How many rejections do I let a story accumulate before I revise it? That’s a question I get asked a lot these days (maybe because I plaster my rejections all over the internet). It’s a good question, and my answer usually is something like, “Well, what kind of rejections are we talking about?”
It’s really the type of rejection that informs my decision to revise rather than the quantity of rejections. To show you what I’m talking about, let’s look at some of my recent rejections, and I’ll tell you how they factored into my decision to revise or not revise.
Rejection 1: Standard Form
We have read your submission and will have to pass, as it unfortunately does not meet our needs at this time.
I’ve received rejections like this a lot—most writers have—and, honestly, they barely even register on my revision meter. I mean, this rejection doesn’t tell me anything other than this publisher is not going to publish the story. Because there’s so little information, I would likely never revise a story on a rejection like this or even a few rejection like this. Now, if I get this rejection like ten times in a row, then I might reconsider. Thankfully, that has yet to happen on any story I’ve submitted.
Rejection 2: Higher-Tier Form
We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.
Yeah, it’s still a standard form rejection, but it does give me some information I can use. This letter doesn’t give me any specific feedback, but it’s from a very tough market, and a higher-tier rejection usually means they saw something they liked. If I get this rejection early in the submission grind, like the first three attempts, I usually take that as a sign to keep submitting the story as is. If this editor liked it a little (and these decisions often come down to matters of taste), the next editor might like it a lot.
Rejection 3: Further Consideration + Rejection
1) “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.
2) 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.
It’s always a good sign if your story makes it to the final round of consideration, or, with some of the top-end markets, past the first round of readers. A further consideration letter is always a positive in my book, and even if it results in a rejection, there was something in the story the editors liked. In this example, they didn’t offer any specific feedback, so it only strengthened my decision to send the story out again as is. That turned out to be a good decision, as the story was accepted by the next market I sent it to.
Rejection 4: Further Consideration + Rejection + Feedback
1) Your short story “XXX” has made it through to the next stage of submission. This involves your story going to our editors at the end of the month for a final decision and can take a little while so we appreciate your patience.
Following is feedback from our readers.
– Nicely crafted urban fantasy story.
– Edgy piece, nicely written. I had to look up Baba Yaga to get the full meaning of the ending of the story, however.
2) Thank you for your patience while our editors reviewed your submission.
Unfortunately, XXX has not been accepted for publication in XXX.
We hope you continue to submit to XXX in future and I wish you all the best with your publishing endeavors.
This further consideration letter was somewhat unique in that it included feedback from the market’s readers. They had some nice things to say about the story, but one of them had a solid bit of critical feedback that I definitely took note of. In this particular story, I banked on the reader being familiar with Baba Yaga, a powerful witch or ogress from Slavic folklore. I wouldn’t go so far as to call her obscure, but Baba Yaga is certainly not as well-known as other mythological figures. The problem, as the reader pointed out, is that the impact of my story’s ending suffers if you don’t know who she is. That’s a legit issue, and it has certainly given me reason to consider a revision.
It’s also important to note that this story has received a number of rejections like examples one, two, and three, so it’s been out there a lot and had a fair number of near misses. I didn’t revise it because it was getting close, but this little nugget of information might be one of the reasons it hasn’t been accepted yet.
So, there’s a little insight into how rejections play into my revision process. It’s not a perfect system by any means, and there’s no doubt I’m drawing the wrong conclusions from my rejections from time to time. That said, when I do revise based on a letter like the last example, I feel like I’m on firmer ground with a clear direction and clear problem to fix. In my opinion, that’s the best position to revise from.
How do rejections factor into your revision decision? Tell me about it in the comments.