The Art of Rejection According to Jeff Shotts

by Sharon Browning
Jeff Shotts

We all have heard the stories about great works being rejected by publishers.  Many of these stories are humorous because they are in the past, and the recipient or the target of those rejections have become celebrated.  We laugh – or if we are unkind, we snicker – at the short-sightedness of the so-called expert.

  • Dan Brown was told that The DaVinci Code was “badly written”.
  • Dr. Seuss was told his work was too different from other works for children to be on the market.
  • Constant rejection forced Beatrix Potter to initially self-publish her tales of Peter Rabbit.
  • Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching.
  • Zane Gray was told that he had no business being a writer and should just give up.

But stop and think just a minute – what do editors have to go through when they reject a submitted manuscript?  Surely not all of them are hard-hearted misers, sitting in their grand offices, overlooking their grand vistas, chomping on their grand cigars and cackling over what aspirations they will be dashing next with their mid-afternoon tea biscuits.

According to Jeff Shotts, the Executive Editor at the small yet robust independent publisher Graywolf Press, less than one third of one percent of submissions are accepted for publication.  The sheer volume of rejections at any given publishing house must be absolutely mind-boggling.  So how does one human being handle giving out those rejections, knowing the anguish that they will cause?

Shotts addresses this consideration in Graywolf’s blog, in an essay entitled “The Art of Rejection:  An Editor Laments”.  In it, he speaks of the burden of being the bearer of bad tidings:

The next thing to say is: the editor must disappoint. Practice this art long enough, and you will disappoint many. Hundreds, and then thousands. You will carry this with you. You will lament that you have to hone a skill that makes you detestable.

His essay is, in parts, poignant and cutting, heartfelt and humorous.  If you’re an author who fears rejection, or has experienced rejection, or perhaps are one who uses the possibility of rejection from stepping off the cliff in the first place, or if you are interested in the inner workings of those in the publishing industry, or if you just enjoy a well crafted essay that focuses on landscape just off the beaten path, then enjoy the entire essay.  It may give you a bit more courage to go ahead and step off that cliff.

“The Art of Rejection: An Editor Laments” by Jeff Shotts of Graywolf Press

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