8 Rejection Records & Other Dubious Achievements

I originally published a post titled 6 Rejection Records & Other Dubious Achievements back in June of 2016, and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve broken just about every one of those records in the last year and change. I thought I’d revisit these records, update them, and add a couple new “firsts” and “bests” to the list.

1) Fastest Rejection: 10 minutes (old record: 2.5 hours)

Yep, you read that right. Ten minutes. I have the time stamps on the emails to prove it. How does that happen, you ask? No idea. I followed all the submission guidelines (I double and triple checked after the rejection), so it wasn’t an auto-reject on that front as far as I can tell. It’s possible I just lucked out, ended up on the top of the slush pile right as the editor started reading that day and did not impress with my opening paragraph. I’ll never know why the rejection was so quick, but I do know I’ll probably never beat this record (and I’m okay with that).

2) Slowest Rejection: 419 days (no change)

No change here. Sixteen months is still the longest I’ve waited for a rejection. Though, I didn’t actually wait that long in this case. After three months or so, I sent a withdrawal letter after a query letter went unanswered and started submitting the story elsewhere. The publisher obviously didn’t get either one of those letters, because they wrote to inform me that I’d come super close to publication but they’d finally decided to pass on the story . . . sixteen months later.

3) Most Rejections before Publication: 17 (old record: 16)

The old record-holder and the new one are the same story. The funny thing is the story DID get published after 16 rejections and was rejected one more time when I sent it out as a reprint. I do have another story that’s closing in on the record and will likely surpass it in the near future.

4) Fewest Rejections before Publication: 0 (no change)

With 0 rejections before publication, I can’t really beat this record, but I’ve pulled the one-and-done trick seven times. I had only done it once when I wrote the first post.

5) Most Rejections by a Single Publication: two tied at 8 (old record: 3 tied at 5)

These two are both top-tier magazines that publish horror. I send pretty much every appropriate story to them if I can. In addition to these two, there a couple of markets tied at 7 rejections and one or two at 6.

6) Most Acceptances by a Single Publication: 10 (old record: 7)

The Molotov Cocktail continues to be good to me. More about my publications there in this post: Flash Doom & The Molotov 10.

7) Most rejections in a single day: 3

Here’s a new one for you. I’ve turned this trick four times. Oddly, I also tend to get acceptances on these big rejection days. I’ve done that twice.

8) Most rejection in the same email: 3

Another new one. I love publishers that accept multiple submissions, but there’s a downside to sending three stories to the same publisher at the same time. Can you guess what it is?


Got any records of your own? Share them in the comments.

Rejection Letter Rundown: Even Good Stories Get Rejected

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time,  you’ve certainly heard me say that a rejection does not (necessarily) mean you wrote a bad story. In fact, it can mean you wrote a good story that was rejected for a bunch of reasons you simply can’t control. Sometimes an editor might tell you your perfectly good story was rejected for one of those beyond-your-control reasons I mentioned above. In my experience, this type of rejection is pretty rare. I’ve never received one, and to write this post I had to borrow one from a friend. My writer pal Patsy Pratt-Herzog recently received a rejection where the editor was kind enough to share the reason Patsy’s good story was rejected. Patsy has graciously agreed to let me post the rejection letter here with my usual editorial scrub.

Thank you for sending us this piece. We appreciate the chance to read it, and we thought it was a great story (love the Cinderella twist!), but unfortunately, this is purely a case of getting two similar pieces and having one fit better with our vision of the book than the other.

A rejection that calls your story great and gives you a totally legit reason why it was rejected is like finding a diamond on top of a unicorn at the end of a rainbow. In this case, the editor received two good stories that were very similar and had to make a tough decision. I think this kind of thing happens fairly regularly, especially with themed anthologies. Yeah, an acceptance is always better, but a rejection like this means you can send that story on to the next publisher with real confidence. So keep this rejection letter in mind the next time you get a form rejection or even a personal rejection that says the story just wasn’t a good fit.

Thanks again, Patsy. Best of luck finding a great home for your story!


Have you received a rejection letter like this one? Tell me about it in the comments.

Tales from the Editor’s Skull – Interview with Howard Jones

Goodman Games is about to unleash a brand-new sword-and-sorcery magazine on the world called Tales from the Magician’s Skull. The first issue is filled with old-school pulpy goodness written by authors who know the genre well (including yours truly). I recently spoke with Howard Jones, the editor-in-chief of Goodman Games’ latest venture, and he was kind enough to answer some questions about the magazine and the current Kickstarter campaign to support it.

1) Okay, give us the skinny on Tales from the Magician’s Skull. The elevator pitch if you will.

It’s a magazine dedicated to old-school sword-and-sorcery. Not pastiche, not homage, but new fiction about new characters in new worlds, inspired by the great old ground-breaking stuff. That means there’s forward momentum and inventive world building and dark sorcery and darker deeds and heroes wandering where brave men fear to tread.

2) Tells us a bit about your background as a writer and editor. How did you get involved with the project?

I’ve written a historical fantasy series set in ancient Arabia for St. Martin’s, four Pathfinder novels, and a slew of short stories. A new fantasy series from me will be dropping (again from St. Martin’s) next summer. I grew up reading and loving the kind of fiction this magazine emulates, fantasizing and dreaming what it would have been like to edit for one of the great old pulp magazines, so this is a dream come true.

Long before I was a published author I was an in-house editor for Macmillan Computer Publishing, breaking into fiction editing when I assembled eight volumes of swashbuckling historicals by Harold Lamb. And I was the Managing Editor for a sword-and-sorcery e-zine, Flashing Swords, and then, near the end of its run, Black Gate Magazine. I met Joseph Goodman when I was reviewing role-playing supplements he’d published for Goodman Games, and one year at GenCon I dropped by his booth to hand him my first published novel.

In short, over the course of a few years, we came to admire and appreciate the work the other was doing.

3) How did you and Goodman land on sword and sorcery for Tales from the Magician’s Skull? What about that genre interests you?

We’re both drawn by the sense of the adventure and the pacing. There’s little to no navel gazing. It’s all about the story. And while there IS darkness and dread, most of the time the tales aren’t drowning in it. These are typically tales with heroics and death-defying action. In earlier fiction there are fewer conventions about what magic looks like or what elves are or other issues that have become so codified some have a hard time breaking out of the mold. We love that.

There are tombs and treasure and strange enchantments, bizarre and curious locations, and protagonists desperate to get in or out of such places, sometimes in pursuit of lofty goals but more often simply to live another day.

4) Who are the writers in the first issue? And, uh, how did they get so damn lucky?

Here’s a funny thing. It started out as Joseph Goodman asking me if I wanted to contribute a story to the Goodman Games 2017 GenCon magazine. He’d asked me for one for the 2016 mag, and I said yes both times. Shortly after receiving the one for 2017, though, he wondered if maybe I knew some other sword-and-sorcery writers. Well, most of my writer friends are sword-and-sorcery writers, so that was easy.

He kept asking for a few more, and before we knew it, there were more than enough for an entire magazine. When Joseph proposed that, I lobbied to become its editor.

Because the whole thing grew organically, we tapped people we knew well who could exactly get the sword-and-sorcery vibe we were after. For issue two we’re reaching a little further afield but  still working for the same feel.

As for who’s within, there’s you and me! Then there’s Chris Willrich, best known for his Gaunt and Bone sword-and-sorcery tales and books, which are a well-known secret amongst modern sword-and-sorcery fans. He penned a new one about his characters. And James Enge, perhaps the breakout writer from Black Gate, who’s drafted a new adventure starring Morlock the Maker. There’s Bill Ward, who wrote a tale of dark conspiracy in an Asian-inspired fantasy coastal setting. And Clint Werner, well-known Warhammer author, who gave us a creepy Hammer-horror infused sword-and-sorcery tale, and John C. Hocking, probably best known as the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, but more recently known for his tales of the archivist, writing a dark, punchy adventure set in that character’s world.

If you want to know more, the Kickstarter gives you thumbnail synopses of each story!

5) So besides awesome tales of sword and sorcery, what else can we expect from Tales from the Magician’s Skull?

Well, there’s horror and suspense as well, which are important components of the genre, and I think you’ll see an occasional tale with those features more primary than secondary. But within the magazine you’ll find some great artwork, and maps to lost places within the stories, and then an appendix that presents the monsters and challenges in Dungeon Crawl Classics game statistics, in case you want to bring any of the events to life at your own game table.

6) I know a lot of my readers are dying to know the answer to this next question. Will the magazine be opened up to unsolicited submissions at some point? If so, tell us a little about what Editor-in-chief Howard Jones looks for in a story.

To know what I look for in a story, check out the first two issues, and read yourself some great old sword-and-sorcery, like the Conan stories, or the early Fafrhd and Gray Mouser stuff (particularly from the Swords Against Death collection) or practically anything from Leigh Brackett. We don’t plan on publishing space opera, as she often wrote, but her sense of color and pacing is definitely something to model off of.

We do plan on opening to submissions, eventually. But it’s likely to be a few issues yet. First we want to establish the magazine and build up a reader base, which is challenging enough without adding slush reading on top of it!

7) How and where can folks support this awesome project?

Not only can you drop by the Kickstarter campaign and pledge for an e-copy or physical copy of the magazine (or maybe even join our secret society) you can help spread the word. I’m tremendously pleased that we met our funding goal in the first day. But I’m also certain  there are many more sword-and-sorcery fans out there. Surely they must number in the thousands. Help us reach them! Spread the word. We love this fiction and want to share it!


Howard lives in a lonely tower in Indiana with a wicked and beautiful enchantress. When not running his small farm or spending time with his gifted children, he can be found hunched over a laptop, mumbling about flashing swords and doom-haunted moors. His books have been acclaimed by well-known mortal critics. Sometimes he edits short stories for magazines and he once anthologized the work of historical writer Harold Lamb. He knows karate. Yah!

Submission Statement: September 2017

September was a slow month, and this is gonna be the shortest submission statement I’ve ever published. I mean, I didn’t even get any rejections. That can’t be good for my brand.

September 2017 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Other: 0

Yep, three submissions and nothing else. Part of the reason for this lack of activity is a lack of new material. Luckily, I finished three flash pieces and two longer pieces late last month, so submissions and their accompanying rejections should pick up.

New Markets

Well, since I don’t have any rejections to share with you, I thought I’d tell you about some new markets I’ve recently submitted to that look promising. These are both paying markets that primarily publish flash fiction.

The Arcanist

I’ve mentioned The Arcanist a bunch of times, and I even interviewed their editor, Josh Hrala, in a recent Ranks of the Rejected. I’ve also published a story with them, “Cowtown.” The Arcanist publishers fantasy and science fiction up to 1,000 words, though their definitions of these two genres are pretty broad, and I know for a fact they’re not adverse to a little horror in the mix. There’s a lot to like about editor Josh Hrala’s publication, but the fact that they pay .05/word per story is high on my list. Here’s the submission guidelines for The Arcanist.

Buckshot Magazine

Another new short fiction market, Buckshot Magazine publishes stories up to 2,000 words in length. They publish all genres and styles, so they’ll take your lit-fic and your genre stuff. They are also a paying market, offering 10 CAD for each story (that’s about 8 USD). What I really like about Buckshot is they’ll accept multiple stories per submission, up to three. There aren’t a lot of markets that do that, and when I find one, I always try and take advantage. You can find Buckshot Magazine’s submission guidelines here.


And that’s my September. Tell me about yours in the comments.

Ranks of the Rejected: Mitch Malloy

In the past, I’ve interviewed writers and editors for Ranks of the Rejected, but as it turns out, they aren’t the only creative folks who get rejected. I’ve worked with a fair number of freelance illustrators in my professional career, so I thought I’d get the skinny on the trials and tribulations of that line of work straight from the horse’s mouth. I turned to the very talented Mitch Malloy, an illustrator I’ve worked with recently. Mitch was kind enough to answer questions about his work (and provide me with some awesome samples) and tell me about rejection for the freelance illustrator.

Be sure to check out Mitch’s website and gallery right here: www.mitchmalloyart.com


1) Tell us a about your work. Who are your typical clients?

My work is all over the place. Generally, my style is contemporary realism, but I do a lot of stylized work too and some hybrids of those two. I prefer realism most, though. The lion’s share of my work is science fiction and fantasy. I mostly do work for clients in traditional gaming and video games, but I occasionally do book or publishing work. I’d like to do more book work for sure.

I do most of my work digitally since that was what I learned on, but increasingly I’ve been working toward incorporating more oils, gouache, watercolor, and graphite pieces into my professional assignments.

2) How do you typically get contracts as a freelance artist? Do you send your portfolio out to potential publishers, like writers do with submissions? Or does the work come to you at this point?

I’m lucky that most of my work finds me at this point. But every other season work dries up, and I’m back to slinging my portfolio at art directors and hoping something sticks. A lot of work gets lost to cold calls, so I go out of my way to try and figure out a specific email address for an art director to be sure somebody at least sees my work before throwing it out. It’s worked, but I’m not sure they don’t hate it.

3) You and I worked closely on a project recently, the cover of Red Sun Magazine #3, where you illustrated my story “Caroline.” It’s not typical for an illustrator to work directly with an author (as cool as it was), so what is the usual process?

Normally, once I’m on somebody’s roster for work, it takes a while for the right project to roll around. When it does (whatever that project is), an art director or outsource manager reaches out, asks about my availability, and negotiates a rate. Then I receive a brief, which has specs and a written description of the assignment. Usually things like the focus and mood of the piece are called out, which helps me nail a specific idea earlier. Sometimes it’s nebulous, and I have to shoot a bit broader in my ideation. My absolute least favorite is when a client calls to deliver this information instead of writing it out in an email. I like things clear and concise so I can dive right in, but most conversations of this nature tend to be unfocused, and it immediately gets me out of my groove.

Anyway, once I get a brief, I do thumbnails for myself, pick my best ideas, and refine them for presentation. The client narrows it down to one option, then I gather my reference and work up that comp with color, a drawing, etc., working toward a final and reviewing along the way.

4) I assume that anyone working in any creative field will get rejected in some fashion. What does rejection look like for the freelance illustrator?

For me, rejection has often been silence. So many unreturned emails, ghost clients, or cold call emails lost to the void. I get rejected by going unanswered. Otherwise, I might get a form letter or (rarely) a handcrafted bit of rejection. I’ve also been subject to a lot of rejection once clients find out my rates. I work some great-paying gigs at this point. I don’t usually want to work the cheaper ones (with rare exception). A lot of potential clients flee when they find out I want a fair wage for my work, which I’m okay with. Makes it easier to focus on jobs that will pay fairly (though they’re rarer).

5) What have you learned from rejection? How has it helped you grow as an artist?

Rejection usually pisses me off so much it sends me into a self-improvement spiral. One of the ways I handle rejection is to just grind until I prove to whoever that I am capable of the work. It’s not like I can get better on a timeline that would make them notice. It’s irrational. But rejection fuels a lot of my study. Thankfully, more and more, I just do studying because I’ve found the love for it. Every once in a while that letter comes in and I get swept up in the fury again.

(It probably isn’t healthy)

6) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, mean, just straight-up weird?

I once was told in a client meeting that I couldn’t offer feedback on their product until I was capable of doing the work myself. The work wasn’t very good. I could have done it myself. It freaked me out so much I went and worked my ass off to show them up. They later told me they were impressed by my growth, so I guess it worked?

On a more lighthearted note, I was once rejected because somebody thought I was the singer/songwriter Mitch Malloy. When they found out I wasn’t, they were no longer interested in commissioning me to do a painting for them. For reasons I’m not sure I’ll ever understand.

7) Okay, plug away. Tells us about your latest project and where we can run out and see/buy it.

Most of my latest projects are for clients I can’t talk about for another few months or even years. This is my life! But if you want to see a really wonderful fantasy setting with great fiction and RPG supplements, go check out Aetaltis. I’m the art director for the project, and it’s a huge passion for me. Check out what we’re doing here: www.aetaltis.com


Mitch is an artist with a deep passion for craftsmanship and storytelling. He has over 5 years of experience working as an artist in games. He is currently at Riot Games where he works as an illustrator. Outside the office, Mitch is a freelance artist for novels and traditional games. Mitch lives in the greater Los Angeles area with his lovely wife, his adorable son, two cats, and a dog.

Mitch’s clients include Wizards of the Coast, Riot Games, S2 Games, Privateer Press, Modiphius Entertainment, Onyx Path Publishing, Mechanical Muse, Posthuman Studios, Conceptopolis, Fantasy Flight Games, Present Creative, Super Genius Games, Wyrd Miniatures, and Broken Egg Games.

One-Hour Flash – The Mansquito Returns

Yeah, I know, a bunch of you are like, “Did he just misspell mosquito in the title of his blog post?” Nope. I typed MANsquito to introduce you to another piece of forgotten flash fiction. As with all the stories in this series, this is another bit of flash written in an hour for a writing exercise/contest. The prompt for this one, if I remember correctly, was literally a dude in a mosquito costume. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the prompt was an original SyFy movie called MansquitoOf course, working that movie into a flash piece was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to shoehorn it in there, and “The Mansquito Returns” is the result.

Oh, and full disclosure–I’ve never actually seen Mansquito. 🙂 


The Mansquito Returns

“You ever seen that SyFy channel movie Mansquito?” Richard said and placed the tip of the crowbar under one of the boards across the warehouse window. He yanked back, and the board came loose with the screech of rusting nails.

John stood back while Richard went to work on the next board. “Yeah. I saw it. It was really stupid. Dude turns into a mosquito monster.”

“Stupid or not, it was based on a real story,” Richard said and popped a second board free. “And this warehouse is where a lot of that shit went down.”

John wrinkled his nose. He wanted to call bullshit on something so ludicrous, and Richard was just probably messing with him, but the older boy liked to make up wild and intricate stories to go along with their petty vandalism. John went along with it because it was fun and a little bit dangerous. He’d go along with it tonight too. “Come on, Richard,” he said. “Nothing like that could exist.”

Richard had worked the last board free, revealing a greasy grey window pane. The window was at the rear of the old Linotech warehouse, which had been abandoned and empty for as long as John could remember.

“What the fuck do you think Linotech was working on, man?” Richard said, whirling around, hands on his hips. “Those motherfuckers were into all kinds of crazy shit with their chemicals. Everybody knows they were experimenting on people. That’s why they got shut down.”

John nodded, embarrassed he had questioned Richard. That wasn’t part of the game. “Okay, man,” he said. “Sorry. It’s just a little crazy. I mean wouldn’t that kind of thing be on the news?”

“Oh, it was,” Richard said and grinned. “Remember all those kids that went missing like five years ago?”

Jon remembered. Six children had vanished over the space of a couple of days. He remembered because his mom wouldn’t let him go out and play for weeks.

“The Mansquito got ‘em,” Richard said. “I’ll bet their bodies are in this warehouse, and I want to see them.”

“Fine,” John said. “Can you get the window open without breaking it?” It was dark and this area of town was deserted, but the sound of breaking glass had a way of attracting attention.

“Yeah. It lifts up.” Richard wedged the crowbar under the window and put his whole body weight onto it. The window jerked up with a low shriek of splintering wood, creating a six inch gap between the bottom of the pane and the sill. “Help me with this.”

John moved up to help his friend and together they were able to push the window up another six inches or so before it jammed in the frame. It was enough space for two skinny teenagers to crawl through. Richard went first, shimmying through the gap into the stale darkness beyond the window. John went next, and the first thing he noticed on the other side was a faint acrid smell—a chemical stink.

They were on the main warehouse floor, concrete covered in years of dust and rat turds. Small windows along the wall near the ceiling let in a bit of moonlight so the place wasn’t pitch black. John could make out small mounds of stacked boxes, more than he would have expected in an abandoned warehouse.

Richard flicked on the small keychain flashlight he always carried. Its tiny beam of light illuminated the nearest mound of boxes, each with “Linotech” stenciled across it in red.

“Let’s go,” Richard said and began moving forward, the flashlight in his left hand the crowbar in his right. “I’ll bet the bodies are near the middle.”

“Did you bring any bud?” John whispered. Finding secluded places to smoke weed was the primary reason for their little B&E excursions. He didn’t know where Richard got the stuff, but Richard was sixteen, and he had access to resources John could only dream of in his thirteen-year-old world.

“Yeah,” Richard whispered back. “We’ll smoke after we look at the bodies.”

“Cool,” John said and followed behind Richard. They made their way toward the middle of the warehouse where the mounds of boxes had been stacked to create a little shelter. John was surprised to see these boxes were free of dust, and the first thing he thought when he saw them was, Cool. Somebody made a fort.

“In here,” Richard said and hurried into the makeshift fort. He moved to the back wall of boxes and stopped. Something lay on the floor.

John moved up and his breath caught in his throat. Richard was standing over three bodies. It was hard to tell much about them in the dark, and for some reason Richard was shining the light at him instead of on the ground. He thought he saw an older man, a youngish woman, and dark-haired boy about his own age. There was something black all over their faces; he guessed it must be blood. “Jesus, Richard,” he whispered. “We gotta tell somebody.”

The flashlight beam darted up and into John’s face, and he heard Richard moving toward him. The light was blinding him, and he raised his right arm to shield his eyes. He heard another sound, a low hum, and then his head exploded with pain and light. He fell, the strength gone from his limbs, and landed on his back. Something warm and wet ran down his face and he couldn’t move.

Richard loomed over him. The older boy was wearing some kind of mask; it looked like a gas-mask but the breathing hose was long and white. He had the crowbar in both hands, and he raised it above his head. “You can’t tell anyone,” Richard said. His voice was muffled and tinny through the mask. “The Mansquito doesn’t leave anyone alive.” The crowbar came down and John heard the crunch of his skull breaking before the darkness swallowed him.


I like the characters in this one, and I had a lot of fun with the voice. I think it’s a bit better than some of the other flash pieces I’ve written for these contests, but it’s still got a ways to go before I could do anything with it. Basically, it just not working as flash, and it kind of feels like the middle of a longer story to me. Maybe with more of an intro and a better resolution it could be a descent short story.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

  1. The Writing on the Wall
  2. Killing the Dead
  3. Madcap
  4. Keepsake

Ranks of the Rejected – Josh Hrala (The Arcanist)

Time for another installment of Ranks of the Rejected. This time I interviewed Josh Hrala, the editor at The Arcanist, a new flash fiction market that focuses on fantasy and science fiction. I’m always excited when a new flash fiction market appears on the scene, especially a paying one, and Josh and The Arcanist are off to a great start. Josh has an extensive background as a professional writer, so he’s no stranger to rejection, and now that he’s working the other side of the literary fence, he has some great advice for writers looking to publish their fiction with The Arcanist or anywhere for that matter. Check it out.


1) Give us the short and sweet on The Arcanist. The description on the label if you will.

The Arcanist is a flash fiction publication that focuses on SFF stories that are 1,000 words or shorter. Our goal is to provide a place where people can get new SFF stories every week and devour them wherever they are. Alongside these stories we pepper in non-fiction pieces about SFF authors, news, and other things related to the genres.

2) You have an impressive writing background, so what made you decide to jump the fence and try your hand at the editorial side of things?

It’s really hard to nail down an exact moment. I’d say that I’ve always wanted to be an editor, and I’ve always loved the tasks I had to do in editorial at my various staff writer positions. Even while writing 2-3 articles per day, I enjoyed working on stories written by others, developing them into working pieces, and making them the best they could be. I even enjoyed the scheduling and formatting of the pieces. There’s just something to it, you get to put everything in place and give it a final polish.

As these thoughts started to sharpen in my mind, Andie, Patrick, and I started to write together and talk about stories. All three of us love SFF in all of its forms and originally started writing short films and mini-bibles for TV shows when we could. It turned out that almost everything we made worked better as fiction than it did for film, and we’re still developing stories right now. Eventually, The Arcanist was born out of the idea that we loved doing this, and we could use our collective fiction knowledge and my editorial background to make something new.

What really excites me about being on this side of the fence is giving SFF writers a new place to publish their work, a place where they get paid, a place that looks modern, isn’t behind a paywall, and presents their work in ways that other sites don’t. What we’re trying to do with The Arcanist is bring new readers and writers into the SFF fold by publishing solid stories in a new, easy-to-access way.

We are giant craft nerds, too. We all met at Point Park University where we were a part of the creative writing program. This formal writing education made us love well-crafted literary stories. So we want to use that know-how to elevate both SFF and flash fiction because both genres take a lot of heat. SFF often gets critiqued because it involves more world-building than plot, character development, and structure while flash fiction can be viewed as too short of a medium to be taken seriously. While those can obviously be true depending on the work itself, we want to show what can happen when craft is valued more than settings and ideas while also showing that great fiction – regardless of genre – can be accomplished in very few words.

3) Why flash fiction? How did you and The Arcanist land on that story length over more traditional short stories?

When we were coming up with what we wanted The Arcanist to be, we had a few goals in mind. The first was to find a way to spread our love for well-crafted SFF content to people who may not read it otherwise. While many hardcore SFF fans love a long, epic narrative, I know a lot of people in my life who would never sit down with something that big. However, they are the same people who don’t blink an eye when it comes to reading a bunch of long articles on Facebook. This gave way to the idea that flash fiction is a great ice breaker and – if presented in on the right platform – could inspire new readers and writers to give the genres a shot.

Of course, traditional short fiction was an option – one we might revisit later alongside flash – but we wanted something smaller, something that can be read on the bus ride home. A bite-sized bit of magic that people can read anywhere.

Secondly, as I mentioned above, we love craft and believe that short form content is a great way for writers to hone – or show off – those skills. When a SFF writer is forced to stay under a certain word count, especially when it’s as tiny as 1,000 words, things get interesting fast. Characters have to be active and making choices right from the start or even the best ideas can fall flat.

In short, it makes writers question what they need to tell a story, and that can lead to some really cool things that readers will love.

4) What advice can you give writers submitting to The Arcanist? Which stories have the best chance at publication? Which stories are absolute nonstarters?

The first rule of submitting your work to us is to please, please, please read the submission guidelines. They aren’t even that hard to nail down: a SFF story that is 1,000 words or less. It’s surprising how many people just scroll down until they see the submit link and send things off without actually knowing if it’s what we want.

If your story meets these requirements, you’re already in a good place. However, there are some tips that will really put your story over the top.

The biggest problem we see on a craft level is that the characters in the story are often more boring than the world they inhabit. You can have a great world, but your story will be ruined by a passive character who merely walks through it and doesn’t make a choice or have any agency.

Also, make sure that you aren’t starting your story at the wrong place. This happens with monster stories quite a bit. What’s more interesting: how the monster got out or what happens when the monster is already out and the character has to deal with it? It’s the latter 99 percent of the time. If you need to write the buildup to the monster getting loose to make sure you know how it happened, that’s fine, but then the submitted story should probably take place afterwards. We get many stories that end where they actually should have started.

So, as tips go, you want your story to start at the right place, to make sure your characters are active, and make sure you aren’t relying on a witty idea to push your narrative. Ideas are cheap, execution is hard. We are all about the execution here.

5) How about a glimpse behind the scenes at The Arcanist. What does the evaluation process for a story look like?

We have two ways to submit stories. You can either email them to us or use our form, which requires you to submit a Google Doc version of your story. We HIGHLY recommend using the form, it makes it way easier on our end and we end up getting to those ones first and the inbox second.

The stories are then divided up and assigned to either me, Andie, or Patrick. We do not use slush readers, so everything that is submitted goes straight to an editor. The assigned editor reads the story and makes sure it follows the rules. If the story flat-out doesn’t work for us, it is rejected. If the first editor reads it and is on the fence, we all talk about it. If an editor really likes it, we do the same.

The on-the-fence stories and the ones individual editors want to greenlight are talked about in person, and we break them down and see if they truly work. Personally, these discussions are my favorite part because we really dig in and make a decision.

After that, it’s all about either breaking the bad news or sending acceptance letters, setting up payments and publication dates, and finally unleashing the story into the world.

6) This blog is called Rejectomancy for a reason, so let’s get to the good stuff. What are the top three reasons The Arcanist rejects a story. Be blunt, even savage if you must.

The number one reason is that you didn’t follow the rules. They are there for a reason. They are meant to challenge writers and be a bit difficult. When you write “approx. 1,000 words” we know that typically means “I went a bit over, sorry.”

The second is not knowing what your story is about. This goes back to what I said earlier about ideas and narrative. A lot of the time, we love the ideas presented in a story. We often scratch our heads and wonder how someone came up with this, which is fantastic. It’s a great feeling to have. The worst feeling to have, though, is realizing that the story is merely that concept with no narrative, action, or anything to back it up. It’s hollow, and doesn’t work on a craft level because narrative took a backseat to a clever idea, making the story more about the idea than anything else.

The third is a simple question: does anything actually happen in the story? With our 1,000-word limit, you don’t have a lot of time to flesh out a world or describe tons of scenery, you have to get to the point. There’s not enough space to have a character walk around and take things in for longer than maybe a sentence before something has to push them to action. Just because it is short doesn’t mean the story doesn’t need to have a beginning, middle, and end. The best stories we see have active characters and twists that make us look at the whole thing differently. The “turn” is one of our favorite moments, but even these can fall flat without active characters.

Also, just as note, please don’t submit your story with weird colored fonts, large sections underlined, or any other strange formatting. We read a lot, and these attempts to get our attention only hurt our eyes. I don’t know why people do this, and we won’t outright reject stories for this, but it makes us sad and gives us a headache, which doesn’t help your chances.

7) You’re a writer too, so you understand that rejection comes with the gig. Any pro tips for dealing with it? 

I’m not sure there is way to actually prepare yourself for a rejection. You have to learn early on that you can’t get your hopes up even if you think your story is gold because, let’s face it, we all think all of our own stories are gold.

If you want to get your work published, you need to wrestle with the fact that rejection is likely in your future far more often than acceptance, but you have to also understand that just because one place rejects a piece doesn’t mean it won’t work elsewhere. Make a plan, send out your story, follow all of the rules the publication asked for, and see what happens because it’s always worth it in the end. Remember that rejections are nothing personal and that every rejection is a chance to make the story better.


Josh is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Arcanist. His work has appeared on Cracked, PopSci, ScienceAlert, Geek & Sundry, ModernNotion, and others. You can get The Arcanist’s stories delivered straight to your inbox every Friday by subscribing for free here.