One cool thing about improving as a writer is that you'll start getting personal rejections instead of form letters. But personal rejections are more likely to give you a specific reason why an editor (or slush reader) rejected a story. Some times that can be a good thing. Other times you may find yourself falling into the “edit/revise” trap.
Any time a story is rejected it's always tempting to take another swing at it with the editing machete or send it to a different beta reader in hopes of finding something that needs “fixing.” The best piece of advice I can give on the matter is: DON'T.
This isn't to say that I've not gone back over stories after getting several rejections and tweaked or rewritten sections in order to improve them. Sometimes after you gain a little distance from a particular piece of work you do realize it could use a little more polishing. But you should never EVER think that just because something has been rejected that it's not good enough. Especially if it's the first rejection. Or the second. Probably not even the fifth.
Here's why. We all know that luck plays a huge role in getting an acceptance – that perfect timing that gets your story in front of the right editor on the right day – and just because one editor decides they don't want a story, doesn't mean the next guy (or gal) won't want either. Even when the first editor tells you exactly why they didn't want it. If you had enough confidence in your story to send it out to the first market, then send it to the second. And the third. And the fourth.
Back in the spring I wrote a short story called Insomnia. I sent it to a market I thought would be a great fit. After a while I got a rejection. A personal rejection that explained that while they liked the idea they felt there was no conflict in the first 2/3s of the story and it read like the beginning of a longer story rather than an actual story. I will admit I was tempted to try and rework it, add more conflict to the front half. But when I thought about it, I already believed the front half had enough conflict and it was a complete story. That's why I'd sent it out in the first place.
So, I sent it to Daily Science Fiction. And they bought it.
A rejection – form or personal – is NOT the best indicator of when to revise a story. YOU ARE. If you think it needs more work, then work on it. If you think it's good, then keep submitting it.
I've pulled stories out of rotation to try and clean them up further and some of them have been vastly improved. Others were just a waste of my time because they DIDN'T NEED FIXING.
Sure, we writerly folk can be a little delusional some times, but we are still the best judge of when our stories are as good as they can be. There's nothing wrong with reworking something, but don't waste time adding or removing commas or subplots or a half-scene that adds a little humor to an otherwise bloody story just because you got a rejection or six.
So, what have you written today?