Rejection Letter Rundown: The No-Response Rejection

There are many types of rejections, and I’ve covered a bunch of them on this blog, but in my opinion, the most frustrating is the no-response rejection. That’s when the publisher simply never responds to your submission, and the rejection is implied rather than stated outright.

There are a few publishers that even state in their guidelines you should consider a submission rejected if you don’t hear from them in a certain amount of time. In my experience, these publishers are pretty rare, at least in the genre market, so it’s important to eliminate three of the more common reasons for the lack of response before determining if you have indeed received the no-response brushoff.

  1. Human error. Hey, shit happens, legit emails end up in spam, editors forget to respond, Cthulhu eats your submission (and then your soul), and so on. If you’ve submitted to a market that traditionally responds quickly and has a good track record of getting back to authors (info you can get from Duotrope), it’s probably just a case of humans being humans.
  2. They’re slow. Yep, some publishers just take a while to respond. Most of these publishers are aware of that fact and will warn you in the guidelines. If not, a quick look at Duotrope or The Submission Grinder should tell how long it typically takes a publisher to respond.
  3. They’re defunct. It’s a tough ol’ market out there for small publishers, and sometimes they disappear without warning. When this happens, you probably won’t get notification if you have a submission pending. It’s happened to me twice. Again, Duotrope is your friend here, as they post a list (updated frequently) of markets believed to be defunct.

If you suspect any of the three scenarios above and your submission has been held past the expected response date (usually stated in the publisher’s guidelines), then it’s time to send a polite status query letter and inquire about your story.

If you’ve eliminated the three scenarios above or you’ve submitted a story to a publisher that actually tells you they do no-response rejections, I think you should still send a status query letter (unless the guidelines tell you not to). It’s the polite, professional thing to do. Give the publisher a reasonable amount of time to respond, and if you’ve still heard nothing, send a polite withdrawal letter, removing your story from consideration. This way, all your bases are covered, you’ve been professional and courteous (always a good plan), and there’s no mystery regarding the status of your story.

Okay, now for the op-ed portion of this post. I think every publisher should respond to every author that sends them a story, even if that’s just a brief “not for us” form letter. Publishers expect authors to follow the letter of the law when it comes to guidelines, as well they should, be courteous and professional, and accept rejection with grace and dignity, again, as well they should. It’s a social contract, and the publisher’s part of that contract is simple: read a story (or some of it, at least) and respond to the author. In my opinion, that’s not too much to ask.

I don’t think volume of submissions is a good excuse, either. It might extend the time it takes for a publisher to get back to you, but it shouldn’t preclude them from responding to you completely. There are magazines that receive hundreds of submissions every month, yet still respond to every author. For example, Clarkesworld is one of the most prestigious (and biggest) genre markets out there, and their stories have been nominated for or won the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, BSFA, Sturgeon, Locus, Shirley Jackson, Ditmar, Aurora, Aurealis, WSFA Small Press and Stoker Awards. Want to know what their “Never Responded” percentage is at Duotrope? It’s 0.16%. That’s less than two submission out of a thousand (if my math is right). I’d be willing to bet large sums of money those few submissions reported as never responded fall squarely into the human error category. And Clarkesworld is just one example. A quick bit of research shows nearly all the big genre markets have no-response rates well under one percent. That’s actually pretty awesome, and as an author who has submitted to many of these markets, I really do appreciate it.

What are your thoughts on the no-response rejection? Tell us about it in the comments.

Submission Protocol: The Accidental Reprint

I’ve covered reprints on the blog before, but I think it’s worth revisiting the subject because I’ve seen something popping up in submission guidelines that could affect a lot of writers. I’m talking about what I call the accidental reprint, a situation you may find yourself in if you post fiction on your blog or website. It’s important to understand how a number of publishers view this activity before you throw that shiny new story up on your blog. Basically, some markets consider such a story published. At best, they might accept it as a reprint, and, at worst, they won’t accept it all.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some excerpts from various submission guidelines addressing this subject.

  • Previously unpublished (No Reprints) in English – and this also means not being published on an author’s own website.

This is taken from the guidelines of a pro-paying market, and I think you should assume that “author’s own website” also means “author’s own blog,” because, let’s face it, for many of us, myself included, they’re the same thing.

  • [XXX] accepts only original material. No reprints, please. Even if it has been displayed on your own web page, we consider it published. If the story has been posted and reviewed at a password-protected e-workshop with a controlled list of participants, we consider this a plus.

This semi-pro zine has similar wording as the first example, though they spell it out more plainly. One other thing to note is the second part of this guideline that exempts certain kinds of writing groups and workshops. It’s an important distinction and one that I’ve seen tacked on to these types of restrictive clauses on a few occasions.

  • We are not looking for (and will not license) self-published stories (in any format/venue), stories that have been published and are available to download on-line (free or paid) as stand-alone stories (in collections and anthologies is fine), or stories that are available free on-line in any form (magazine, archive, blog, etc, but podcasts that have not been made available in print are fine).

Finally, this semi-pro market has a much more detailed restriction that specifically includes blogs, and it’s clear they see a story on an author’s own website as self-publication.

These are just three examples I found with a five-minute search on Duotrope; there are many more. Look, I’m not saying don’t ever put your original works up on your blog. There are lots of (good) reasons people do it, and I’m not here to tell you how to run your blog or website. That said, it’s important to have all the facts if your goal is to submit original fiction to print and online magazines. In other words, don’t shoot yourself in the foot right out of the gate if you can avoid it. If you’re working on a piece you’d like to post on your blog and submit to specific markets, check those markets’ guidelines and make sure they don’t have the accidental reprint restriction.

I know what some of you must be thinking right now. You’re thinking, “I’ll just remove the story from my blog before I submit it, and no one will be the wiser.” Am I right? Unfortunately, that won’t always work because, as many have said, the internet is forever (or close to it). Even if you delete the story from your blog, it’ll probably still show up in a search on Google when the publishers runs your name and the story title (and some will). Yes, it’ll be a dead link, but the search results are all the evidence the publisher needs to reject your story. A bit of research reveals there are ways to remove the content completely from search engines, but they are pretty involved, and, honestly, way above my pay grade. If you’d like more info on that subject, though, here’s a great post to start with from SEOblog titled Why Is Google Still Indexing My Deleted Pages?

Since I’m a serial submitter, I play it pretty safe with my blog, and I only post fiction that is a) approved by one of my publishers or b) a story I’ve already sold and would be considered a reprint anyway. Again, I’m not saying do as I do, just make sure you have all the information before you, uh, do.

One last thing: in my experience, this little caveat seems to be specific to short story and poetry markets. I haven’t seen this stipulation for longer works, like novels. I could be wrong, though, and if you’re aware of an accidental reprint restriction in a book publisher’s guidelines, let us know in the comments.

Form Letters: Not Just for Rejections

If you live in the land of rejectomancy like I do, then you’re pretty damn familiar with the form rejection letter. It comes in a variety of different flavors, but they all essentially say the same thing: No. Recently, I have ventured into the golden sunlit lands of acceptance on a more frequent basis (I’d get a condo there, but the rent is ridiculous), and I have found this wondrous place has more in common with the blighted nether-realm of rejection than I would have believed.

One of those similarities is the form letter. Yep, form acceptance letters are actually kind of common, as I have recently discovered. Let’s look at a couple from my own collection:

Thank you for sending us “XXX”. We think it is a great fit and would like to publish it.

We will be in touch shortly with a formal contract and details for your review. In the meantime please email any question or comments to [publisher’s email address]. If you have not received a contract for review within two (2) weeks, then please do e-mail and give us a gentle nudge.

Thank you again for allowing us to consider your work. We look forward to working with you.

Yep, that is absolutely a form letter. I know because I’ve received two from this publisher. Let’s look at another one.

Thank you for sending us “XXX”. We love it and would like to publish it in the next issue of XXX.

Your contract is included in this email. Please accept the contract by following the link at the bottom of this email and include your 100 word bio and mailing address, or PayPal email address if you’d prefer, in the Requested Information box. We’ll send an email with editorial suggestions two to three weeks before the issue publication date.

Thank you for your submission and we look forward to working with you!

Again, I know this is a form letter because I’ve been published previously by this market and received the same letter.

Why would a publisher send a form letter for an acceptance? Well, if you think about it, it makes even more sense than a form rejection. A rejection letter only needs to convey one thing: we’re not publishing your story. The rest is all welcome but unnecessary niceties. An acceptance letter, on the other hand, needs to get across quite a bit of important information, as you can see in my two examples. The publisher needs to tell you about the contract, about the edits, who to contact if you have questions, how to get paid, and so on. That’s a lot of information, and I certainly wouldn’t want to write that from scratch every time I accepted a story. A boilerplate letter with all the info an author needs makes a lot more sense, don’t you think?

Just like form rejections, you shouldn’t read anything into form acceptances other than what’s actually been said. For instance, if you look at my first example, you might think, “Hey, they didn’t say a bunch of nice things about Aeryn’s story.” Well, they didn’t need to because they said the nicest thing possible: We’re gonna publish your story. In my experience, you’ll find more specific and personalized praise in the manuscript the publisher send over for edits, often as a note at the end of the story. It’s the cherry on top of the acceptance sundae.

Are there publishers that send personalized acceptance letters? Of course, just like there are publishers who send personalized rejection letters. That said, I’ll take the short, bland form acceptance letter over a novel-length personalized rejection every day of the week.

Characters: They Walk Among Us

I live in downtown Seattle, a place populated with all kinds of characters: bearded hipsters, posh business-folk, foreign tourists of all nationalities, goth millennials, and random weirdos, just for starters. As such, I do a lot of people watching to get ideas for characters in my stories and novels. Usually, I grab a facial feature there, a nervous tick here, or a quirky hairstyle over there. In other words, most folks have one or maybe two interesting features I might use. But every now and then, the planets align, the heavens open, and the gods of literature send a fully formed character to stroll through my little reality for a brief moment.

About a week ago, I was shopping at Metropolitan Market here in Seattle (Metro is like a slightly less pretentious Whole Foods with name brands). I’m cruising the aisles, getting my smoothie makings, coffee, Perrier (I drink that shit by the gallon), and whatnot. I look up, and coming toward me down the coffee and tea aisle is a character straight out of a a classic Tarantino movie.

Let me see if I can capture this guy’s sheer fucking majesty. He was a bit over six feet tall, on the lean side (I’d put him at a buck seventy), with black hair done in a kind of fifties breaker haircut, and a face that looked like a cross between a youngish Clint Eastwood and a current Michael Madsen. He could have been anywhere from 40 to 50, and he had one of those faces that said “Yes, I have absolutely seen and done some shit.” He looked like he hadn’t shaved in maybe three days, but the stubble was perfect, and he was one of those lucky assholes whose beards seem to grow like they were drawn by a graphic designer. He wasn’t quite what you’d call handsome; he was honestly too cool for that.

It gets better. He was wearing a tailored navy blue suit (obviously designer) with a white button-up shirt under the jacket. The shirt was open to mid-chest so you could see what looked like a full-body tattoo that traveled up onto his neck in little spidery lines. He had the sleeves of his jacket pushed up just below the elbow, with the white shirt rolled over the cuffs, and he had full-sleeve tattoos on both arms that ended at his wrists. His shoes were black leather, expensive, and recently polished. He had no piercings I could see; they would have been slightly too much, if you ask me.

Now you might be thinking this combination of clothing, body art, and style would be super douchey on any normal human being. Not this guy. He may have been the coolest motherfucker I’ve ever laid eyes on. If you’d have come up to me in the Metro Market, standing there like a dumbass staring at this poor man, and said, “Yeah, that guy? He’s the deadliest hit man in the Russian and the Italian mob, and he moonlights for the Yakuza,” I would not have questioned it. If you’d said, “That dude? He’s a fallen angel taking a break from hell to fetch some whole wheat Triscuits for Satan,” I would have believe it. Fuck, if you told me, “Hey, you know those books you like by Stephen King? The Dark Tower ones with that totally awesome character Roland Deschain? Yep, this is the guy he’s based on, except this dude is actually more badass,” I would have nodded and mumbled, “Of course he is.”

I fought the urge to take out my phone and snap a picture, and it was a struggle, let me tell you, but I wasn’t about to stalk and photograph a gun-slinging fallen angel hit man, mostly because I didn’t want to look like a creep. Sure, my memory of the guy has probably grown a bit, and a few details might be slightly exaggerated by now, but, I swear, ninety-five percent of what I’ve written here is gospel.

So, what am I trying to say here? Basically, the world is full of characters, and if you pay attention, one might walk right out of Metro Market and into your next story.

Encountered an interesting character of your own? Share it in the comments.

January 2016 Submission Statement

These posts used to be called Rejection Roundup, but seeing that it’s a new year, and, shockingly, I occasionally receive something other than a rejection from publishers, I think a name change is in order. So, let’s try “Submission Statement” (damn, I love me some alliteration).

January Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 7
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Other: 1

The Rejections

Yep, let’s support the brand first and get to those tasty, tasty rejections. I mean, I didn’t call the blog Rejectomancy for nothing, right?

Rejection 1: 1/17/16

I had a chance to read the story.  The conceit is interesting, however it’s not really suited for [XXX].  Thank you for the submission and best of luck in future writing.

This was the first rejection of 2016, and I covered it in detail in this post.

Rejection 2: 1/24/16

Thank you for letting [XXX] consider your story. Unfortunately it didn’t quite grab us. We wish you the best in finding its home.

This was yet another (form) rejection for one of my most beleaguered stories. It’s amassed thirteen rejections and counting and may soon become my most rejected tale. The thing is I really, really like it, and I think I just need to get it in front of the right editor. I’ve sold one story after thirteen rejections, so I’m sticking to my guns here. I’ve already sent the story out again. Check with me after twenty rejections, and we’ll see if my faith in the story still holds.

Rejection 3: 1/25/16

We have read your submission and will have to pass, as it unfortunately does not meet our needs at this time.

This is the first rejection for an old story I recently revised quite significantly. It’s the standard form rejection from a pro-paying market that turns and burns stories within a single day, though I’ve heard tales about rejections measured in hours from this publication. Anyway, I love the fact they’re so quick. It lets me get that story out to another publisher pronto.

Rejection 4: 1/30/16

Thank you for your submission. We have reviewed your story, and, regretfully, we have decided against using it. Unfortunately, we receive too many submissions to publish them all. We appreciate your interest in our podcast.

This form rejection is for the same story turned down in Rejection #3, but it was to an audio market. I’m seeing more and more of those, and I really like them because they’re usually not picky about reprints. I’ve submitted to this market a few times, but I’ve yet to crack them.

Rejection 5: 1/31/16

Thanks for letting us see “Story X.”  I regret to say that it’s just not right for [XXX]. It’s a solid piece, with some good characters and good tension. Unfortunately, by the end, I’m afraid it just didn’t “grab” me the way it might have.  I’ve been sitting here thinking why not, and it occurs to me that I never really connected with [the protagonist].  Maybe if it had been first-person instead of third-person.  That’s not a request for a rewrite (I don’t make too many of those).  It’s just a thought. In any event, I’m sorry.  Best of luck with this one in other markets.

This is a nice informative personal rejection for “Story X.” I cover the letter in more detail in this post.

Rejection 6 & 7: 1/31/16

Thanks for participating in our Flash Phenom contest. The stories this time around were tremendous and made for some stiff competition. Unfortunately, [your stories] did not finish in our Top 10 finalists. 

We always encourage folks to try submitting their entries for consideration in a regular issue of The Molotov Cocktail (free to submit), especially if you were a close-but-no-cigar in the contest. Thanks again for your participation.

We literally couldn’t do these contests without you.

So, I’ve broken my rules here and named the magazine to which these rejections belong. I don’t plant to make a habit of this, but one of my stories placed in the contest, and I want to talk about and link to it in this post. Also, the folks at The Molotov Cocktail are super rad, and they gave me the go-ahead. Anyway, I submitted three stories to the Flash Phenom contest, and two of them didn’t make the cut. The rejections letters were identical, save for the name of the story.

By the way, you should check out my Ranks of the Rejected interview with Josh Goller, the editor over at The Molotov Cocktail. It’s a good one, with tons of useful info for aspiring writers.

The Acceptance

I caught just a whiff of the sweet, sweet smell of acceptance in January, and it was with one of my favorite publications to boot.

Acceptance 1: 1/31/16

Thanks for participating in our Flash Phenom contest. The stories this time around were tremendous and made for some stiff competition. We’re happy to report that your entry, “A Man of Many Hats,” has been selected as an Honorable Mention. Congratulations!

We will be publishing “A Man of Many Hats” in our upcoming Flash Phenom mega-issue, and it will be included in our Prize Winners Anthology print issue, due out in the fall.

Thanks again for your participation. We literally couldn’t do these contests without you.

Again, I broke my rules here, but this is the same publisher, The Molotov Cocktail, as the final two rejections. You can check out my honorable mention story, “A Man of Many Hats,” on their site by following the link. You should also check out the Flash Phenom mega-issue, which features the very worthy winners and all the honorable mentions.

Anyway, nice to get an acceptance to close out the month.

The Other

I rarely get letters outside of rejections or the occasional acceptance, but this month I did, and what I got was pretty encouraging.

Further Consideration/Shortlist Letter 1: 1/22/16

Just a quick update to let you know that your story has made it to the final round of reviews for publication in [XXX] magazine and anthology series. We expect to have our final choices turned in 30 days from now and will let everyone know if their stories have been accepted or not.

Thanks for your patience!

Fairly stoked about this letter. This is a pro-paying market I’d very much like to crack. It’s certainly encouraging that my story has made it to the final round of reviews. Hopefully, that’ll mean an acceptance and a publication, but it’s a tough ol’ market out there, so I won’t get my hopes up too high.

Well, that was my January. How was yours?

My Latest Publication – “Scare Tactics”


Hey, folks, The Devilfish Review has just published my short story “Scare Tactics.” It’s a quaint little story about a girl, her pet demon, and a budding parapsychology career.

I had a lot of fun writing this one, and I hope you have as much fun reading it. You can read the entire story online by following the link below. So, you know, do that, and then say nice things about it. 😉

“Scare Tactics” by Aeryn Rudel