Archive for September 6th, 2007

(Written in response to a recently seen email exchange. The views expressed are entirely my own)

I’m sorry that the article you submitted was rejected. Nobody handles rejection well, and being rejected after considerable effort is even worse. I’ve had my own share of rejections, so I can sympathize with your disappointment. Unfortunately, submitting an article isn’t like high school – you don’t get points for effort. But do you really think you did the right thing after your request to go over your rejected article with the editor when you replied, “Thanks for your high-handed attitude?”

What you don’t seem to understand is that you were the one who was being high-handed. Your desire to improve your writing is commendable, but did you think what you were asking?

Maybe you were deceived by the casual tone of the editor. However, you seem to have forgot that the editor is not a member of an online writing group. The editor is a professional, who reviews submissions for a living. What you were doing was asking him to do additional work for free. You wouldn’t ask your mechanic to give free advice about your car, or your doctor to give you a free examination – at least, not unless you were exceptionally rude. So why would you expect an editor to give you free editing? People frequently under-estimate the difficulty of writing and editing, since most people in our culture learn how to do both to a degree, but, in effect, you were implying that his time was worthless. When he already edits for twelve hours or more a day, his reluctance to do more is hardly surprising.

As the editor told you, he is not a writing coach. He has a love of writing, and some expertise in it, or he wouldn’t be in his position, but his job isn’t to teach. It’s to get half a dozen or so articles ready to publish every day. If he takes the time to discuss an article with its writer, he does so because he is reasonably confident that the effort will result in an article he can use. Yet he has already established that your article isn’t usable, so, as far as he is concerned, you are not only asking him to work for free, but to waste his time. Under the circumstances, he won’t want to waste his work hours, and why should he waste his own time?

Moreover, it’s not as if he hasn’t already gone out of his way with you. He was polite when he explained his rejection of your article, and encouraged you to try again when your writing had improved. He even went so far as to send the draft he did trying to get your article into publishable shape and to suggest that you compare his changes with your original article as a learning experience. He wasn’t obliged to do any of these things. In fact, many editors wouldn’t have bothered.

Finally, just to make matters worse, you ended the exchange with a sarcastic email. The temptation to do so may have been enormous. However, in giving way to that temptation, you proved yourself an amateur, unable to distinguish between rejection of your article and rejection of yourself. Did you ever stop to think that you might try again – or that the editor might not care to deal with you if he remembers your sarcasm? Being a professional, he might consider another work by you regardless, yet he would hardly be human if he didn’t prefer to work with other writers with less attitude, given any choice at all. If nothing else, if he ever had to choose between an article by you and one by someone else, guess which one he’s likely to pick?

Learning to write is difficult. But the unfortunate truth is, you have made the effort more difficult than it has to be – and all because you didn’t stop to think about what you were doing and how you presented yourself.

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