Even Good Stories Get Rejected

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. You finish a story, and you know it’s just the best damn thing you’ve ever written. Proud of your shiny new word baby, you send it out to a publisher you’re pretty sure will dig it. You wait with breathless anticipation for a few weeks, and then, BAM! The form rejection drops like a ten-ton weight into your inbox. Now what?

Well, sometimes I see authors want to overhaul a story based on that single rejection. A lot of the time, I think that’s a mistake. In my experience, most stories rack up at least one rejection before they sell. To illustrate this point, here are ten of my acceptances and the number of rejections they received before the blessed event.

Story Rejections
Paper Cut 16
Caroline 7
Scare Tactics 7
Night Games 6
Reunion 3
Little Sister 2
Luck Be a Bullet 2
New Arrivals 2
The Food Bank 2
Where They Belong 0

This list includes my story with the most rejections before publication and one of my few stories I sold on the first try. The only story on the list I revised was “Paper Cut” after about nine rejections. It still went on to collect seven more before I sold it. The rest of these stories I kept sending out until they found an editor that liked them.

Two of the stories on this list, “Night Games” and “Scare Tactics,” I’ve sold again to audio markets. I consider “Night Games” the best story I’ve published to date (YMMV), and it still racked up six rejections before someone liked it as much I do.

What am I trying to say with all this? It’s all in the title of the post. Even good stories get rejected. One, or two, or hell, half a dozen rejections doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve written a bad story or even a story that needs (major) revision. It can mean you’ve written a story that doesn’t quite fit the market you sent it to (might be time to dial in your submission targeting). It can mean you wrote a story about ghosts and sent it to an editor who just doesn’t like ghost stories that much. It can mean you wrote a story that’s very similar to a story the market just published or is planning to publish. In other words, it can mean a lot of things that have nothing to do with the quality of your story. Some editors are even good enough to tell you these things in the rejection letter.

This all leads to the next question. How many rejections should a story receive before you revise it or even scrap it? That’s gonna come down to a gut check. Obviously, I fall into the “keep sending it out until it finds a home” camp, but I generally start thinking about revision after six or seven rejections, especially if I’m only getting form rejections. Now, all this “advice” doesn’t mean squat if you get a rejection with specific feedback that resonates with you. In that case, revise away and thank your lucky stars you received such useful feedback right off the bat.

To sum up, consider letting your submissions stretch their legs a bit before you drag them back into the shop for an overhaul.  A couple of rejections probably doesn’t mean much.

How many rejection do you let a story rack up before you think about revision? Tell me about it in the comments.

One-Hour Flash – Big Game

Here’s another installment of One-Hour Flash. Yep, another flash piece written in one hour that has been languishing on my hard drive for years. I’ve deemed all the stories in this series not quite good enough to submit (for various reasons), but there are elements I like in each one that might warrant revision or more likely expansion at some point.

Today’s story is called “Big Game,” and I’m pretty sure it’s the only piece of true military sci-fi I’ve written.

Big Game

General DeVeers walked at a pace Daniels found hard to match. The general’s longer legs and superior fitness ensured Daniels would be breathless and sweating by the time they reached the firing range. The general seemed unconcerned about the discomfort of the short, chubby scientist half-running and half-limping behind him, and he peppered Daniels with an unrelenting barrage of questions.

“Have you solved the issue with aggression yet?” DeVeers asked.

“We think so,” Daniels said, puffing. “The most recent batch have displayed a vastly reduced predatory instinct, although they still retain enough of it to serve our purposes.”

DeVeers nodded. “What about manual dexterity? The last batch of quickened had trouble holding their weapons. That put accuracy in the shitter.”

“Yes,” Daniels said and grimaced, and not just because he had to jog to keep up with the general. They’d almost lost their funding and the entire project when DeVeers had seen the test results. Luckily, the addition of a bit more human DNA to the mix and a little good old fashioned trial and error had ensured the latest batch had fully functional opposable thumbs.

“And intelligence?” DeVeers asked. “Are they smart enough to take orders and carry them out?”

This was Daniels’ own area of expertise, and he was pleased with his efforts. “Average IQ in the last batch was 105,” he said. “Outliers as high as 120.”

“Christ,’ DeVeers said. “That’s higher than a lot of human grunts. Well done.”

Daniels suppressed the smile blooming at the corners of his mouth. Praise from General DeVeers was like water in the desert—both exceedingly rare and potentially life giving.

They had reached the end of the three-mile-long passageway that connected the two halves of Luna Base. The massive steel door in front of them led to the labs, the holding rooms for the quickened, and the firing range. A pair of guards in gray blastek armor barred their way. They, like all military personnel on Luna Base, were on loan from General DeVeers, and they quickly stepped aside to let their commanding officer through.

The general waited patiently while Daniels punched in the door code, then brushed past him once the door opened with a soft hiss of escaping air. Beyond lay a maze-like complex of hallways, rooms, labs, and everything else needed for Project Sapia. The general took the lead, navigating the labyrinth easily despite only visiting Luna Base twice before. He had at least slowed his pace a bit so Daniels could walk comfortably beside him.

Daniels soon realized the general didn’t really know where he was going; he just followed the gun shots. The thunderous roar of a Simpson Autocannon is hard to cover up, even four miles underground with a hundred yards of steel and concrete between you and the shooter. The general had a slight grin on his face. Daniel’s surmised that the autocannon’s cacophonous blasts were familiar music to an old veteran like DeVeers.

The firing range was at the very back of the base and opened out onto a massive cavern—a vault, really—as big as a football field. A group of soldiers in gray armor and scientists in white lab coats clustered around a low wall set up on one side of the cavern. A figure crouched in front of the wall, an oversized Simpson Autocannon pressed to his shoulder.

The autocannon went off again, and Daniels clapped his hands over his ears. He’d forgotten his hearing protection and would be nearly deaf for the next couple of days. DeVeers had obviously come prepared, and Daniels noticed bright yellow foamcore earplugs in the general’s ears.

The general approached a group of soldiers and scientists, smiling widely. The soldiers turned to greet them, very careful to leave their own autocannons pointed at the ground. Their eyes shifted nervously back and forth between the general and Luna Base’s pride and joy, Subject 31, also known as Simba. They’d had to put down no fewer than ten of the quickened in the last six months, usually because something triggered a prey response. Daniels silently hoped they’d worked out that last bit with Simba and his brothers.

“That’s enough shooting, Daniels,” DeVeers said. “Let’s have a look at him.”

Daniels nodded and signaled to one of the other scientists, Martinez, who acted as the surrogate for the quickened. She’d raised each one of them from test tube to adult.

“Simba,” Martinez called out. “Come here and meet General DeVeers.”

Daniels couldn’t help but smile at DeVeer’s sharp intake of breath as Simba stood and placed his autocannon on the rack next to the wall. At eight feet tall and 350 pounds, he looked even bigger in his custom blastek armor. His head and face were a smooth blending of human and feline characteristics, alien yet somehow alluring. His fangs jutted just below his upper lip, and his eyes were large and golden, although the irises were round like a human’s rather than slitted like a cat’s. Simba’s mane was long and a tawny yellow; it almost looked like human hair in certain lights.

“General DeVeers,” Simba said, his voice a low rumble. “Mother says I am to serve you. To fight your enemies.”

General DeVeers nearly shook with glee, but when he spoke, the words were laced with still, tight and rigid. “That’s right, Simba. You and your brothers are going to be the finest unit in the entire damned United Military.”

Simba’s mouth fell open in a toothy grin. “We will be your pride. We will kill for you.”

Daniels nodded at Martinez. She put her hand on Simba’s massive forearm and led him away.

“Jesus, Daniels,” DeVeers said. “He’s perfect. If you’ve really worked out all the bugs, the rebels won’t know what hit them. What about the other quickened?”

Daniels grinned, relaxing for the first time since the general’s visit. “If you liked Simba, wait until you see Smokey and Shere Khan.”

So, what’s the issue with this one? Pretty simple, really. This isn’t a complete story. It’s a vignette or the opening bit to a longer piece. Honestly, I kind of dig the military sci-fi premise, and I like the characters too. That said, there’s more work to be done to turn this premise into something resembling a real story. Maybe I’ll flesh it out at some point.

Oh, and I can’t remember why I called this one “Big Game.” The title doesn’t really work for the story, but it was certainly something I latched onto in the desperate seconds between finishing this story and posting it for the one-hour flash fiction contest. I know, I should have called it “Lions, Tigers, and Bears,” right? 🙂

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

Story Acceptance Prep Kit

Hey, you got an acceptance letter. Awesome. Now what? Well, the editor is likely going to ask you for a few things, and I think it’s a great idea to have these items ready to go and at your fingertips. So consider the following like a story acceptance prep kit and get busy.

1) Short Author Bio. Most markets will ask you for a short bio of around 50 words to run alongside your story. Here’s my current bio to give you an idea of what’s usually expected.

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press. Aeryn occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

That bio is right around 40 words and tells folks who I am, what I do, and where they can learn more about me and my writing. I’ve written two blog posts about creating author bios, which you can find here: Submission Protocol: Short Author Bio and Evolution of a Short Author Bio.

2) PayPal Account. One of the best parts of getting published is getting paid for getting published. The vast majority of publishers I’ve worked with prefer to pay via PayPal and some won’t pay any other way. So set up an account if you haven’t already.

3) Author Photo. This one is sometimes optional, and some publishers will also give you the option of not using one. That said, if you don’t mind having your picture appear on the web or in print, then have one ready to go. Here’s my mug shot as an example:

I like black and white, but color is usually fine too. Generally, an author photo should be a head-shot, high resolution (at least 300 dpi), and a JPEG or TIF file. If you’d like more info about creating an author photo, I wrote a blog post about that too, which you can find right here: Picture Me: Some Thoughts/Advice on Author Photos.

These are three things I find editors commonly ask for after an acceptance, and as I stated earlier, I recommend having them ready to go. This is not to say an editor won’t give you time to put these together–editors are generally reasonable folks–but if you can provide them quickly, you look like a professional and prepared author. That’s always a good look. 🙂

Anything else that should be included in the story acceptance prep kit? Let me know in the comments.

Submission Statement: February 2018

February is in the rearview, and despite a significant drop in the number of submissions sent, it was a pretty good month. I broke the longest rejections streak of my career at 27, so that alone makes February a-okay in my book.

February 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0

I sent only a quarter of the submissions I sent in January, but I’m still on pace to hit 100 submissions for the year, with an average of 12.5 per month for the first two months. The main culprits for the lower submission count are a lack of new stories and some markets taking a little longer than usual to get back to me (keeping me from submitting the story elsewhere). Both of those factors should change in March.


A fair amount of rejections this month, mostly from older submissions sent in January.

  • Standard Form Rejection: 7
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejection: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 0

All the rejections I received were garden-variety form rejections, but I’ll show you a couple just because I think they contain some solid advice.

Highlight Rejection 1: Sent 1/31/2017; Rejected 2/5/2018

We appreciate you taking the time to send us your story, [story title]. After careful consideration we’ve decided to pass on this story. There are many reasons a story is not accepted, most of which are subjective in nature, so don’t let our denial deter your from sending your story to other publications. We wish you the best of luck on finding a publication for this story. 

This is a standard form rejection from a new pro-paying market. I like this rejection because it mentions the subjective nature of getting a story published. Good stories are rejected all the time for all kinds of reasons. The editor’s reminder not to let that deter you from sending the story elsewhere is good advice and appreciated, even in a form letter.

Highlight Rejection 2: Sent 1/25/2018; Rejected 2/9/2018

Thank you for submitting your story, [story title], to [publisher]. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

You’ve certainly seen this rejection on my blog before (I’ll crack this market one of these days), but I’m including it here because of this sentence: To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. I don’t believe this is a hollow platitude, and, as the letter says, I’m sure this publisher has turned down strong stories for fit or similar themes or many other reasons.

I’ve published four stories this market rejected, and I don’t bring that up because this market was wrong for rejecting my work (they were right to do so for the reasons they listed and probably a few they didn’t). I bring it up to demonstrate those stories were simply a better fit for another market, and continuing to submit them was the right move. So, when you get a rejection, don’t jump to “I wrote a bad story.” Instead, remember, “To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take.”


Stop the presses; I get to talk about an acceptance this month. 🙂

Acceptance: Sent 1/4/2018; Rejected 2/20/2018

Thanks for your submission, [story title].  I’m happy to say that I’ve acquired it for [publisher] [themed] issue!

There’s more to this letter, of course, but it’s all the usual stuff about contracts and edits and whatnot. I’ll announce the market and the story soon. This will be my second publication with this market, and I’m thrilled to add another repeat customer to my resume.

That’s it for my February. How was your month?

One-Hour Flash: Kite Flyers

Hey, all, here’s another installment of one-hour flash. I’ve got a weird one for you this time. With these one-hour flash challenges, you get a prompt, usually a photo, and then you have sixty minutes to write something resembling a coherent story. Sometimes that prompt resonates, and you come up with something pretty workable. Sometimes it doesn’t and you struggle to come up with anything, and when you do, it’s, well, bizarre. This story is the latter. The prompt for this one, if I remember correctly, was a photo of big squid kite, and, as a horror author, my mind immediately latched on to . . . well, you’ll see.

Anyway, here’s a story called “Kite Flyers.”

Kite Flyers

They looked foolish. Samuel knew it, but at least the fog gave them some cover. It was probably better the few people in the park couldn’t see all the kite flyers clearly, anyway. Some of them only came out on this very special afternoon when the wind and the fog mixed, creating a sky full of swirling grey eddies and whorls.

Samuel stood on a hill, his kite in the air. It pulled at the spindle in his hands as it surged against the twine and the wind. He could just make it out in the fog, a wide canvas diamond with a vivid yellow cross. In the middle of that cross was a collection of Latin words culled from an ancient Christian manuscript, the Book of Lios. That particular book hadn’t been considered for entry into the Bible most Christians were familiar with. In fact, the church considered it witchcraft and had ordered most copies burned over five hundred years ago.

Samuel could see the shapes of other kites now, as each kite flyer took his or her place on one of the many low mounds surrounding a patch of reddish-brown clay. He knew the city had tried to grow grass in the patch for years with no luck. Nothing would take root there, not even weeds.

The wind picked up, and the fog thickened. Two events that any weather man would tell you were completely contradictory. Not on this afternoon. He looked up and saw other kites through the fog: a blue square with the Star of David in gold, a bright red triangle with the dharmachakra of Buddhism, and he could just make out the shape of a golden box kite painted with the interlocking spiral of the yin yang. He knew each of these kites, like his, bore text from works far older than the faiths they represented. Words that had been folded in to each faith and largely forgotten. Forgotten until today, when the kite flyers took to their mounds. He knew more kites lurked in the fog, some representing religions he recognized and some bearing strange sigils that belonged to faiths with few adherents. Few human adherents, anyway.

They all gathered on this day, their differences in doctrine and theology—no matter how acrimonious—set aside to focus on one goal. That goal had just taken flight, and its owner stood in the center of the mounds. The kite was massive, far larger than any single person should be able to handle—a great green monstrous thing, a floating octopoid head trailing dozens of streamers of bright pink canvas tentacles. The symbols on the great squid kite were a riot of strange angles and spikes. It hurt to look at them. It hurt even more to look at the kite flyer, even though he wore a great brown shapeless coat that covered most of his body. His proportions were oddly humped, and his stooped frame suggested something awful and ancient. He gripped his kite spindle—its twine a greasy pink like a length of stretched intestine—in gloved hands that had too few fingers or perhaps too many.

Samuel pulled his attention away from whoever flew the squid kite and focused on his own. He let out more string, moving his hands lower at the same time. His kite darted in the wind, moving back and forth. The box kite was the first kite to make contact. It snapped out the air, diving in low, its flyer clearly trying to pull his kite string across his target’s. The squid kite moved quickly to the left—against the wind—and the box kite missed its mark and smashed into the red clay in a tangle of canvas.

Samuel grimaced. One down.

More kites appeared in the air around the great squid, a riot of shapes, colors, and religious symbols on the wind. They dived in and out, their flyers trying desperately to smash their charges into the great floating orb of the squid or snap its string. They failed. The squid kite moved with unnatural speed and agility, avoiding the dive-bombing swarm of smaller kites. Its operator also snapped his kite’s streamers, the squid’s tentacles, up with surprising force, smashing enemy kites out of the air and sending them crashing to the ground.

Soon the clearing between the mounds was littered with downed kites and terror gnawed at Samuel’s belly. He had never seen so many fall so quickly. He let out enough twine to make his own attack but held off. There were still kites in the air: the Star of David still flew along with others he did not recognize. They were holding back, waiting. They had one more shot, one more massed attack. If they failed . . . He didn’t want to think about that. About what it meant to the world beyond the fog if all their kites fell and the great squid still flew.

It was time. He felt it, just as the other kite flyers must have. Attack now.

Samuel pulled hard on his spindle and his kite darted out of the fog, down toward the great squid. Others were doing the same, but this time they coordinated the assault, with equal numbers attacking the body of the great kite and its string. The squid juked in the air, avoiding all but one of its attackers. He saw a kite in the shape of great black crow slam into the squid and heard the sound of snapping kite spars. The squid shuddered but did not fall.

Samuel’s own kite now made contact, and its twine crossed the thick pink ribbon keeping the squid aloft. The spindle shuddered in his hands and it was nearly torn from his grasp. Then the sound of twine snapping echoed across the park. The squid’s line parted, and its operator stumbled backward with a shrill alien cry.

The great squid floated to the ground slowly, flattening out once it contacted the earth like a gob of mucous spat from the heavens. The remaining kites fell around it as their operators climbed down from their mounds. Samuel dropped the spindle and turned his back on the field of ruined kites. He would return in one year, on the day when the fog and the wind collide.

I warned you. Weird, right? The problem with this one is not so much that it’s a vignette or a scene; there’s actually kind of a story here. The problem is the concept is so preposterously strange (I’d even venture to call it silly) no one would publish it. Still, I’m amused by what my desperate brain came up with when given the chance to mix kites, of all things, and horror. Yep, the dreaded Cthulhu kite of doom. 🙂

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

It Came From My Hard Drive! Part 5: Tough Charity

Time for another installment of It Came From My Hard Drive. These are short, high-fantasy vignettes I wrote for Goodman Games around ten years ago. They were used to introduce chapters in various RPG supplements I was working on at the time. This one comes from a book called Hero’s Handbook: Tieflings. If you haven’t been playing Dungeons & Dragons for most of your adult life, you’re likely wondering what the hell a tiefling is. Short answer: tieflings are folks who have a demon or a devil somewhere in their family lineage. In this book, we took the approach that every tiefling is descended from a powerful devil associated with one of the seven deadly sins. The idea is that a tiefling character would try to overcome the temptations and urges of their infernal blood and work toward becoming heroes.

Anyay, this short vignette introduces the chapter about tieflings descended from Mammon, the devil of greed.

Tough Charity

Tarro emptied the coin purse into his hand, curling six long fingers around the platinum coins. One hundred eighty gold pieces, he counted the gold equivalent of the platinum in his head. It took me thirty-four days to accumulate this money. The tiefling stared across Dhavosin’s main road to the squat temple of Elyr. A white-robed priest stood outside the plain brick walls with a wooden collection tray, entreating passersby to donate to the church. The money Tarro held in his hand, earned from adventuring, would feed and clothe the children and other destitute souls within the temple for most of the year. He scratched a spot between his horns, a spot that bore the invisible mark of Mammon, the great devil whose blood and avaricious nature were part of his being.

“Come on, lad,” Rodren said beside him. The stocky dwarven warrior was two feet shorter than Tarro but half again as wide. His ruddy, bearded face beamed up at the tiefling, his eyes full of pride and hope for his devil-tainted companion. “All you have to do is walk over there, put the money in the collection tray, and you’re done. It’s that easy.”

Tarro set off across the street, his dwarven companion in tow. “Are you sure this temple will use these funds appropriately?” he asked.

Rodren chuckled. “Tarro, it’s a temple of Elyr, the god of charity. “I don’t think the priests are like to run down to the nearest brothel with it.”

Tarro frowned but could think of nothing that would contradict Rodren’s appraisal of Elyr’s clergy.

The Elyran priest saw them coming, and his eyes widened in alarm. It wasn’t every day a tiefling warlock and a dwarven warrior paid a visit to the poor house. “My good sirs,” the priest said and bowed, his voice trembling. “Blessings of Elyr upon you.”

“Good day to you, your Holiness,” Rodren said, using a title meant for a high priest on what was obviously a simple lay cleric. “My friend has an offering he’d like to make.”

“Oh?” the priest said and cast a critical eye on the horned, scaly tiefling standing in front of him, grimacing, as if in pain. “Elyr is always glad to accept charity . . . from anyone.”

Tarro grunted in reply and glanced at the collection tray. Eight copper pennies and two silver stars rested on its worn surface, not nearly enough to feed the orphans and other poor folk who lived in the temple. He thrust his hand out, causing the priest to jerk back, likely expecting some dire enchantment from the black-robed tiefling.

“Here,” Tarro said through clenched teeth and opened his fist. Platinum coins fell onto the collection tray with a clatter.

The priest’s eyes grew huge and round at the sight of the money. “Elyr bless you, my son! What would possess you to part with so much?”

Tarro opened his mouth to reply, but Rodren answered for him. “Don’t mind the horns and scales, your Holiness. Tarro’s a good sort, and he likes to give back now and then. It’s good for the soul. Right, Tarro?”

“Absolutely.” Tarro said, unable to look away from the mound of platinum on the collection tray. Finally, he smiled up at the Elyran priest, flashing a mouthful of crooked fangs. “Can I get a receipt?”

If you’d like to check out the other vignette’s in this series, click here:

  1. It Came from My Hard Drive! Part 1 – The High Road
  2. It Came From My Hard Drive! Part 2 – The Challenge
  3. It Came from My Hard Drive! Part 3 – A Red Night
  4. It Came From My Hard Drive! Part 4 – A Pointed Education

Ranks of the Rejected: Andrew Bourelle

This time on Ranks of the Rejected I spoke with an author who directly inspired me to get off my ass and start submitting stories on a regular basis. I met Andrew Bourelle through his brother Ed Bourelle, a friend and colleague, and we started trading stories about six years ago. Not only did Andrew give me great feedback on my work, his dogged persistence in the face of rejection is part of what inspired me to start this blog. In fact, whenever I tell a story about a “writer friend” to demonstrate some point about not letting rejections get to you, half the time I’m talking about Andrew.

Folks, this guy is the poster child for sticking to your guns, working on your craft, and not letting rejections slow you down. His perseverance (and oodles of talent) have resulted in some well deserved success over the last couple of years, and I couldn’t be happier for him. So check out the interview below, absorb the wisdom therein, and then go read Andrew’s stuff.

1) What genres do you typically write? Do you have a favorite? If so, what about that genre draws you to it?

 My writing tends to be pretty varied, I think. I’ve published stories in literary journals, and I’ve published genre stories as well: mystery, horror, science fiction, etc. I’ve never really been able to confine myself to one genre. I don’t stop myself and say, “Wait, you’re a literary writer—you can’t write a post-apocalyptic monster story.” If I have an idea, I write it. And if I think the story is halfway decent, I make some attempt to find a place to publish it.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of mystery/thriller fiction. I love to be surprised by what I read, and mysteries and thrillers are built to surprise readers. I like to put my foot on the gas and take readers for a fun ride. I’m working on mystery/thriller novel that’s giving me a chance to do that.

2) You recently published your first novel, Heavy Metal. Tell us a little about how that book came together and how you went about the business of getting it published.

I wrote Heavy Metal as an experiment to see if I could write a novel. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the late 1980s. The main character is contemplating suicide, and in many ways the book is a character study. But I also wanted the narrative to pull readers in and keep them engaged. The novel has been described as suspenseful, intense, heartbreaking—which are all adjectives I’m happy with.

As I wrote it, I didn’t really think about how it could be labeled or marketed. I just wrote the story that was coming out of me. However, when it came time to find an agent or publisher, no one really seemed to know what to do with it. Is it a literary novel? A Young Adult novel? I didn’t care how it was categorized. I just wanted to write a book that might resonate with readers. But I imagine most agents took one look at the query letter and said, “Eh, I don’t know how to sell this.”

After a few years of failing to find an agent to represent the book, I pretty much gave up hope of ever seeing the book in print. Then it occurred to me that literary publishers often hold contests and publish the winning manuscripts. It’s one way that story collections and literary books that don’t seem to fit into easy commercial categories find a publisher. I figured I’d give it a shot. It ended up winning one of the first contests I entered—the Autumn House Fiction Prize. I’ve read past winners of the prize and am honored and humbled to be in their company. I think my editor told me there were more than 500 submissions. Somehow, from that pool, Heavy Metal was selected to be one of a dozen or so finalists, and the final judge, William Lychack (the author of a wonderful coming-of-age novel called The Wasp Eater), picked it as the winner. I always thought if the right person would just read the book, they would want to publish it. That’s essentially what happened; it just took longer than I thought to find the right person to read it.

3) Your story “Y Is for Yangchuan Lizard” was recently chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018. This is your second go-around in the anthology, and I know your last story led to something pretty cool. Tell us a bit about that.

A story of mine called “Cowboy Justice” was picked to be in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015, which by itself is one of the highlights of my writing career. But it also opened up a really interesting door for me. James Patterson was the guest editor that year and picked the final selection of stories. Around the time the anthology was coming out, his people contacted me and said he was getting ready to launch a new series of short thrillers, called BookShots, and wanted to know if I was interested in coauthoring something with him.

We worked on a short thriller called The Pretender, which was published in 2016 in Triple Threat, a collection of three of his BookShots. The Pretender is also available as a downloadable audio book. It’s a fun story about a retired diamond thief who can’t outrun his past. It was an extraordinary experience to work with James Patterson, and I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity.

4) Okay, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so tell us about your first rejection letter or the first one that had a significant impact on you as a writer.

I think my first rejection came in high school. My teacher knew I liked to write and passed along information about a “short short story” competition. (I wish I could remember what journal held the contest, but I’ve forgotten.) I think the stories had to be 250 words or fewer. I wrote something and sent it in, knowing 100-percent that I wouldn’t win. But the act of sending something out seemed really important to me, like I was telling the universe that I wanted to be a writer.

In some ways, receiving the form rejection was validating to me. No one laughed at me. No one said, “Are you crazy, kid? You’re out of your league!” I got the same form rejection all the other real writers got. I have no idea if they took my story all that seriously, but it at least felt like they had.

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

The worst rejections are the personal ones where an editor’s critique of the story is unhelpful. I recently received a rejection where the editor said that the “tense shifts were distracting.” I thought, “Oh, there are tense shifts in there? What a rookie mistake.” I carefully reread the story and there weren’t any tense problems. I thought, “Did you copy the text from your last rejection into my rejection by mistake? Did you even read my story?”

On the other hand, there have been times where editors have made editorial suggestions that turned out to be valuable. I remember my short story “Little Healers” was rejected by Pseudopod, and the editor made a note about a problem he had with the story. I hadn’t noticed the issue before, but once it had been pointed out to me, I agreed with the assessment. I revised the story and sent it elsewhere. It was published in the anthology Swords & Steam Short Stories and was listed as an honorable mention for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. If it wasn’t for the rejection, I might never have seen the problem.

6) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?

I think one of the keys to not letting rejections get to you is to have plenty of stuff out there under consideration. If you only have one or two stories that you have under consideration at one time, then a rejection can feel like a real setback. But if you’ve got 10 or 12 stories under consideration at 15 to 20 different publications, then you always have stuff in circulation. A single rejection doesn’t hurt much because you have other stories under consideration at the same time.

When I was submitting stories early on, I would only have one or two that I believed in, and I’d submit those to one publication each, even if simultaneous submissions were allowed. Then I’d wait however many months for a response and be bummed when a rejection rolled in. The key for me was writing more stories, getting more out there under consideration, and not putting too much hope in any one submission.

7) Plug away. Tells us about some of your recent projects and why we should run out and buy them.

You mentioned my story “Y Is for Yangchuan Lizard” is coming out in this year’s volume of The Best American Mystery Stories, which will be published in October. I was unbelievably excited when I got the news. The table of contents includes authors like T.C. Boyle, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates—writers I’ve read, admired, and learned from.

Another big publication on the horizon is a second project with James Patterson. Texas Ranger, a novel he and I coauthored, is scheduled to be released in August. It was a lot of fun to work on. I recently received an ARC, and it was a real thrill to see my name on the cover with James Patterson. I can’t wait to see the novel in bookstores!


Andrew Bourelle is the author of the novel Heavy Metal. His short stories, poems, and comics (illustrated by his brother Ed Bourelle) have been published in journals and anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories, D Is for Dinosaur, Equus, Florida Review, Heavy Feather Review, Prime Number Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Weirdbook Magazine, and Whitefish Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewBourelle.