Tag Archives: Third language travails

Rejection, yippee!

Anyone else out there breathing a sigh of relief when a standard submission response hits the inbox?

It’s so good to get a rejection.

  • No more need to steady yourself for the kind of comprehensively critical appraisal beta-readers tend to provide. You look better without that fake frozen grin, and you know it.
  • Bye bye style sales pitch, welcome back limitation awareness. You’d love your stuff to read as smoothly as the books you adore and admire, but oh well…
  • No opportunity to declare your plot the best idea since the invention of croissants or jollof rice (or sliced bread, if you insist).  “Holes? That’s nothing but plenty of opportunities to use your imagination!” Never a fine moment…
  • No need to get all defensive about your cast. This is 2018. Every civilised person is fine with non-white, non-straight characters frolicking around in non-OECD  locations. Of course they are. Yes. I insist. This can’t be the reason for the rejection. Or can it? No, impossible. Not in 2018. That would be a really bad sign. No!

Rejections are great. They spare you a lot of tension.

But there can be too much of a good thing, even of stress avoidance.

Look at this submission query for a 70 k words novel to a publisher requiring a minimum of 80k for this format, and the corresponding rejection:

Submission of „Guilty until proven“ (Science Fiction)

Dear all,

thanks for a submission policy providing a newbie with a chance to shine, or make a fool of myself.

Guilty until proven“ is an imminent future tale taking place in rural France, Lagos (Nigeria), Djibouti, Agadir (Morocco) and a virtual reality used for penitentiary purposes.

Depending on how you look at the cast, it’s either boringly familiar, as in plenty of well educated English speakers, or can be considered pretty diverse, as far as biographies, lifestyles, gender, race and sexual orientation are concerned.

There’s quite a lot happening, including some romance and occasional mentions of violent events, but this material would be hard to turn into an action or adult movie, too many thoughts and ambivalent emotions.

As you will have noticed by now, the style is on the peculiar side, thanks to my very fluent third language English polished over twenty years of scientific writing. No idea if this bug can be declared a feature, as in ‚refreshingly unorthodox‘, ‚outside the native speaker box‘ or even ‚as addictive as junk food‘, as one of my beta readers once kindly put it.

Last not least: Apologies for falling short of your 80,000 words threshold. „Guilty until proven“ was already nearing completion when I came across your call for submissions and I’m lousy at padding.

Thanks a lot for any feedback you might be willing to provide,

Kind regards,

Troim

Pretty badly written. Itch to splice some of those long sentences. Typical evening me deciding to give conventional submission a quick try, following a prompt in the fediverse, before going my usual Smashwords. I recall the rationale sounding roughly like this:

“They don’t require the agent I don’t have. Nothing to lose but a little time. Not even that, if I submit for copyright protection in parallel (which of course I did, tend to hedge my bets).”

Nothing to lose? Well, now look at this rejection:

Dear Troim Kryzl,

Thank you for considering <name of the publisher> for your submission. Unfortunately, we do not feel your work would be right for <name of the publisher> at this time.

However, remember we have rejected works that went on to be published by other companies, and other publishers originally rejected some of our best-known writers.

We wish you the best of luck in finding an enthusiastic publisher for your work and in your ongoing writing career, and please feel free to try us again.

Best wishes & regards,

<First Name> <Last Name>

Associate Editor
<Name of the publisher>

Very professionally courteous, reads real nice.

Most probably their standard answer, however hopeless or promising the material. My output is bound to be on the drop-it side. I’m ultra niche, in many ways. Let’s just forget the episode.

Or is this supposed to be an encouragement? It’s definitely longer than the others. But in the age of copy-and-paste, that doesn’t mean anything. Well aware of how I proceed in my day job. Save as new version, copy a bit here, rephrase a bit there. This associate editor is a fellow professional, bound to proceed in exactly the same way. Time to move on.

Rejections are great, mostly.

Anyone out there who recognises the wording and can please confirm it’s a certain publishers standard rejection? Please?

We are not alone

Really love a post by Elisabeth Giovani on LinkedIn, about the scares and doubts about not writing in our mother languages. Feels good not to be alone, shared scares are lighter scares!

Funny, though, how we automatically refer to native speakers as arbiters who might grant or refuse us permission to write in English. As if they were familiar with the language we are using.

The globalized non-native English speakers and writers, talking mostly non-fiction here,  have developed their own codes and good verbalization practices, as anyone working in an international environment can testify. The rules are fairly straightforward:

  • Keep it simple: The sentence structure or syntax, the vocabulary, the references, the metaphors, all of what you say or write.
  • Forget about stylistic aspirations. Achieving comprehension is hard enough without additional handicaps.
  • Try to avoid cultural references that don’t travel easily. Keep in mind that your Fridays are some else’s Sundays.
  • Think before joking. Humor has the nasty tendency to rely on prejudices that might well be mutually exclusive.

In the world of anglophone non-fiction, you get training to understand what you’re up against and learn these rules. Forget abut elegance. Keep it simple or the plane won’t fly. Those who are not willing to adjust don’t last long.

Making a living in this universe doesn’t prepare you well for encounters with the anglophone fiction writers guild. Turns out the bad English we have been using for decades didn’t make it into this particular sphere. OK, point taken. Think-o-mat is too well advanced to reformat the American and British characters. Starting with the following project, the full cast and the narrator will be non-native speakers. Pity there are no non-native agents and publishers.

Third language travails

One of the disadvantages of writing in a third language is the occasional confrontation with gaps. Had to look up the definition of ‘aside’, just to be on the safe side when using this format option.

Turns out it means as suspected. Phew. Got really close to a dire doubt here. Except one of the reasons for this whole project is a little revenge. Anglo-american linguistic dominance forces a whole generation of specialists who never aspired to linguistic brilliance to spend our days writing and speaking a foreign language, badly.

If we keep increasing our numbers at the present rate, we’ll soon be the majority determining style. Yep, I know this is a ghastly outlook. Hurts me less than thou, though.