The Unacceptance Letter by Michael Bracken

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.

Michael Bracken is the author of several books and more than 1,100 short stories. Learn more at and follow his blog at

14 Comments on “The Unacceptance Letter by Michael Bracken

  1. Interesting. I hadn’t even thought of this scenario. It’s a tough market, though, and I’ve seen a few places go under even in the short time I’ve been submitting 😦

    • I’ll admit, I hadn’t either until Michael suggested it to me as a possible subject for the blog. Michael has so much experience he’s likely seen everything the industry can throw at you, good and bad.

  2. I’ve had one of those… it’s actually even more heartbreaking than a rejection, because you’ve been thinking the whole time that you’ll actually published.

  3. I sold a New Year themed story once and they paid me for it but it wasn’t published that year. So the following year i enquired if they’d use it and there was a new editor who told me they’d lost it! “But you were paid for it, so thats all right isn’t it?” No it wasn’t! Being in print is the thing!

    • Being in print is the thing, Ginny, but given a choice between being paid and not published or published and not paid, I’ll take the money every time.

  4. I can remember this happening to me early on in my freelance writing career. I’d sold 3 columns to a US magazine with payment to come after publication (this is typical in publishing). The magazine went under the month before my first column was to appear, and I received a nice unacceptance letter — and no, I didn’t get paid. An early lesson on the perils of publishing. Great post and thanks for helping me find this blog. Now following!

    • Thankfully, I’ve never experienced the unacceptance, just plain old rejection. Seems like most unacceptance letters, like yours, result from the accepting market going under, which is always a danger, I guess.

      Thanks for the follow, by the way. 🙂

  5. Hi, Michael and what a great post. I was told my story would be in an anthology and oops, changed their mind. I had been so excited and dropped to the dumps because I liked the project. Sigh. I’ll find a home for it soon.

  6. I find it deeply annoying when they say, “I’m sure you’ll have no trouble placing it elsewhere.” Haven’t they learned anything from their own experience?” Great post, Michael. 🙂

  7. Thanks for everyone’s kind comments and for sharing similar experiences. The Unacceptance Letter is something of which I’ve received far too many (wouldn’t just one be too many?), but had never seen mentioned or heard anyone discuss.

  8. Twice I’ve had to assume, after more than a year or two without communication, that the project wouldn’t go forward. One was a story that was requested, the other an accepted submission. As heartbreaking as the Unacceptance Letter is, NOT getting one was worse for me. (The online sites are gone and my emails unanswered–bummer.) It’s good to know there are others in the same boats! Thanks for the post.

  9. Pingback: Rejuvenation II | Lida Bushloper

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