Now, that’s a head-scratcher . . .

Take a walk with me, will you?

. . . perhaps you are wondering why I have just shown you these quite uninteresting pictures. Rest assured, it will all make sense in about three to four paragraphs.

Years ago, when I was first learning to hone my craft, determining what sort of writer I wanted to be, I explored — a lot. If you’re undecided in terms of genre, in my opinion, it’s necessary. As often as I could, I entered contests on the writing site, Figment.com. This is a fun little community — or it used to be, anyway — wherein novice writers are able to present their work — poetry, short stories, novels, novellas — on a massive scale, and receive feedback, both positive and constructive. **On a side-note, to any young writers, and I speak here in terms of experience rather than age, I highly recommend getting involved in this, joining some type of writing community; some place where your work can be nurtured and pruned. It takes both. There’s a ton of them out there, and I credit this aspect of my journey in helping me arrive to where I am today.

That being said . . .

A couple months back, I submitted a very old, but recently augmented, short-story to a literary magazine. As I mentioned before, when time allowed, I entered many contests, and this story was so far outside my comfort zone that, when I look back, I smile, because I know now that I would never want to write this genre, professionally, or for fun. Once I decide whether or not to resubmit, I will post it.

Going into this process, I had very low expectations. Short-story fiction of any kind isn’t particularly a passion or a strength of mine. In truth, I did it for exposure’s sake, and liking the plot, I went for it.

The morning I received the rejection letter for that submission. And so, before I go on much further, I feel I must caution you; for if you are to continue reading this post, it is possible this — what you see happening in the picture below — could happen to you.

Apparently my prose makes people trip.

Word for word, this “I liked the concept, but I noted uneven prose” is what I was told. Out of respect for the magazine and its editors, I will refrain mentioning any names. In this industry, taking your bristling ego to the page and spitting venom will get you somewhere very quick — and it’s not a place you want to be. Yes, there are thousands of agents and publishers, but somehow they all do know of one another.

Rejection: it is part the process, an important part, in fact. I expect it, and I expect to see it become more personal than “uneven prose” which, may I just say, is more than likely the most unhelpful piece of criticism I’ve seen generated. For about five minutes I was embarrassed, because I had no idea what it meant. Turns out, neither does anyone else — writers, editors, and literary gurus included. What I have gleaned, and this is only my own interpretation, is that there is a distinct shift in POV narration or language, or both, resulting in writing that feels incongruous or jarring. Still, high-volume of confusion circulates the web at this very moment. The same rejection letter has been received and reviewed multiple times, and I know that a few of you writers actually received the very same one. I am sorry for that. Because I can’t imagine you found it helpful to your writing either.

I’m not entirely sure what the editor’s intention was in formatting a form-letter to appear as if he had taken the time to personalize his message. There is nothing sweet about rejection, which is why I feel it should be kept straight, simple, and to the point. Unless there is desire there to see the work re-submitted, nothing more than a cursory “Thank you for your submission, Blankety-Blank; however, at this time we are going to pass” is required. Smothering ketchup on burnt chicken doesn’t make it go down any easier.

At all cost to a writer’s sanity, the use of elusive vernacular should be avoided. Depending on where they are in the game — perhaps this is their 87th rejection letter — they might feel compelled to pillage Google, ransacking archives, and offering up slivers of their soul for answers. Writers, among other things, are compulsive, diligent beings, with a tendency to obsess, whether it is merited or not. If you’re going to chop off our heads, please be benevolent and use the guillotine, not a butter knife, thank you.

I am taking this in stride. I was not offended by this rejection, nor was I flattered that he liked the concept. If I am to endure, I need to prepare myself for total annihilation. Some agents are gentle, mitigating their criticism with kind words and highlighting positive aspects. Most, however, because they have to be I suspect, are ruthless in proffering a critical analysis. And if they did, you have cause for rejoicing, because it means they didn’t hit command C command V and call it a day.

Hope you all had a wonderful 4th, and I wish you a terrific Friday/Saturday.

42 thoughts on “Now, that’s a head-scratcher . . .

    • Thanks, Jess.
      Definitely. I imagine the day will come when someone in the literary world, someone I admire, makes a comment that touches upon an insecurity. Today was not that day, however.

      Blessings,
      ~ C

  1. I try to take everything in stride and make sense out of the smallest of comments
    This was a rejection
    But at least there was a positive
    That means you are moving in the right direction

    • We have to, right? Or else we lose out on the potential for growth.
      It was most certainly a rejection, and I suppose the ancillary comment of “liking the concept” could be seen as a positive. I didn’t see it that way, though. If you search this phrase, you will find, verbatim, identical format, structure, etc… It was a form-letter, under the guise of a personal response. Ick.

  2. I agree that a simple thanks but no thanks if preferable to some strange rejection. Uneven prose??? Oh, well, you have a great attitude and you will not trip upon their words! You have risen above them. Have a great weekend.

    • Beats me . . . in all my years of learning and studying writing, I had never come across that terminology before.

      Oh, this one was easy, but thank you. When I start receiving rejections to my book proposal, then we’ll see how far I can rise, ha!

      You have a wonderful weekend, too, Jonel.

      ~ Cara

    • You are right; every superhero needs protection, Vikki, and ours must be an acquired thick skin. I would love to think of myself as an amardillo, but as one blogger once coined me, Mollusk-Girl is who I am.

      A letter such as this one could hardly stir feelings of dejection. Had it, chances are I would have kept the news private. My hope in sharing was to allay discouragement in sharing that, we all find ourselves rejected at one point or another, whether it wounds deeply or remains on the surface.

      Happy Writing to you!

      ~ C

  3. I’ve been to the place you speak of, Cara. Twice. With full mss that garnered requests for fulls. I only recall one of the rejections b/c the “I wasn’t pulled into the character the way I hoped to be” sent me on a quest to find a clue where I lost the agent.

    I didn’t find it until I went, “duh.” Study your craft. You are enviably ahead of me on that front. You’ve already invested time in learning your craft. It shows in your writing.

    All we can do is pick ourselves up, and keep writing.

    I won’t go into any platitudes on # of failures to achieve success. Were I you, I’d shrug this one off. She found the “prose uneven for HER/HIM”. I use a phrase now that I often used in sales to handle rejection, “WELL! I’ve been kicked out of better places than this dump.” Of course, that’s internal dialog. Who knows when that dump might come back knocking, right?

    Hope all is well and healed and rocking with your writing world now.

    • . . . that would hurt. Someone starts speaking of characters, of people who have become more real to you than your neighbors, and says they have left them wanting in some way . . . yes, that would hurt.

      Fortunately, you are not the type of woman to turn to bitterness and rage, but self-exploration. I will remember this, for I am certain I will need it one day.

      Thank you. This rejection, very honestly, was quite easy to “shrug off”. Any sort of shame I felt was at not knowing what the heck “uneven prose” meant. I allowed someone to make me feel inferior for about five minutes, and then I remembered that I do have to allow it — it’s a choice.

      “Keep writing.” Yes, that it is. No more, no less; we must write and write and write.

      All is well, life is good, God is great. Thank you. I hope this message finds you well, too.

      Blessings to you, my friend.

      ~ C

    • Definitely. As I said, I was more bothered by not knowing what he meant by the remark, more so than I was at being told they were going to pass on my work. One was subjective; the other marred my integrity as a writer.
      In the end . . . I learned something new; not that I have any intentions of using the phrase, unless I plan on clarifying subsequently.

      • I’m with you. I grade a lot of papers and give a lot of feedback to students on performances and I always try to never give a negative critisism without explaining why it’s given and how they can improve. It’s just not helpful otherwise.

  4. I am the worlds worst at accepting rejection or criticism. It is something I struggle with and pray about daily. I tend to get very hurt at the slightest negative remark.

    You are much stronger than I, and I think it is wonderful that you are not letting this indeterminate comment knock the wind out of your sails. Good for you! We’ll see what they have to say when you are on the New York Times best sellers list. ;)

    Much love!

    Lori

    • Softies like us new a “few” extra thick skins we can drape over ourselves, Lori. Rejection, of any kind, never feels good, but it can sharpen us if done correctly. I felt this exemplified incorrect usage of an abstruse a literary term, which is why I shared it, hoping that someone having received the same letter might stumble upon it and have their spirits renewed.

      Ha! Your last bit made me want to jump in the air and high-five.

      Much love to you as well,

      ~ C

  5. :(… but I don’t believe you’re alone. I Googled “uneven prose” and got a few hits on writers forums. Maybe do the same and see if there’s any commonality with your situation. Maybe there’s an epidemic of “uneven prose” we should all be preparing for.

    • Yes, that actually is exactly what I did. I went straight to Google and was met with a plethora of likeminded, confused individuals, who, after receiving the form-letter had no clue what to make of uneven prose. After reading through a couple dozen, I made my own interoperation of what I believe it to mean; but who knows, I could be way off.

      The Armageddon of uneven prose, you say? Hm, sounds like it could be punctuated with many misunderstandings. *wink wink*

      ~ Cara

  6. Oh Cara, how I have faced much rejection in my past years! And although when younger, I felt I must heed every word of criticism and critique, I discovered many years ago to sift through the opinions and advice and apply only what truly gave my wings flight. The rest remains background noise.
    You are a true professional. Gracious and modest in your response to this rejection. This is the editor/agents loss. They will be kicking themselves when your book hits number one on the New York Times best sellers list!

    • Karista,

      I think that was both a wise and healthy decision you made. There is a fine gap, where hubris meets deprecatory; some writers nestle into the gap and stay there, but most tend to reside on one side or the other. Contradictions play a huge role in this. Heed advice, but not too much. Be confident, but be open to criticism. It can confuse a person right on over to Wackyville.

      Ah, I can dream about this day, can’t I? And if it comes true, well then, I will have wished upon a star and held it my hand.

      Love to you,
      ~ C

    • However, it soothes me to know, that in all of history, ranging far and wide, there isn’t a singular person incurring the level of rejection and loathsome brutality than that of my Jesus. He went before me and showed me how I must be.

      Thanks for dropping by!

      • Cara, what a comfort to know He understands and cares about our disappointments and hurts. Perhaps your images of bumpy ‘walks’ could also illustrate He is in all things – stepping stones of growth and opportunity – Rom 8:28.
        Blessings and fullness to you!

      • Yes, Nancy, He is in all things. I prayed this morning that He would continue to guide me toward His will, and not my vain ambition.I think we get those two things mixed up a little often.

        Happy Tuesday to you,

        ~ C

  7. I don’t like the word “rejection,” because you’re writing is beautiful and not worthy of rejection at all. I think the letter was a poorly-worded “not just now” letter. :)

    • Oh, Rachel, you are so kind, my friend.

      Rejection is part of it, though. Like its brothers and sisters, rejection can sharpen the ego, make it less susceptible to being daunted by the “No’s” that will inevitably roll in. Got another one this morning, actually. And it’s okay. I survived. Eventually . . . eventually there will be a yes; I’m sure of it.

      Happy Monday to you. Hope you are well this day.

      ~ Cara

  8. Bummer, eh? You said the piece wasn’t your genre, Cara – so perhaps it’s a blessing? You wouldn’t want a reputation based on that piece, would you?

    I’m always amazed that the supposedly most sensitive people in our society – creatives/artists/call them what you may – seem to have to handle the most outspoken and frequent rejection of all of us!

    Better luck submitting pieces that reflect Cara, the more mature artist:)

    • The piece was suspense/physiological thriller. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the plot line; I just don’t believe I could exist in that world for months or years on end. I want to write about love and hope and magic . . . and I want those things to be in me, near me.

      However, in this day and age, any publication is good publication. Being able to add to your roster a publishing history with reputable literary magazines could only bode in my favor. I will continue to submit poetry when I have time and see how that goes.

      Ha! You are so right. I think also, though, that it is us sensitive souls who need it the most. Somewhere between inuring ourselves to rejection and allowing it to grow us, is a place of infinite worth.

      Thank you, Meredith.

      ~ Cara

  9. hmmm uneven…that does bring a number of mental pictures to mind…perhaps the poor guy was on a see saw…constructive criticism is the best kind, it allows and promotes growth…uneven criticism just leaves you hanging there in the wind, wondering…and the reviewer surely knows that…what ego…thanks for sharing this with us…i am not so brave as to submit anything beyond the blog community yet, and may never do so, but i so appreciate the comments and encouragements that inspire me to continue writing! ;)

    • Definitely not my favorite piece of criticism; but I suppose the more personal feedback hurts more, so I think I will call my losses and be thankful that this wasn’t the precursor of what is to come.

      Oh, I hope one day you do decide to submit something. You are a wonderful writer, Paula. And sending your heart wrapped in a 100 word query is a endeavor unlike anything I have yet to experience — this process has made a man out of me. ;-)

  10. We always visit the same blog Madame Susan arts. so i decided to drop bye in your blog site.

    Fantastic words and meaning, like hands & gloves perfect fit!!! Cheers Nonoy Manga

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