August 26, 2009

Rejection is not always about you

Hope Clark had a great post yesterday on writers, editors and rejection. An excerpt:

Writers have good days and bad days. … Editors have good days and bad days. They accept and decline submissions for a wide variety of reasons, most of which a writer will never know and the editor will easily forget.

As I wrote in the comments at Hope's blog, the calls I most dread are from the public relations people who want to know why we didn't use the item they sent. Because usually, there's no easy answer, and even when there is, the truth isn't pretty.

One reason we might skip a story is that one of our competitors has already done it.

Other times, it's just not the kind of thing we ever publish. For example, I had a call from FOCUS about getting coverage for their Interfaith Prayer Action for Health Care Reform. I'm a supporter of FOCUS and have many friends who are actively involved there. But I had to tell the caller it's not something I could cover because it's national and nonprofit and we're local and business.

But most of the time, at least with the "People in the News" and "Biz Digest" columns, it's simply because we have a limited number of pages, and when they are full, we stop. A good news item might get moved to the queue for next week, but if something bigger comes along, that will move to the front of the line. A $5 million deal is a bigger story than a $500,000 deal. If enough million-dollar deals come along, the $500,000 deal may become old news before it ever sees ink.

Here's a scary statistic that I share liberally: We get five hundred press releases a week just for these two columns. There's room in the paper for about fifty. That doesn't mean the other 90 percent are no good; it just means there wasn't room for them.

As much as an editor may strive for objectivity, not every editor has the ability to set dollar-amount cutoffs to determine which submissions make the cut and which go to the bitbucket. It must be especially difficult for fiction editors, as fiction is so difficult to quantify.

Sturgeon's Law surely applies at every periodical and book publishing house. No one has the resources to publish everything they get. There are too many writers -- and PR people -- out there.

Sturgeon's Law -- named for Theodore Sturgeon, a writer and magazine editor -- says 90 percent of everything is crap. But crap is relative. The 11th percentile may not be crappy at all. It's just slightly less good than the 10th percentile. And when you're making decisions about how to spend your publisher's money and your reader's time, that 1 percent difference is enough, even if the reasons for the difference aren't quantifiable.

That's why targeting your market is crucial. You must know what the publisher or editor needs in order to increase your chances of landing in the top 10 percent.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, well said.

    Hope Clark