Personal rejections that include editorial feedback are a valuable part of selling your work, and they can tell you a lot about your story and the publisher. Such feedback can be an important element of revision or it can improve your submission targeting, but should you always listen to feedback? Good question. Let’s look at three feedback scenarios from rejections I’ve received and see if we can answer that question. (As usual, I have removed bits from the rejections that could identify the story or market in question.)
If ALL the feedback you’re receiving on a story highlights the same issue, well, it’s likely not just editorial preference that’s holding the story back. Case in point:
Unfortunately, the narrative developed slowly for me and the story didn’t quite grab me.
This is just a snippet from the third or fourth rejection on a story. Two other editors mentioned something similar about the pacing. Well, that sent up red flags, as it should. So I took a good, hard look at the first act, and, yeah, it was a little long and the reader had to slog through too much setup to get to the good stuff. I trimmed it down, and the story sold a few submissions later. There are definitely times when you need to take heed of editorial feedback, especially when it’s a structural note like this AND you’re seeing it multiple times.
Sometimes an editor won’t call out something wrong with the piece but will explain why it’s still not a good fit for them. Here’s an example.
I found this story well crafted, but a little too pessimistic for my tastes.
This is helpful feedback. Based on this, I won’t revise the story–I want a dark, pessimistic ending–but I’ll steer clear of sending this publisher overly pessimistic tales in the future. In fact, I sent them something more upbeat in my next submission, and even though that story was rejected too, the rejection included this statement: Still, there was a lot to like here, and the story was very close to an acceptance. So I might be on the right track. This kind of feedback is fantastic for submission targeting, one of the more difficult parts of finding a home for your work.
Update: I have since sold the story rejected here AND sold a story to this publisher (guided by this feedback). So, this is a good example of both rejecting feedback on a specific story and listening to it in regards to future submissions to a publisher.
Sometimes the feedback you receive on a story is simply an indicator of the editor’s personal tastes and preferences and not necessarily a problem that needs fixing. Generally, this feedback will be focused on specific elements and might look something like this:
However, the long digressions into baseball, while interesting and well written, really slowed the pace for me.
Now this looks similar to the feedback in the first example, but there’s are a couple of differences. One, this is the only feedback I received about this issue (the story had been rejected before). Two, it’s a baseball story, so the baseball scenes the editor described were integral to the story I wanted to tell. Of course, I went back and looked to see if I could address the issue. Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t and have the story accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish. That doesn’t mean the editor was wrong, it means my story wasn’t the right fit for the market.
I did not revise this story, and I sold it soon after. Again, the feedback I received is not wrong for that market, but it does highlight the subjective nature of feedback in general. The tricky part about being a writer, especially one that occasionally sells work, is to know when to listen to feedback and when to stick to your guns. The question you have to answer is am I rejecting this feedback because it truly clashes with my goals or vision for the story or because it’s difficult to hear/implement? It’s tough to tell sometimes, but the more you do this, the better you get at discerning the difference.
To sum up, the answer to the question I posed in the opening is no, you shouldn’t always listen to feedback, but you should consider it. If the feedback resonates with you, revise away. If, however, the feedback doesn’t fit the vision you have for a piece, leave the story alone, and fire it back out there. There next editor to see it might love it just as it is.