Where Memory Lane and Rejection Road Meet
My house has too much stuff in it. I’ve been going through my possessions and deciding what needs to go. Finally, I came across my Big Box o’ Rejections:
When I first started writing, I decided to save all my rejection letters as a way to keep myself motivated. But now that rejections come electronically and are almost exclusively form letters – and now that I have a lengthy publications list – I don’t feel that I need it anymore. So this box has got to go.
The box itself contains rejections, old drafts of stories from writing workshops, and a few magazines and newspapers where I got my first publishing credits. As I sorted through old letters, I got the most enjoyment out of reading some old rejection letters from my high school days, when I wrote articles for Dragon Magazine.
One collection of correspondences that I kept came from my very first article query that I wrote back in 1997.
If anybody submitted queries to Dragon from the early 2000s until the magazine ceased publication, this is probably a strange animal. This was back when the magazine editors actually sent personal responses to each query they received. In this case, I sent ideas for several articles to Dragon, they asked for one of the idea, and I wrote that up. I didn’t have a computer, so I had to punch everything up on my typewriter. The article would go on to get accepted, lost, mailed again, reduced in word count, and finally published in 1999 as “The Western Wyrms.”
Then there was the time that 3rd edition D&D totally screwed me out of a series of articles. I had pitched the idea of doing race and class updates for the 1st-edition Oriental Adventures supplement and got this response:
This letter was boggling to my 17-year old brain, since it meant that I had a potential steady stream of articles and the mention of a possible Oriental Adventures theme issue. I wrote several articles and sent them in eagerly, only to get this letter later on:
At the time, I figured they were going to release a new eastern-themed campaign setting. Instead, this was the first indication I had that 3rd edition was on its way. I’d be more ticked about losing out on this opportunity except for four things:
- My writing talent level wasn’t at the point where I can readily assume that the articles I wrote would have met TSR’s desired quality level,
- 3rd edition D&D was pretty awesome.
- The 3rd edition Oriental Adventures book was also awesome.
- My aforementioned article “The Western Wyrms” was published in the issue that announced 3rd edition, which took quite a bit of the sting off.
That wasn’t the first time I was primed to get published only to have it yanked away by forces out of my control. I had submitted an adventure for the Marvel Superheroes card-based RPG that I thought had a good chance to get published, only to land this rejection:
This was a double shame. First, it would have meant that I had a hand in an article that crossed over with both comic books and role-playing games. Second, it was an indication that the Marvel Super Heroes RPG was not long for the world. This saddened me because I loved the SAGA system and thought the Marvel game was the best execution of it.
And then there’s that time I totally created dragonborn (NOTE: I totally did not create dragonborn):
This rejection came from the short-lived Legends of the Lance newsletter, which did actually publish an article of mine. And, from the sounds of it, my article about a humanoid race that bonded with dragon eggs at birth might have wound up getting published had the newsletter lasted. Regardless, the fact that I called the race dragon-born became a point of pride for me when 4th edition D&D added a core race called the dragonborn. If I wanted to be dishonest about it, I could claim that I invented the race. But the fact that my race was more human-shaped with minor draconic features and abilities rather than the actual dragon-men of 4th edition tells me that the name similarity is probably a coincidence.
By the early 2000s Dragon and Dungeon stopped writing these personalized responses due to the volume of submissions. Soon afterward, I stopped submitting because while I loved 3rd edition, it also brought about a new focus in terms of supplementary material that didn’t appeal to me. But in an alternate dimension where certain product lines didn’t get canceled, I would have had one heck of an RPG writing resume by the time I graduated high school.