Hey, folks, we’ve got a very special guest author today, the talented and prolific Michael Bracken. Michael has graciously agreed to write a post about one of the more unusual types of rejection letters – the Unacceptance.
Though it is always disappointing to receive a rejection, regardless of whether it’s a form letter or a detailed personal one, there is one missive even more disheartening than a rejection: The Unacceptance.
You’ve written a story—on assignment, by invitation, or on spec—and it’s been accepted for publication. If you’re an early career writer, you may have told all your friends and family, and you may have noted it on your blog, Facebook, and Twitter. You’re floating on air, awaiting the story’s publication so you can show everyone.
But that never happens. One day you learn the project’s been canceled, or the editor’s been replaced, or the publication has changed direction, and your story is no longer needed.
Most often this news comes as a letter or email from the editor.
The Unacceptance may be a form letter, such as the following I received from a publisher that went out of business after accepting, but not contracting, one of my stories:
Thank you for sending us “XXX.” We appreciate the chance to read and consider it. Unfortunately, XXX will not be publishing any further books.
If you are awaiting a contract for a story, please accept this letter as our sincere apology for the delay in advising you of this turn of events. We wanted to give it a few weeks to see what would happen, and frankly did not like the results.
Any stories “accepted” but not contracted for are no longer required. Any stories already published have all been paid for in full and all terms continue to apply, with the exception of one author that required a mailed payment—and the cheque is, as they say, “in the mail.”
Thank you for your interest in this project. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors and towards all future sales of your work.
Sometimes the Unacceptance, though still obviously a form letter, is directed to a small group of contributors, such as the following, which I received from the editors of an anthology for whom I had written a story to fit a specific theme:
It’s been quite some time since we complied the XXX anthology. Unfortunately, we were not able to sell the project and feel it is time to move on.
Thank you for bearing with us during this time. Knowing the quality of the stories we received, we are confident that all of our authors will be able to sell them elsewhere.
We hope the economy is not an indication of the future of the book business. And if we should put out another call for stories some time in the future, we would welcome your submission.
Or the Unacceptance might be a more personal note, such as the following for a story I wrote after receiving a personal invitation from the editor:
I’m so sorry to keep you waiting this long. As you may have guessed, I ran into insurmountable difficulties trying to keep the magazine going.
Regrettably, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to produce another issue.
Even more regrettably, I have to return your story, which breaks my heart. I love it. I’m sure you’ll find a good home for it, but I really wish it could have been here.
Humblest apologies for standing you up. I’ve been on the other end of it a bunch of times. I know it sucks.
As disappointing as it is to receive an Unacceptance—especially because you now need to back away from the good news you previously shared—what you do is much the same as what you would do with a rejection: Curse vociferously. Then submit the story somewhere else and keep submitting until the story finds a home.
The advantage of keeping an Unaccepted story on the market, unlike keeping a rejected story on the market, is that you know it was good enough to sell once, so it should be good enough to sell again.
Having received far more Unacceptances than the three I’ve noted above, I’ve learned one other important lesson. Even though I use my blog to share news about each of my acceptances, I don’t mention title or publication name until a story is actually published. That way I never have to back away from the good news I share.