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)
I suppose the notion of a website to whine about rejection letters is inevitable in a culture that has managed to separate the notion of self-esteem from the notion of actual performance. Teresa’s post offers great insight into why “it isn’t personal, it’s just business.”