Remember high school dates? Remember asking (if you are male)? Remember being asked (if you are female)? How did it feel?
If you’re like me it felt wonderful and horrible. As the “askee” in those late 1960s situations I could always sense it coming. My reaction was either one of excitement or dread. If the latter, the dread was enormous because I knew I did not want to go on a date with him and because I had been instructed that good girls with good manners should not hurt his male ego, rejecting him sometimes didn’t happen until the second, third or even fourth date.
Yup, that’s right. I went on dates with certain guys until I could figure out how to turn down dates with them. And when I finally had to do it, it wasn’t because I found the courage but because it became a matter of personal necessity—any more dates would have meant I was going steady, and if I did that I might find myself exclusively paired off with him, then we would become engaged, and *yeech* eventually marry!
In a similar way I find myself all these many years later feeling that same sense of dread when I am faced with queries from hopeful but “not right for us” writers. How do I turn them down? And let me tell you the answer is no less easy today than it was back then, though turning down dates with men in whom I have no interest has become, ironically, easier.
I have had enough rejections in my writing life to know how it feels to study the magazine or the online site, to create an idea, flesh it out, write, edit, re-write, re-edit, and polish it, to send that query, and to . . . wait with hope in my heart. I also know all too well the feeling of deflation when the rejection arrives, and to have no idea why it was rejected.
I liken my role as BiblioBuffet’s editor to that of the girl (which I was). How do I reject writers who reach out to me? Well, I don’t toss off rejections casually because I understand how the writer is going to feel. Yet I cannot allow my feelings to override my editorial responsibilities. A rejection must be a rejection. I do not allow myself to “date” writers while struggling to find a way to reject them. Nor am I allowed to critique a writer I am not going to accept; it’s not fair to either the writer or to other editors.
Where I found compromise, though I admit this is still not entirely comfortable, is in writing personalized rejection letters. I have been warned against this practice from some editors and agents because on occasion it can lead to an argumentative or angry correspondent. Fortunately, that has not been my experience thus far. What I have gotten are a few notes of appreciation for the comments, most of which are variations of “please keep writing and find a writers’ critique group.” Ooccasionally, I even add, “try us again in a year.” And I mean it too. Unlike, I am sorry to say, when I told Eddie from high school that “maybe next weekend” would be the right Saturday night for a date.