Writers get rejected a lot. I previously wrote about one successful short fiction writer's massive rejection. When agents reject a book idea they almost always say, "I am not the right agent for your work." That is a "it's not you, it's me," answer, but the writer knows that it really means, "it's you--it's all you."
One magazine rejected my first story with a few comments, chief among them being, "I never got a feeling for your main character's hopes and dreams." True, Killing Words does not start with "Riva hated her life in the temple and wished she were anywhere else, but especially with her family."
I did start with Riva examining her bruises, showing fear/panic at the day's deadly activities, and having four reactions in three pages that showed her missing various things about her family--weaving those reactions into the narrative. I thought, "Well, her hopes and dreams are there, but the editor did not get it. I will see lots of that in my career."
I checked the next story I sent to this editor, Bryton Wyld, to make sure that I had clearly shown that Bryton wanted an idealized love--his hopes and dreams, ya know.*
". . . white and gold statues of Telor and Scyntella appeared as if they had come to life, standing over the doorways of their twin houses of worship. Porp smacked Bryton on the back of the head, knocking his floppy black hat over his eyes. Porp said, “You stopped in the street.”
Behind the cart, someone screamed, “Move!” And a messenger kid shoved Bryton and groused, “This is a street, not a pig farm!”
“Really original!” Bryton called after him. The sight of the gleaming husband and wife had absorbed Bryton. Embarrassing."
Most of the story is about Bryton pursuing that ideal love--oh, and trying not to get killed where possible. Again, the editor replied with, "I never got a feeling for your main character's hopes and dreams." I concluded that I was still too subtle for the editor.
But another suspicion had been working on me. It is an "it's not my fault" suspicion, so I put it on the back burner. I had noticed that the editor never announced an upcoming story without listing rather lengthy credentials for the author. Maybe what was really going on was that the editor did not see an impressive list of previous professional sales in my cover letters, so that my stories never really stood a chance.
I looked over Knickknack, then rewrote the beginning. This time I had my main character, Jane, trembling with excitement at the prospect of leaving her family's gypsy camp to visit a real city, focusing all her efforts on making sure she does not mess up her chances to go. Whatever else Knickknack's flaws were (for instance, lack of subtlety), Jane would scream her heart's desires at this editor.
Of course, the editor replied with, "I never got a feeling for your main character's hopes and dreams." So now I get it. That is this editor's form rejection. It may mean, "You are not going to make your first professional sale here." Or it may mean something else. But it does not mean what it says.
Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on.