Rejection Letter Revisited

The following is a personalized rejection letter I received from Every Day Fiction back in 2011. You might be asking yourself why I’m publicly displaying my failure. The answer: I learned from it. Someone in my writing group learned from it. And maybe – just maybe – you can learn from it, too. At the very least, it can be a comforting reminder: Rejection happens to everyone – not just you.

Dear Gretchen Bassier,

Thank you for your submission to Every Day Fiction. I regret to inform you that we are unable to use it at this time.

Very competent prose here, and I liked the buzzing of bees metaphor that you used throughout for Allison. The switcheroo was obviously a nice twist, especially in light of that fact that the attributes given to the other “patients” were all very reasonable and dark-edged when the roles were reversed. This is a close story for me, because I like the twist and enjoyed the flow, but I wanted something a little more from it. I wanted the twist to lead to some other plot development, such as figuring out what was behind the locked doors (the wail from beyond was a foreshadow begging for more). This doesn’t go much further than introducing the switch and then ending, giving it a “first chapter” feel.
— Joseph Kaufman

The prose is pretty solid, except I noticed a typo at the very end with Brute instead of Bruce. The author sets the stage nicely, and this has a very cool Shutter Island sort of feel to it. That said, I’m concerned that this plot has been overdone and that it won’t feel fresh enough to our readers.
— Sealey Andrews

The story was well told and gave the reader many things to be curious about. I liked the imagery in the piece and the use of figurative language in the beginning of the story with the bees. Though I’m left confused- I’m not sure what has happened at the end and think it would need to be played out better for the reader to understand. I get the feeling it is some kind of twist- but I don’t know what the twist was.
— S. A. Ross

Great introduction that really draws the reader in. This story has some good description, too, and the beehive metaphor works.
While the initial dialogue is useful in a show-don’t-tell sort of way, it’s not very unique. This story could start shortly before the forbidden door appears with just a quick summary.
But then things get interesting! Bruce is terrifying and poor Shiri has issues. The perspective totally flips.
This ends up nicely.
— Shelley Dayton

There’s sometimes a fine line between stories that challenge readers preconceptions (which done right, are good) and those that seem to be set ups for trick endings. Here it’s “they’re not really staffers, they’re patients!” The other readers are mixed on this; my feeling is that this one isn’t quite what we’re looking for. I’ll send it along for a final opinion.
— John Towler

Well written with interesting characters, but I’ve seen this twist before (and the reverse of it too, that the “patients” are really staffers), and since the point of the story seems to be the twist itself (rather than character development or a plot beyond the twist) it left me slightly flat.
— Camille Gooderham Campbell

Breaking It Down

As you can see, there are six different critiques in this rejection letter. A six-critique rejection letter is highly unusual, and I think it speaks volumes about EDF’s commitment to helping writers – especially new ones – succeed. I’ve yet to encounter another magazine where every reader takes the time to write detailed comments on every single piece submitted. To this day, it still amazes me.

The reviews are, as one editor mentioned, very mixed. Almost every reader had a different reaction to the story. If you look closely, however, you can see two common threads: 1.) Several readers had seen this plot twist used before, and 2.) There wasn’t enough substance to make the story complete. These are the main two reasons that the story was ultimately rejected – lack of originality, and lack of change.

Re: Lack of Originality:

I once heard a published novelist say that book editors claim to be looking for fresh material, but they’re really not. Novel publishers want something safe. Something proven. Something that will sell. Otherwise, it’s too much of a gamble. And that makes perfect sense – for BOOKS. Short story publishers, on the other hand, are a completely different species. When it comes to short stories, fresh, edgy and innovative are all the rage. Magazines can afford to push boundaries and try new things because there are typically multiple stories per issue – if one particular story flops, there are plenty of others to make up for it. Many mags actually have lists of plotlines and character types they see too often. Read these lists carefully. Read ‘em and heed ‘em.

Re: Lack of Change:

This is exactly what I was talking about in my post The Whole Story. I said I had rejection letters to prove my point, and now you’ve seen one of them. A story isn’t a story without change. Characters need to grow. Stuff needs to happen. There’s only one magazine I know of that doesn’t require a complete story. I think it’s called Vignettes, and I’m pretty sure my story didn’t even qualify as one of those. Remember: A twist ending, on its own, does not a story make.

Hurts So Good

The awesome thing about getting a personalized rejection is that you know exactly why your piece didn’t make the cut. The sucky thing about personalized rejections: you know EXACTLY why your piece didn’t make the cut. Gone are all the little lies you try to tell yourself about why your undeniably incredible story somehow got rejected. No more “Maybe the slush reader just got dumped by her hot boyfriend” or “Maybe they only read the first paragraph and didn’t really give the story a chance.” It wasn’t the slush reader, and it wasn’t an unfair partial reading. It was the story.

That said, not all of the news was bad. They didn’t say I was a crappy writer, just that this particular story didn’t work. In fact, you may notice that most of the readers followed the feedback guidelines I talked about HERE, including positive comments to balance out the criticism. Some nice little nuggets for me to cling onto until the rejection-burn wore off.

And this one did sting – I remember just feeling frozen as I sat there reading the letter for the first time. Kind of crushed, actually. I took it personally (which it never is) and became defensive, wanting to explain some of my creative choices, like the reason I included the handshake scene, or that fact that the “typo” was actually intentional. I had the letter all planned out in my head. I can’t tell you how pathetically grateful I am that I never actually wrote or sent it. Besides being unprofessional and sounding like a whiny two-year-old, it would have accomplished nothing except to annoy the people who spent valuable time trying to help me. Above all, it would have damaged any future chances of being published by the magazine. Thankfully, the intelligent portion of my brain took charge, and I wrote a simple note thanking the staff for their detailed comments.

Now that I’ve had a bit more experience with the submission-rejection cycle, the big “R” isn’t such a troubling thing to find in my inbox anymore. I just sigh, feel bummed out for a few minutes, and then move on. Every now and then, there’s one that I can’t quite shrug off. Usually it’s only when I a.) really thought I had a good chance, b.) really love the magazine, and/or c.) don’t have many/any other submissions out there. I can’t do much to curb a.) and b.), but c.) is an easy fix, and there are a few other things you can do to minimize your trauma and handle the big “R” like a graceful pro:

Some DOs and DON’Ts

DO stagger your submissions, making sure you have several pieces out to several different mags (I like to call this “Keeping Hope Alive”)

DO let yourself feel a little sad about rejection, especially if your hopes were up, BUT,

DON’T EVER act on the urge to defend your work to a publisher who’s already said “no”

DON’T get your hopes TOO high (if you can help it)

DON’T obsess over waiting for one particular result – learn to let each one go and move on to the next project

DO write a “thank you” note if you are lucky enough to get personalized feedback (UNLESS the magazine’s guidelines discourage it)

DO send the same piece to five different markets at once (if they all allow simultaneous subs), but…

DON’T send the same piece to eighty different markets all at once – after the first wave of comments comes in, you may want to make changes before sending the piece out again

DON’T get so caught up in submissions and rejections that you forget why you started writing in the first place

And, above all, DON’T let rejection stop you. If writing is in your heart and your blood and your dreams, then YOU ARE A WRITER. Use criticism to feed your fire, not douse it. Try, fail, learn, get better.

Keep writing.

-Gretchen

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Supernatural Review: Episode 8×23 “Sacrifice”

Review of Episode 8×23: “Sacrifice”
by castiello

I gasped out loud when the Impala got smashed at the end of Season One. I cried during the Season Two closer, as John Winchester emerged from the gates of Hell and helped his boys defeat their life-long nemesis. I covered my eyes as Dean was mauled to death, left my jaw on the floor as Lucifer rose, clutched at my heart as Sam fell into the depths of Hell. Thanks in part to the ever-looming threat of cancellation, Supernatural has learned how to consistently deliver finales that twist our emotions, challenge our minds, and make us oh-so-desperate to know what will happen next. So, how did the Season Eight Finale, “Sacrifice,” measure up against such stiff competition? Let’s have a look:

Dean: Started off too mean for my tastes. Dean quickly earned a frowny face from me when he began enumerating all the things Sam should ask forgiveness for during confession. We’ve rarely seen such nastiness from Dean, not to mention such blatant disregard for Sam’s feelings. It was played half-jokingly, but there was real malice behind it, and that wasn’t lost on Sam. There was another scene like this in “Fallen Idols,” where Dean was on the phone with Bobby, unapologetically blaming Sam for the Apocalypse. Then, as now, I was jarred by how out-of-character this attitude is, coming from a guy who used to spend all of his energy trying to get Sam to stop blaming himself for Jessica’s death. The Dean I know would not want to pile extra guilt on Sam, because Sam already does that to himself.

My frowny face got even frownier as Dean implied that Sam could not be trusted to complete the demon-curing ritual on his own. Note to the writers: a Dean who is nasty and condescending to his little brother is not a Dean at all. It’s just some other guy played by Jensen Ackles.

Fortunately, things improved after takeoff. There were some tender words with Cass, a funny moment with two gay guys in the bar, and then, lo and behold, we got our Brother Moment:

When Dean said to Cass, “Take me to him,” my stomach did that fluttery thing it only does when Dean is in full protective big brother mode. This is the guy I fell in love with waaaaaaay back in Season One. Not the guy who makes nasty jokes about Sam needing a babysitter, but the guy who tells Sam, “I picked you. I killed Benny to save YOU. I’d rather let demons roam the earth than lose YOU.” I loved what Dean said about how they now know enough to turn the tides, I loved how he helped Sam let go of the trials. I love how even after eight seasons, Dean’s deep-down, number one priority is still keeping his little brother alive.

I may have started the ep a little frowny, but by the end I was grinning so hard I almost sprained my face.

Sam: The fact that he was totally willing to die for the cause – not at all surprising. He threw himself into Hell to save the world once – no reason to think he wouldn’t be willing to do it again. What WAS surprising, though, was Sam’s total lack of self-esteem and self-worth. When Dean said, “Finishing the last task will kill you,” Sam’s response was simply, “So?” Like, who cares, right? Shocking to see such a naked self-hatred from someone who has often seemed, at least to me, to have a bit of arrogance. And, although I’ll never condone the “Sam didn’t look for Dean” storyline, Sam’s heartbreak over letting Dean down still rang true. After all, Sam did fail to stop Dean’s death in Season Three, and Sam’s efforts to rescue Dean from The Pit also fell flat, leaving an angel to do the job instead. Sam’s jealously of Castiel is something that’s probably been simmering under the surface since way back in Season Four. Cass did what Sam has repeatedly failed to do – save Dean.

Here, finally, Sam thought he had an opportunity to make up for those failures. He thought locking demon-kind away forever would be the greatest gift he could give to Dean. Fortunately, big brother showed up in time to set him straight. 🙂 It’s always been “family first, job second” for Dean, and the best thing Sam could ever do for his brother is STAY ALIVE.

After a somewhat muddled and uneven storyline for these two brothers, “Sacrifice” has finally put them back on the right track.

Crowley: When he bit Sam, I totally freaked, ‘cause I thought it would somehow de-purify Sam’s blood. Fortunately, it was only a cry for help – and even more fortunately, the person who heard it didn’t give a flying crap about rescuing Crowley. And, although the writers once again failed to have Sam follow the established procedure for curing a demon (the guy in the video was asking QUESTIONS every time he injected the blood – not just walking away!), it was riveting to watch Crowley’s slow transformation. I loved his moment of confusion, his eventual repentance. I truly believed a demon was turning back into a human before my very peepers. Amazing performance by Mark, there, and Jared, too.

Kevin: Kudos to Kev for managing to decipher just enough of the Angel Tablet to confirm that Naomi might be telling the actual truth. By this point, he is totally rocking the prophet thing. It hurts, though, to see how gloomy and downtrodden this once-vibrant young student has become. And what REALLY squashed my poor old heart: apparently, Crowley was telling the truth about Tiger Mommy’s demise. That sound you’re hearing right now isn’t thunder – it’s me growling at the writers.

Sheriff Mills: Confusing haircut aside, once I realized who was sitting at the table with Crowley, my heart began to nosedive. Isn’t it bad enough that we lost Sarah and that kid from “Wendigo”? We couldn’t lose Sheriff Mills, too! And because Supernatural is totally willing to kill off beloved characters without even blinking, I had no idea whether Jody would survive the first five minutes of this episode. Even after all this time, the relief is still palpable. Sheriff Mills lives on! Woo hoo! 🙂 🙂

Abaddon: All hail the King – and for her, that isn’t Crowley. Naturally, one of Lucifer’s Knights isn’t going to take too kindly to the demon who overthrew him. Next time Crowley dials demon 9-1-1, he should probably think about who might be eavesdropping on the line. 🙂

Naomi: She told the truth to Dean and Castiel. She welcomed Cass back to Heaven. She saved Sam’s life. I believe all of it was sincere, but it was the kind of sincere that only comes with the knowledge that time is short. She knew Metatron was probably going to kill her. Therefore, she repented, the same way a condemned murderer might pray for forgiveness on his way to the gallows. Too little, too late? Maybe, but nonetheless it was an achingly good performance by the actress.

Castiel: Wanting to clean up his own mess, willing to face Heaven’s judgment – even if it means death – and, above all, committed to helping Dean when he needs it most. The Cass we know and love from the top of his head to the tips of his pretty wings was out in full force in this ep. I don’t blame him for not believing Naomi’s warnings – basically every word she ever said to him in the past was crawling with deception. And yet, Cass didn’t hesitate when Dean asked to be taken to Sam. I didn’t think it was possible, but my love for Castiel actually expanded in this episode. You could now fit about six full-grown elephants into the space occupied by my Cass Adoration (previously it was four). And apparently, I’m not the only one with a soft spot for our favorite wing-boy – although Metatron stole Castiel’s Grace, I did not see this as an act of intentional cruelty. It was almost more like Metatron was doing Castiel a favor – sparing him the painful fall from Heaven, making it possible for Cass to one day return to Heaven, and, above all, turning Castiel into what he’s been slowly becoming all along: a flesh and blood human.

Metatron: I swear, I just got done saying that he was on the up-and-up, and he turns around and proves me wrong! Not just a little bit wrong, either – very, VERY wrong. I should have listened to that uneasy voice in the back of my head when Metatron enlisted Cass to help kill an innocent creature. I should have known then that Metatron was up to something nefarious. The cool thing about being wrong, though, is that I got to be surprised. I always get a shiver when the angelic little boy gets a murderous gleam in his eye, or the sword-wielding, muscle-bound hero doesn’t end up saving the day after all. Predictability is a snorefest. Twists make for awesome television. I loved the twist of Metatron having very different intentions than he led everyone to believe, and I really loved that even after we found out what he was up to, I still found him to be likeable. His motives were understandable and his anger was just. Top it off with the fact that he seemed genuinely fond of Castiel, and you have a complex, shades-of-grey character I can’t wait to meet again.

Special FX: There’s really only one thing to talk about, isn’t there? The image of thousands of angels plummeting toward Earth like shooting stars, their bodies and wings burning up in the atmosphere. It was the very definition of unforgettable. The show probably blew its whole budget for the episode on that one scene, and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. I gasped aloud at the sight, thinking it was the best effect I’d ever seen, movies included. Even now, three months later, I still feel that way. Major props to the FX team. Major, major props.

Last Licks: It was a season of kick-a$$ mythology, but less-than-excellent character writing. Carver proved himself more than capable of handling Supernatural’s plotlines, bringing in new concepts like the Men of Letters, while keeping our old favorites, the demons and angels, front and center. At times, the brothers were OOC. Other times, they were spot on. When all the stars were in the right places and Jupiter was lined up with Mars, we got the kind of amazing episodes we haven’t seen since Kripke left. I remember a stretch of at least four or five episodes in a row that were just completely awesome. This gives me hope – bundles and bundles of hope. We know Carver can deliver angels and demons. We know he can deliver effects. The question is, did he learn from what worked and what didn’t in terms of Sam and Dean’s relationship? I’m hoping the answer is a big, water-bloated “yes.”

“Sacrifice” may not have been the most nail-gnawing finale we’ve ever seen, but as far as the cliffhanger part goes, it absolutely made the grade. Everything about this finale made me want to find out what will happen next – Will the angels have any powers on Earth? What will they do down here? What will Castiel do, now that he’s human? Will he even have any memory of his life as an angel? What happens to the vessel, Jimmy, now that Cass is fully flesh and blood? And what about poor Crowley, who’s been left in limbo, mere inches from becoming human again? Can someone else finish the ritual for Sam, or would that be too risky?

Those are the questions that have been nibbling at me all summer. Those, and one other minor issue: What about SAM??? He was going to die if he didn’t finish the tasks, right? And he was going to die if he DID finish them – so what’s going to happen to him? How can he possibly live, if he’s damned either way?

I know I’ll be tuning in to find out. Even though we’re on a new night (TUESDAYS, 9/8c) my schedule will always make room for Supernatural. I have faith in you, Jeremy Carver, so don’t let us down! And don’t you dare kill Sammy!!