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The Unacceptance

19

January 23, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower

Last night, for at least the third time in my writing career, I received the dreaded unacceptance.

The unacceptance may be the only thing worse than the rejection.

For those who don’t know, the unacceptance happens when an editor/publisher decides not to use your story after issuing an acceptance email. Sometimes it happens after rounds of editing. Sometimes it happens after a contract goes out. Sometimes it happens months after the story was originally accepted. Whatever the details, the end result is always the same—that story becomes homeless after it was all packed but before it could even move in.

I’m not talking about the unfortunate closing of a market before they publish the piece they accepted. I’ve had that happen a dozen times or so, including with some paying markets. The unacceptance I’m talking about here is when an editor contacts you to say he or she has had second thoughts. Your work won’t be published in their project after all.

There are many reasons an unacceptance can happen. An editorial vision may change. Something better might come and take your slot. An editor may reread a piece and realize it doesn’t fit with the other work.

Or an editor/publisher can just unaccept your story for virtually no explainable reason.

The first time it happened to me was a couple years ago. A few weeks before my story was supposed to go live, I received an email saying the editor had second thoughts. He was worried the story would get some backlash from some of his readers. Now, the story was about a boy whose father force fed him staples. I get it. I can see how some people would react negatively to such an experience. But, the boy wins in the end! I was a little disappointed that the publisher backed out, but I understood.

It happened again about a year later. A story was accepted. Actually, a collection was at stake here. Then, after several editing rounds, the story was dropped. Why? The editor was afraid the piece might come across as misogynistic. I thought this was a bit of a stretch, especially given how much of an idiot the male character was. I was pretty disappointed by this unacceptance, probably because there was a lot on the line. But, I survived, and that “misogynistic” piece now has a home. For the record, no one has ever accused me of hating women. I think most people recognize my stories of this nature as satirical or ironic or just plain funny. My collection, Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands will make that very clear when it’s released later this year.

Now, to the latest unacceptance. This story started out as a fun and challenging exercise. It was done as a way to support other members of the writing community. But it became a serious story clocking in at over 4000 words, and I was very pleased with the glowing feedback I received from the publisher. After two rounds of editing and an offered contract, I received a rather unprofessional email stating simply, “i decided i cant use your story, thanks anyway.” That’s it. And that’s exactly how he wrote it. After the ten or so previous emails we had exchanged (as well as the hour-long phone call where he spent a lot of time praising my writing), the story was reduced to this assault on grammar and the English language.

What’s one to do when this ugly unacceptance happens?

My advice: just be polite.

Yes, it’s tempting to become hostile and fire off the insulting and profanity-laced email informing the editor that he doesn’t know how to do his job.

Don’t do it. Resist the temptation. You won’t accomplish a thing.

Hey, there are a lot of publishers out there. The story will find another home. Why waste time making enemies? I don’t have room for grudges in my life. And I’m certainly not going to go around spouting out defamations about editors and publishers. We’re all in this because we love doing it. There’s no reason to sabotage someone’s avocation.

I wrote him back. I thanked him for his time and for letting me know. I wished him luck with his anthology. I didn’t ask why. I think I know why. I think he’s being vindictive. His anthology is still going, and it is even still accepting submissions. But that doesn’t matter. I refuse to attack him. I refuse to smear his name in the mud. People will find out for themselves when they deal with the guy. People can judge for themselves and have their own experiences. Heck, some people might love his style.

If you ever get the unacceptance, don’t fret. And don’t risk giving yourself a bad name. Remember, there are over 4500 active markets out there. Someone will accept your work—and actually publish it.

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19 thoughts on “The Unacceptance

  1. dockstone says:

    I can’t believe this has happened to you three times. I’ve heard of this happening to others, though, and so maybe it’s not as uncommon as I would assume. I think you are a good person to not respond negatively to this editor – not sure many others would be as strong as you there. Hoping that this story finds a wonderful home – where it truly belongs.

  2. Theresa M. says:

    You hate women?! Boy, you hide it very well! Nice piece, Nate!

  3. Gill Hoffs says:

    Your advice is spot on, as usual. Sorry this has happened to you. I had an unacceptance once, after I’d already said about the acceptance to friends and family. It’s just one of those things. Best of luck with your piece finding a new home!

  4. Col Bury says:

    Reblogged this on Col Bury's New Crime Fiction and commented:
    Interesting post from short story writer, Nate, on reacting professionally to fickle editors…

  5. neilserven says:

    Hasn’t happened to me yet, but I do currently have an acceptance on file with a market that just changed editors, so I have wondered if it might get lost in the transition.

    The telling-your-friends part that Gill mentions seems a particularly painful aspect, one that the rejecting editor probably doesn’t consider. I know I am still at that point where a new acceptance feels like a big deal, and to have to go back and tell people it fell through would be humiliating. At least it sounds like the first two editors were more delicate in informing you of their decisions than the third one was.

    • Neil, thanks for the comment. I hope you don’t have any problems with that acceptance. Hopefully the editors communicated well during the changeover.

      I think a new acceptance is always a big deal. However, with all my experiences with closed markets and unacceptances, I’m hesitant to tell people about a piece until it actually gets published.

  6. sallyheymann says:

    This is very timely for me. I submitted a piece to two publications, one accepted, then the other, so I told the last one it was unavailable. They stamped “rejected” on it on the submission. That confused me, but I didn’t say anythng. I’m glad I didn’t. Thank you. This is all new to me.

  7. Sara Comito says:

    You are honorable to maintain the anonymity of the offenders. But I can’t imagine a journal or anthology could go on indefinitely being so wishy-washy. Integrity means a lot. You’ve got that in no short supply, Nate.

    • Sara, thanks for the comments and the kind words. I know this editor has had some bad press before. But I think that people will keep submitting to him because there are so many writers out there who want a share of the market. Not all writers are willing to put in the time it takes to research a publication before submitting.

  8. Tom Abray says:

    This reminds me of my friend. About 10 years ago he had his story collection unaccepted twice, or at least one and a half times. The first time it happened with a very highly regarded literary publisher. The editor accepted it, my friend told all of his friends, his writing career was going to take off, all of his dreams had come true. Then about a month or two later, the “board” read his ms and overruled the editor. The editor wrote an apologetic email. My friend was crushed. But a few days later he got an email from a budding publisher that had seen one of his stories online. They asked if he had a book-length ms. He did! They saved the day! What good fortune. But in the end they never got their business off the ground and the book was never published. After a promising couple of years that had made the rest of us envious, my friend sunk into an angry depression and now writes very little

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