Most of my publishing credits have been write-to-order projects. That means that I am writing something – whether fiction, non-fiction, or gaming material – based on parameters set by my editor. In the case of fiction open calls, everyone else is writing to the same parameters, so my story has to stand out in order to make the cut.
In the case of gaming material, my assignment probably will require a large amount of research, which is easily the most time-consuming part of writing. On the other hand, research often leads to new ideas, whether for the thing I’m working on or for other, future projects, so it’s never a waste of time to put in the due diligence during the research phase.
Writing to order can be tough. There are expectations needing to be met, and frequently the writer doesn’t know about all of those expectations, but that’s human nature for you. It often works the same way for people who illustrate for a living; sometimes no matter how good your work may be, it doesn’t meet those secret hopes of the person commissioning the work, and so it gets rejected.
That’s the downside to writing to order. The upside — for fiction, at least — is that you have an already finished work you can sell somewhere else — assuming that the work was rejected for a reason other than its quality. Too long, too short, not enough cowbell — the reasons for not making the cut are numerous, and it can be incredibly discouraging.
I’ve had my share of rejections over the years, and mostly they run along the lines of “…thanks but X doesn’t meet our needs at this time.” If an editor actually takes the time to comment on the piece, that commentary is like gold. It means the work is good, but needs some more tweaks or polishing. Cherish those kinds of rejections – they’ll help you through the long weeks of dealing with less communicative editors.