Rejections: The Bad Beats

A question I’m often asked with regards to my blog is: Do rejections still bother you? The answer is largely no, they don’t. Form rejections, especially, barely register anymore, and at this point, they are little more than a notification to send the story somewhere else. That said, I’m not immune to rejection woes, it just takes a particular kind of rejection to pierce my thick rejecotmancer hide.

These more potent rejections I call “bad beats,” a term you often hear in poker to describe a situation where a player has a good hand but still loses. Bad-beat rejections typically follow the same pattern: you submit a story, receive a further consideration letter, often with positive feedback attached, wait weeks to months for a decision, then, ultimately, get a rejection. More often than not, the rejection will mention that your story made it to the final round of voting or something of that nature.

Here’s an example of a bad-beat rejection I recently received.

Thank you for your submission and patience. However, we’ve decided to pass on this one. It was a very tough decision to make.

We’ve received over XXX submissions, and your story made it to the final ballot. The main reason for rejections is that we had to find the best ghost/creature/human-horror/literary/fantastical story out of the bunch. We didn’t want to print too many stories with the same theme/sub-genre.

Since you made it to the final ballot please know that we sincerely look forward to reading more fiction—short or long—from you in the future.

This rejection was preceded by a further consideration letter where the editor expressed how much he liked the story, so, as you can guess, I had my hopes up a bit more than usual. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not angry (because that would be silly) nor do I believe the editor made a “bad” decision. When you edit a magazine or anthology, you have to make tough choices, and that often means rejecting stories you like. It’s disappointing, but it’s the kind of disappointment that comes with a narrow miss, not the soul-crushing despair that makes you question whether you have any business calling yourself a writer to begin with. I’ve left that kind of disappointment behind. Well, you know, mostly.

Of course, in many ways, this is a good rejection. I’ve got a story I feel confident about submitting elsewhere, and this particular publisher wants to see more work. All that is entirely positive. Still, I wanted this one pretty bad because it’s a story I like a lot, and this would have been a great vehicle to share it with the world. Bad beat or no, it’s time to send that story out again.

Got any bad beats you’d like to share? Tell me about them in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Rejections: The Bad Beats

  1. Putting in my two cents for rewrite requests that they ultimately end up rejecting. Not that I think publishers should be required to commit to the revised piece, it just sucks to put in additional work tailored to a specific editor and still get a rejection.

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  2. Sometimes I get way too invested in a press.

    There was one I submitted a poetry chapbook to, and they rejected it, but said they really enjoyed reading it and would love to see more stuff.

    So I sent more stuff, and I got rejected AGAIN. For some reason I had it in my head that they wouldn’t reject me that time around (they have a 2% acceptance rate).

    And then I felt even worse because some of my poet friends shared the cover designs for their chapbooks that had just been accepted by that same press…

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  3. The worst bad beat I ever experienced was when I had a royal flush and the other guy had a .38.

    On a more serious note, I experienced one earlier this month:

    “Thank you for submitting your work for our anthology, [XXX] and for waiting longer than we anticipated to learn the result. I’m afraid that although your submission made it onto the shortlist, we are not going to publish it this time.

    “All the stories we shortlisted had something in them that interested us, so it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with quality. Some stories didn’t reflect the themes of the collection as strongly as we might have liked, some were just too similar to another story or didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the anthology as it evolved. We had around 140 submissions, many more than we have room to include, so inevitably we’ve had to reject some strong work.

    “We wish you the best of luck with your writing in the future and thank you again for your interest in [XXX].”

    The story’s already off to another editor.

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