For Editors: Rejecting People You Know
I used to think that one of the hardest things I had to do as an editor was to reject the work of my friends. It turned out, though, that I discovered something harder – sending a “no thank you” note to a poetry mentor. I don’t regret doing it, but I dreaded answering his email for quite some time. This prompted me to write a few words about possible ways to feel less guilty when rejecting people you know, love, or feel obligation to in one way or another.
1. Find your yes. If you are saying “no” to their work, what are you saying “yes” to? The mission of your publication and its genre? The level of professional quality expected by the books you publish? The niche toward which the work will be marketed? For your own peace of mind, it’s a good idea to work through that first, and keep your “yes” firmly in mind while saying “no” to the submission. I read a brilliant book by William Ury, “The Power of a Positive No.” I recommend it to anyone who has difficulties sending rejections, or feels emotional anguish while doing it.
2. Do it quickly. As soon as you know you want to say “no,” go ahead and do it. There is no point dreading and procrastinating, and it will not help you any if you flinch every time you open your email. Nor will it become any easier a month from now.
3. You don’t have to like it. Rejecting people is and perhaps always will be my least favorite part of the job. But, it’s still part of the job. So, if you don’t think you can stomach disappointing your cousin, your best writing buddy, the guy who gave you a break once, or the publisher of your first chapbook, then spend some time considering if editing really is what you want to do.
4. Be kind, and also, be strong. Since you know the person, answer personally. Do not hide behind other editors. If it was your decision, own it and take responsibility for it. That said, publishing decisions are not always only up to you, and sometimes you personally have to deliver “collective” bad news, even one that you may disagree with. The worst thing you can do then is to betray your colleagues by blaming the decision on them so that you can look good to your friend.
5. Let go of any expectations about his or her reaction. This is tough. Ideally, you will immediately get a note back reassuring you that all is well, there are no hard feelings, and your relationship is intact. But, often this note doesn’t come. Understand that now it’s up to the other person to reach back to you, and sometimes they may need a little bit of time, especially if rejection was the last thing they expected.
6. Learn from the experience. Karma works in beautiful ways and soon enough you will be on the other side, sending your work to people you know, or you’ve published in the past. Remember, they owe you nothing. It is not tit-for-tat. Or, for the very least, it shouldn’t be. So, when you submit to people you know, make sure you a) send them your best work, b) make it clear you fully realize and accept that your story or poem may not be selected and c) let them know you rely on their clear and impartial judgment, especially if you are sending out brand new writing.
I hope these ideas have been helpful. Saying no and owning it is a wonderful quality. Best of luck to all of us who are trying to master it.