Rejection Letter Rundown: The Shortlist Rejection

Sometimes you have to wait a while for a publisher to get back to you about a submission, which can be hard, but it’s just one of those things you have to accept as part of the whole being a writer thing. That said, when you have good reason to hope your story will be accepted, the waiting can become rather nail-biting and the possible rejection all the more disappointing. Today’s rejection letter du jour is the shortlist rejection, which is a whole process that begins with an encouraging note like this.

“XXX” has been accepted into our final round of consideration. We will be letting you know before the end of April whether or not it is accepted.

What we have here is a further consideration letter, which is always a good thing. It says the publisher liked your story, and you’ve got at least a fifty-fifty shot at an acceptance. I appreciate these largely because they often come from markets that can take a while to get back to you, so it’s nice to get some notification that a decision is in the works. Now, of course, getting a letter like this is no guarantee of publication, because it might eventually result in a letter like the following.

Thanks so much for letting us consider your story “XXX.” While it made it to the final round of consideration, I’m afraid that we chose not to accept it. We had a lot of submissions and there were difficult decisions to be made. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Ouch. Bummer, right? So my story was under consideration for about three months before they decided to pass on it. I’m not angry or anything—this is all part of the writing gig—and I have no doubt my story was up against some stiff competition. So, what’s the takeaway from a rejection letter like this? It’s pretty simply really. I got close. The story got close. To my mind, it means the story is pretty good the way it is, and that I should send it out to another publisher right away, which is exactly what I did. If this publisher liked it enough to strongly consider it for publication, the next one might like it even more and publish it right off the bat. We’ll just have to see.

Have you had any experiences with the short list rejection? Tell me about it in the comments.

8 Comments on “Rejection Letter Rundown: The Shortlist Rejection

  1. JMHO, but I find it helpful to view this stuff like a job interview. If you aren’t getting in the door – then you need to examine the package. Once in the door, it is really not about you or what you sent any more (OK, noted: in a job interview, you *can say something silly and lose it for yourself – but my point is, I don’t think you really ‘win’ it for yourself).

    Once you hit that finalist round, it isn’t about you – it’s about them. What intangibles are they looking for (that might be different next time) – for example, how does this piece fit in with the other pieces marked for the next few issues (or ‘how does this person’s personality map to the other team members)? What was the other competition?

    Round one is about judging your product – be it article or resume. The last rounds are about how you fit a bigger whole that you can’t see or predict.

    Ask questions (“can you let me know what I could have done to change that outcome?”), use the info if it is usable – and be ready to hear “It’s not you it’s me.” In that event – it’s them. You just aren’t their person/this just isn’t their story. This time. Go somewhere else – and don’t hesitate to come back here on another day, when the intangibles and other competitors may be totally different.

    • That’s a great way to look at it, and I agree with your approach one-hundred percent. These rejections are most likely the result of a wrong story, wrong time situation. It’s clear they like something about the story, or they wouldn’t have considered publishing it. So, yeah, I’ll absolutely be submitting to this market again, and the story in question has already been sent to another publisher.

  2. I do find this type of rejection especially disappointing. I would rather have never received the preliminary “You’re in the final round” message to get my hopes up. But my response to this sort of rejection is exactly the same as my response to any other sort. I send the story somewhere else and keep slogging away on whatever new thing I’m writing.

    • They’re certainly disappointing, but I also think they’re pretty informative. They at least tell me I was on the right track with the rejecting publisher, and that I should send more work their way. That’s always useful info.

  3. I can’t recall ever receiving a shortlist letter from a periodical (though I may have). I see them more often with anthologies. A periodical editor who shortlists a submission can hold the story until there is an appropriate opening (earlier this month I received a contract for a story held 2+ years; I’ve had stories purchased that were held even longer), but an anthology editor has only a one-time shot to fill pages.

    Each time an anthology editor shortlists one of my stories, I cross my fingers (which doesn’t slow down my typing much because I can’t touch-type). Usually, I receive an acceptance in due time. But not always.

    On an unrelated note: Your frequent mentions of The Molotov Cocktail prompted me to submit a story. Alas, no rejection to report. My story “Let Dead Dogs Lie” appears in issue 7.2:

    • I’ve gotten a couple of these from magazines. Just lucky, I guess. 😉

      I love that you submitted to and were accepted by The Molotov Cocktail; they’re a great little zine. Did you see their Flash Felon contest? Deadline is the 30th and there are real cash money prizes to be had. The subject matter is right up your alley. Here’s a link:

      Of course, I now realize that my own chances of winning the contest decrease dramatically if you enter it. 😉

  4. Aeryn, I’m very new to submitting, and I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on why journals send shortlist e-mails. I got an e-mail from a journal I would have been delighted to be published in saying that my story had been shortlisted for potential publication and was being sent to their editor and that I would receive a final response “soon.” A week and a half (during which I definitely wasn’t checking my e-mail every seven minutes) went by with no further word. Then, another journal accepted the story, so I withdrew it from the first journal (after, noob that I am, contacting them to verify that their initial e-mail did not constitute “dibs” on the story; they very graciously confirmed that it did not). The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what had been the point of the “shortlist” e-mail. I was absolutely flattered to receive it–as you and others have said, being shortlisted is definitely a compliment–but the journal could have communicated that same message after making a final determination, as opposed to before. Were they hoping that I’d withdraw the story from other markets? I’d appreciate any insights you have on why journals send these shortlist e-mails and whether it’s wise to take any particular actions upon receiving one. Thanks!

    PS- This is a great blog!

    • Hi. Kristopher. Thanks for the comment. So, why do publisher send shortlist or further consideration letters?

      In my opinion, the primary reason is to let the author know the story is under serious consideration and that a decision may take a bit longer than usual. Generally, a shortlisted story will be held longer, often to the end of the submission window, while the editors make final decisions. It’s polite and professional to let the authors know what’s happening with their work.

      If the publisher accepts simultaneous submissions, I do not think they would send a shortlist letter in hopes the author will withdraw the story elsewhere. Again, I think it’s really about keeping the author in the loop about what is happening with their work.

      As for what action you should take when receiving such a letter. I’d say wait for the publisher to make a decision. If you’re shortlisted, they’re seriously considering your work and are more likely to accept it.

      Hope that answers your question. Glad you’re digging the blog. 🙂

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