As some of you may know, my professional career with the written word (such as it is) started in the tabletop gaming industry, where I worked as an editor, a game designer, and a writer. With over a decade working in that environment, it should be no surprise that I derive great satisfaction from creating needlessly complex rule systems for just about everything. So, let’s take some of that game design philosophy and apply it to submissions and rejections!
Before I get into this, a quick disclaimer. What follows is for fun, an entertaining (and overly complex) way to take your rejections in stride and illustrate one simple idea: a story that gets rejected (even multiple times) is not necessarily a bad story.
Got it? Cool. Now on to the Rejection Scorecard!
Here’s the main premise of my “system.” Every story you write and submit accumulates rejection points based on the type of feedback it receives in the form of rejection letters. The total number of rejection points is a story’s rejection score. When the rejection score exceeds 10, called the rejection threshold, it is an indicator the story might need revision before it goes out again.
So, how does a story score rejection points? By getting rejected, of course. That said, not all rejections are created equal, and you get different points based on the type of rejection you receive, as follows. If you need a definition on a type of letter, just click the link; I’ve covered all these on my blog.
- Form Rejection: 2 points
- Higher-Tier Form Rejection: 1 point
- Personal Rejection: 0 points
- Further Consideration Letter: -1 points
- Short List: -2 points
As you can probably guess, this is like golf, and the lower the rejection score the better. In the case of the further consideration letter and short list letter, the negative point values apply to the follow up rejection for a total score. So, for example, if I get a further consideration letter and then the story is rejected with a form letter, I add 1 point (2 + -1) to the rejection score for the story.
I separated further consideration letters and short list letters because they aren’t always the same thing, and in my reckoning, making a short list is closer to publication than getting, uh, further considered. Of course, opinions might vary there, so assign whatever points you feel appropriate.
Something to consider with personal rejections. If you get one that gives you excellent feedback about a possible revision AND you agree with that feedback, then, you know, don’t worry about how many points the story has collected (remember, this is for fun). Revise that sucker.
Now let’s look at some rejection score examples from my own stories.
Example 1: “After Birth”
So, as you can see by the table above, “After Birth” has accumulated 4 form rejections, 3 higher-tier form rejections, 3 personal rejections, and it has made the short-list twice. Both short lists resulted in personal rejections. All of this activity gives “After Birth” a rejection score of 7, which is below the rejection threshold of 10. In other words, after 10 submissions and 10 rejections, the story has received fairly good feedback, and a couple of the higher-tier rejections came from top-tier markets. It’s come close to publication twice, and the personal rejections were basically “we liked this story, but in the end didn’t feel it was a perfect fit.”
Example 2: “Set in Stone”
Man, has this one been round the block. It’s come within a whisker of getting published twice, and one of those short-lists didn’t come to fruition not because of a follow-up rejection but because the publication closed down. That said, despite some good feedback, this story has received enough no-thank-yous it’s time to make some changes. I still believe there’s a publishable story here, and I think I know what to do to give it a better shot.
Okay, a few more examples, and this time we’ll look at the three stories I’ve actually published, and their rejections scores before the acceptance.
|Form||Higher-Tier||Personal||Further Consideration||Short List||Total Rejections||Rejection Points|
So, the first two stories were well under the rejection threshold of 10 before they were published, and the feedback they received was universally positive. I included the last story, “Paper Cut,” simply to illustrate that this whole system shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and if you have a gut feeling about a story, like I did with “Paper Cut,” stick with it.
Option Rule #1: Pro Markets
Remember when I said “needlessly complex” in the opening paragraph? Well, I’ve restrained myself for the most part . . . until now! Yep, here’s one more thing to consider if, like me, you just ache for more modifiers and statistical pedantry.
Some of you might be thinking, “Hey, a rejection, especially a ‘good’ rejection, from a magazine like Clarkesworld or Apex is a little more significant than the points suggest.” I think there’s some truth to that, so, if you like, use the following point values for pro-paying markets:
- Form Rejection: 2 points
- Higher-Tier Form Rejection: 0.5 point
- Personal Rejection: -0.5 point
- Further Consideration Letter: -2 points
- Short List: -3 points
Keep in mind I’m talking about genre markets here, where payment tier and prestige often go hand-in-hand. I know that’s not always the case with the literary market, so if you’re a lit-fic writer, this optional system may not be as useful to you.
Option Rule #2: Other Modifiers
Of course, a system like this can’t account for every thing that could happen to a story out there, but here are a few other scenarios and some optional modifiers you could use if you like.
- Honorable Mention: If you enter writing contests, then it’s possible the editors might formally recognize your story as one with merit without actually publishing it or really rejecting it. An honorable mention is kind of like a short list, but I think it’s slightly more significant. Go ahead and deduct 3 points from a stories rejections score if you get one of these.
- Referral Rejection: Sometimes a market will send you a personal rejection that suggests you submit your story to another, usually related market because they think the story would be a better fit there. If you get one of these, deduct 1 point from the story’s rejection score.
- Revision Request: Occasionally a market will request revisions to a story, usually with the often unspoken promise that if you make the revisions, they’ll accept the story. Sometimes, however, they’ll reject the story anyway (for a wide variety of reasons). If that happens, go ahead and deduct 2 points from the story’s rejections score (remember to add in the modifier for the rejection too).
Did I miss any rejection scenarios that should be on my list of modifiers? If so, please tell me in the comments. If I like your idea, I’ll update the post. Also, I’d love to see the rejections scores your stories have accumulated–published, not published, whatever.