Tiered Form Rejections: Fact or Fiction?

If you’ve been submitting stories to the many literary and genre magazines, journals, and zines out there, then you’ve no doubt heard that some markets have more than one type of form rejection. Not only do these publishers have more than one, they have different tiered or higher levels of rejections, and the higher the tier, the closer the story got to an acceptance (in theory).

Here’s my two cents. I think tiered rejections are absolutely a thing, though they’re more common with larger markets, and I have examples!

First, let me tell you where I’m going to get the bulk of my evidence. I found a nifty little wiki called the Rejection Wiki, which is a database of rejections from various publishers. They have actual examples of real rejections submitted by real writers, and they break them down into standard and higher tier form rejections, as well as a few other types of form letters. It’s a great site, and I’ve been contributing to its database when I can, and you should too; it’s an invaluable resource for writers. Note, some of the letters in the database are a few years (or more) old, but, in my experience, many markets haven’t changed their form letters in that time or have changed them very little.

Oh, and one more thing. I’m actually going to name the names of the markets here because these are form rejections and and there’s no personal information involved. A rejection with an asterisk is one I’ve actually received.

Example 1: Fantastic Stories of the Imagination

This is one of the top markets in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. They’re a pro-paying market with a very low acceptance ratio, which is par for the course with top markets that receive hundreds of submission per month.

Standard Form Rejection

Thank you for sharing your story with us. Unfortunately it doesn’t meet our editorial needs at this time.

Higher Tier Form Rejection*

Thank you for sharing your story with us. Unfortunately it doesn’t meet our editorial needs at this time. Please keep us in mind for future submissions.

Further Consideration Letter

Congratulations, your story has been kicked up to the editor-in-chief [name]. He should have a final answer for you shortly.

Can you spot the difference between the standard and higher tier form rejection? It’s going to be a running theme in this post. Yep, the higher tier mentions future submissions. As with many top-tier publishers, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination sends a further consideration letter if your story makes it past the first round of readers.

Example 2: Apex Magazine

Another top genre market in the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror genres, Apex is also a pro-paying market that regularly publishes stories that are nominated or even win prestigious awards in the speculative fiction industry.

Standard Form Rejection*

Thank you for submitting XXX to Apex Magazine for consideration. Unfortunately, it does not meet our needs at this time.

Higher Tier Form Rejection

Thank you for submitting XXX to Apex Magazine for consideration. Unfortunately, I’m going to pass on it. It’s just not what I’m looking for right now.

I look forward to reading further submissions from you.

Further Consideration Letter*

Thank you for submitting XXX to Apex Magazine. One of our first readers has read your story and believes it deserves a closer look. We would like to hold it for further consideration. Good luck!

Again, the difference between the standard and higher tier is future submission, in that they mention or ask for them. And, again, like many big markets they’ve got a group of first readers that go through submissions and decide what gets passed up to the editors.

Example 3: Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons is one of the premier fantasy and sci-fi markets, and checks all the boxes for that level of publication: pro-paying, low acceptance ratio, quick to respond, etc.

Standard Form Rejection

Thank you for submitting XXX to Strange Horizons, but we’ve decided not to accept it for publication.

We appreciate your interest in our magazine.

Higher Tier Form Rejection

Thank you for submitting XXX to Strange Horizons, but we’ve decided not to accept it for publication. There was some lovely writing in this piece, but overall it didn’t quite engage us.

We appreciate your interest in our magazine.

Strange Horizons departs a bit from the pattern of the previous two magazines in that they do not ask for further submission in their higher tier form rejection. They do, however, note the quality of the writing, and I would say it’s safe to assume the “send more submissions” part is implied.

Example 4: Nightmare Magazine

One of my favorites, Nightmare Magazine is one of the top markets in the horror genre. Like all the big boys on the block, they’re a tough nut to crack.

Standard Form Rejection*

Thanks for submitting XXX, but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.

Higher Tier Form Rejection

Thanks for submitting XXX, but I’m going to pass on it. It’s nicely written and I enjoyed reading it, but overall it didn’t quite win me over, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way. I look forward to seeing your next submission.

Nightmare’s higher tier form rejection is the best of both worlds. They praise the writing and they ask for more submissions. Can’t beat that in a rejection from a market like this.

So, what’s the verdict? I’d say it’s pretty clear. Higher tier form rejections are absolutely a thing, and you should feel good about getting one from a top-tier market. You might ask why they don’t send a personal rejection instead of the higher tier form rejection. I think the answer to that is simply they don’t have the time. These markets receive hundreds of submission a month and writing out a nice personal note to every author who wrote a good story but didn’t quite make the cut would take a lot of time.

It should be noted that some markets include something about further submissions in their standard form rejection, so it might seem like a higher tier, but it isn’t. It’s just a nicety the editors decided to include in their form rejection. That’s why a site like the Rejection Wiki is so handy. You can actually see what type of rejection you’ve received. They have tons more examples than the ones I’ve posted here, so head on out and have a look, and if you’ve received a rejection that’s not in their database, be a pal, create an account, and add it.

Have any thoughts on tiered rejections? Tell me about them in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Tiered Form Rejections: Fact or Fiction?

  1. Fascinating stuff, Aeryn. (And BTW, congrats on the Molotov win. I like how they designed the cover with tree and moon looking kinda Van Gogh-y.) My gut reaction takeaway: yay! I didn’t realize that sometimes a “please submit again” is a higher-tiered rejection. As the saying goes, I’m gonna keep on keeping on. Thanks for the information on the rejection wiki (had no idea!) and your experiences, too. Invaluable!

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  2. I knew tiered rejections existed–my first experience with them was when George Scithers edited Asimov’s–but I haven’t thought about them in ages. After all, a rejection, no matter what tier it’s from, is still a rejection.

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    • I like them because it helps me narrow down what a publisher wants. If I send story A and get a basic form rejection, and then I send story B and get a higher tier rejection, I can assume that story B is closer to what the publisher wants. Sure, that’s not foolproof, but, in theory, I think it helps.

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