The Oft-Rejected Story: A Rejectomantic* Analysis

*Adj. 1. rejectomantic – relating to or associated with the dubious practice of rejectomancy; “a desperate rejectomantic analysis”

My current record-holder for most rejections is a story called “Paper Cut,” which was published after a whopping 16 no-thank-yous, though it’s picked up another as a reprint, bringing the total to 17. Since that one was eventually published, it’s not a good example for this post, so I’ll turn to the runner-up—we’ll call it “Story R”—which currently sits at 16 rejections and has a very good chance to tie and even break the record.

Here are the raw numbers for “Story R.”

  • Submissions: 19
  • Form Rejections: 8
  • Higher-Tier Form Rejections: 1
  • Personal Rejections: 5
  • Short-Listed: 2
  • Withdrawals: 2
  • Pending: 1

To date, this story has received just about every response possible for a story except an acceptance. Admittedly, it’s had some bad luck. Two of the markets considering it went under, and one of them had short-listed the story. It’s had a number of “final round” rejections, where the editors have let me know they were strongly considering it but finally passed on it (one of those was a form rejection, by the way). It’s also had a fair number of personal rejections, where the editor told me they thought it was a good story just not a good fit.

The feedback the story has received has generally been positive. The editors have told me what they like but have given me little indication of what’s not working. That’s not uncommon, though, but it does make you pine for something to hang you revision hat on, even a simple, “Hey, you’re ending is kind of weak.”

So what’s going on here? Why is this story failing to find a home? Is it just a mediocre story? That’s certainly possible, but my gut and my beta readers tell me otherwise (both could be wrong, of course). Bad luck? Sure, a bit, with markets closing while the story was short-listed and whatnot. My submission targeting? Always a culprit and difficult to dial in. It might be the story is a weird genre: dark urban fantasy that leans more horror than fantasy. That could make it little too light for horror markets and perhaps too dark for fantasy markets. I’ve actually received that criticism on another, similar story.

With all that in mind, what are my options? I see three possible courses of action.

  1. Keep sending it out. I have a number of author friends who do this until a story finds a home, somewhere, rejections be damned. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy, but I feel like I’ve banged that drum already.
  2. Retire it. Maybe it’s just not up to snuff, and it’s time to put it back in the trunk. I do think this is a good’un, and my beta readers, who have yet to steer me wrong, agree.
  3. Revise it. There’s clearly something that’s not landing with editors, even thought it’s gotten close a couple of times. So a revision may be in order to make it a stronger story.

Well, I went with option three and heavily revised the story. In fact, I overhauled it completely, adding another 1,500 words, considerably more backstory, and a punchier ending. It was a little on the short side at around 2,000 words, which limited the markets I could send it to (a number of fantasy markets have a minimum word count of 2,500 or higher). After I revised it, I kicked it to my betas again, who gave me some additional feedback. Then I polished it up and sent out the new and improved version.

If the story keeps picking up rejections even after this major revision–say, it hits 20 or more–I may be forced to face facts and concede it’s just not up to snuff. Until then, it should be fun to see if “Story R” dethrones “Paper Cut” as my most rejected story. 🙂

Tell me about one of your oft-rejected stories. What did you end up doing with it?

4 Comments on “The Oft-Rejected Story: A Rejectomantic* Analysis

  1. Aeryn,

    You said that maybe Story R is “too light for horror” and “too dark for fantasy.” I assume you tweaked it in one of those two directions. If you can’t get the revised story published, consider going in the other direction instead. (Now that I’m thinking about it, tweaking it in the other direction would be a fantastic exercise.)


    • I did; I went a little more urban fantasy with the revision (mostly because there are more markets that accept fantasy), but it’s still pretty dark. If it fails to find a home with the current revision, I might try full-on horror with it. You, of course, know this story well. 😉

    • It came close a bunch of times and received a lot of positive feedback, but the more I do this, the more I realize it’s all about matching the right story with the right editor at the right time. I’m glad it found it home, though. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: