A Better No: The Higher-Tier Form Rejection

I’ve covered higher-tier form rejections on my blog a few times, but it’s a subject I see in writing circles a fair amount, so I thought I’d dip back into my generous supply of rejection letters and show off some recent examples. Let’s look at a couple common form rejections and higher-tier form rejections from the same markets and see if we can spot the differences.

Publisher #1

Common Form Rejection:

We have read your submission and will have to pass, as it unfortunately does not meet our needs at this time.

Like many common form rejections from big markets this is short and to-the-point. It can be difficult not to read into these letters, but avoid it if you can. Trying to decipher what the editor means when he or she sends a letter like this is an exercise in futility and not a good use of your rejectomantic resources. It’s a no, simple as that. Move on.

Higher-Tier Form Rejection: 

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.

A bit different, right? The bright spot here is the “consider us in the future” bit. That usually (but not always) means a higher-tier rejection. It’s not as informative as a personal rejection, sure, but the editor probably liked something about the story. Like the common form rejection, you shouldn’t read too much into these letters, but I think you can take the editor at their word. This story was not a good fit and you should send them something else.

Publisher #2

Common 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.

This common form rejection is pretty similar to the first one. It’s a bit longer, but it says the same thing: this market is not going to publish this story. Again, that’s really the only thing you can take away, so don’t over-analyze. File the rejection away and send the story out again.

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.

It’s a little easier to spot the higher-tier form rejection with this publisher. They include the bit about the next submission, but they also mention the quality of the writing. Additionally, the phrase “didn’t quite win me over” as opposed to “didn’t work for me” is, in my experience, more common in higher-tier rejections. (How’s that for some Rejectomancy?) Despite the fact this letter tells you more than the first one, don’t spend any time trying to figure out why the story was rejected. You’ll never know, and that’s okay. The editor liked something about the story, and that should be  enough reason to send that story somewhere else.


If you’d like more info on higher-tier rejection letters, then I strong recommend checking out The Rejection Wiki, “a wiki for recording literary rejections to help in determining whether you have a standard, tiered or personalized rejection.” It’s an invaluable recourse, and if you look real hard, you’ll find the four rejection letters I posted here. 🙂

Do you have any thoughts on higher-tier rejections? Examples from your own collection? Share them in the comments.

2017: A Writing Rearview Review

Another year come and gone, and it’s time to wrap up my writing endeavors for 2017. I set some writing goals at the end of last year, and as these things usually go, I accomplished some and fell short with others. Still, 2017 was mostly positive yardage, but I’ll get to that at the end of the post.

And now . . . STATS!

Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi Submissions

Total Submissions Sent: 75

I really improved my overall submission output this year, beating last year’s number by 21 submissions. I’m pleased with that, and it works out to about 6 submission per month. I’ll try to improve on it 2018, and I’d like to hit the 100-mark.

Acceptances: 5

Even with more submissions, the number of acceptances and my overall acceptance rate dropped in 2017. I certainly don’t feel the quality of my submissions fell off; in fact, I think they improved. But, as always, acceptances are often about right time, right market, right editor.

Form Rejections: 32

With more submissions invariably comes more rejections. I received 32 garden-variety form rejections. More than last year, but again, the more you submit, the more you get rejected.

Higher-Tier Form Rejections: 13

I received more higher-tier form rejections this year than last, and most of these were from top genre markets. I only counted the ones I was fairly sure were higher-tier, using the criteria I covered about in this post.

Personal Rejections: 6

Fewer personal rejections than last year, but a number of these were the heart-breaking short-list personal rejections (two for the same story).

Privateer Press

I didn’t write quite as much for Privateer Press in 2017, though I did finish another novel and a novella for them.

Novel – Acts of War: Aftershock

My big project in 2017 was the sequel to last year’s Acts of War: Flashpoint. I blogged about the writing process for Acts of War: Aftershock on a weekly basis, and you can see those blog posts right here.

Novella – “Shadows over Elsinberg” 

My novella “Shadows over Elsinberg” was published in the collection Wicked Ways, alongside the works of many of my old pals from Privateer Press.

Short Story – “Confirmed Kill”

I wrote a story called “Confirmed Kill” based on characters from the Acts of War series. It was published in No Quarter magazine #72.

Rejectomancy

Even though I wrote fewer posts than I did in 2016, my number of visitors and views almost doubled. I wanted to hit two posts a week in 2017, but I fell a little short of that goal. I think two per week is reasonable for 2018, though. Much of the increased viewership came from blogging about writing my second novel for Privateer Press, Aftershock. I’ll likely do something like that again this year

Here are the raw stats for the blog.

  • Total Posts: 79
  • Total Visitors: 13,148
  • Total Views: 23,000

Total Output

Here’s what my total output for 2017 looked like in general words written. Even though I published more in 2016, I wrote more in 2017. I’d like to increase both numbers in 2018. These numbers include part of a new novel I’m working on and a completed novelette that will likely be part of my initial foray into self publishing (I’ve wanted to dip my toe in that pool for a while).

  • Words Written: 201,916
  • Word Published: 143,840

2018 Goals

Like last year, my goals basically amount to write and publish more. This year it’s more of the same, with a few specific goals.

  • Increase short story submission total to 100.
  • Finish at least two novels: one for Privateer Press and one (or more) based on my own IP.
  • Self publish at least the first novelette/novella in a series of three or more. If I do this, I’ll likely blog about this whole process.
  • Blog more. Two blog posts a week.

2017 Free-to-Read Published Stuff 

Here are the links to the free-to-read (or listen to) short stories I published in 2017.

1) “Scare Tactics” – Published by Dunesteef (audio)

This is a quaint tale about a woman, her pet demon, and her budding parapsychology career. It’s a prequel of sorts to a series of novelettes/novellas I hope to self publish this year.

2) “An Incident on Dover Street” – Published by The Molotov Cocktail

A flash disaster story with dinosaurs! 

3) “Cowtown” – Published by The Arcanist

A horror/sci-fi/comedy mashup set in my hometown of Modesto, California.

4) “Reunion” – Published by The Arcanist

A Lovecraftian horror story about a touching family reunion.

5) “Little Sister” – Published by The Molotov Cocktail

A flash horror story about a little girl and her lab-grown sibling.

In Summation

Looking back over the year, I’m relatively happy with what I accomplished. There are always ups and downs and all the things you wanted to do but didn’t, but here’s my take away from the year. In 2017, I got better. I worked hard on my writing, taking to heart the good feedback I received from beta readers and editors, and I strove to improve in areas I sometimes fall short. I’m still very much a work in progress, but I feel it in my bones that I took a step forward this year. I hope that’ll pay dividends down the road.


And that, my friends, was 2017. How was yours? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Guidelines: Check ’em Twice

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard me go on and on about the process of submitting a story. Well, most of that has to do with one very important factor: following the submission guidelines. I’ve written a bunch of posts on the subject, but I thought I’d put all that basic info together as a checklist. This is essentially the checklist I use when considering if my story will be a good fit for a particular publisher.

Here’s the list:

  1. General Info
  2. Story Length
  3. Sex, Profanity, and Gore
  4. Rights
  5. Payment
  6. Response Time
  7. Multiple and Simultaneous Submissions
  8. Manuscript Format & Submission Method
  9. Other considerations

The content and order of this list is specific to me and how I research markets before I submit a story. Other authors might place more or less importance an any of these factors (or include some I haven’t).  My list breaks down into three tiers, loosely based on how important they are in my research process.

  • The first tier (1-3) tells me if my story is something the market would even publish. Is it the right genre? Is it the right length? Is the content appropriate for the audience? If my answer is no to any of these questions, I move on.
  • The second tier (4-6) are things I consider if the story passes the first tier. That’s not to say the second tier is less important. Not at all. In fact, things like rights and payment are incredibly important, but I probably won’t bother reading about them in a market’s guidelines if my story is off genre or too long.
  • The last tier (7-9) are conditional considerations or considerations that aren’t likely to factor strongly into my decisions to send a story.

Okay, let’s get into the specifics with some examples.

1) General Info

Most publication have offer a general statement about the type of stories they want, and it’ll often tell you if your story is a good fit. Here’s an example:

We publish flash fiction in the genres of speculative fiction, specifically science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, super hero, or any combination of these.  We are looking for stories that are engaging to our readers in such a short word count.  Please take note of these factors (pun intended) when submitting stories to us.

This is a really thorough general want last, and it tells me a lot. We get general story length (flash), genres (sci-fi and fantasy), and even some sub-genres they’re interested in. This short statement tells me, for example, a 3,000-word horror story is not going to work here. That saves me a lot of time, and I’m sure it cuts down on the number of inappropriate submissions the publisher receives.

2) Story Length

Some publishers put their story length requirements in the general submission info. Others call it out elsewhere, so always look for that extra detail. Here’s an example:

Maximum word length is a firm 7,500 words. Anything more will be auto-rejected.

I find that most genre markets have maximum word lengths of between 5,000 and 7,500 words. Plenty of words for most short stories. Obviously, don’t send stories that are over the market’s maximum word length. This market even tells you what happens if you do. You’ll get auto-rejected, as you should. Don’t screw yourself right out of the gate by not following simple instructions. If you write short-form fiction, like flash or micro, you should check the minimum word length in the guidelines too. Not all markets publish the short stuff, and word count minimums between 1,000 and 2,000 words are not uncommon.

3) Sex, Profanity, and Gore

This one is higher on my list than it may be on yours, largely because I’m a horror writer and profanity and gore often appear in my stories. Sex rarely does, but that’s more personal style than anything else. If your stories tend to contain this kind of material, it’s a good idea to see if the market in question mentions their tolerance levels in the guidelines (most do). In other words, don’t send your F-bomb-laced slasher story to a market like this:

Please note: [publisher] does not publish explicit sex or violence. We are a little quirky about language as well: obscenity is fine in moderation, but profanity is not. (In short: We will not publish the f-word, and if your story invokes divinity, we ask that it actually be invoking divinity…)

Don’t waste their time and yours by sending the aforementioned slasher story to this market. It’s not cool. You’re just gonna get an auto-reject and make the editor question your reading comprehension skills. There’s no reason to do that when the vast majority of genre markets have guidelines that look like this:

Sexual Content & Language: We are okay with foul language and sexual activity within a story, provided it fits the story well. We do not publish erotica.

You’ll see the same kind of guidelines for gore, with “fits the story” being the key phrase. Sure, this is a little vague, mostly because when these elements are overused, it’s just something you feel and it can be hard to quantify. That said, my stories feature a fair amount of profanity and gore, and I’ve been published by markets whose guidelines read like the example above.

4) Rights

Now that you’ve determined the market publishes both the genre and length of story you’re submitting, and they’ll tolerate all your F-bombs, what happens if they do publish your story? Well, they’re going to acquire certain rights to the work that will look something like this:

We require first print and electronic rights for your story. We require exclusive rights for one year from the date of publication.

This is a pretty standard, in that I’ve seen these specific rights requested quite a bit in guidelines. I’m not going to give you any legal advice here, mostly because I’m woefully unqualified to do so. I’ll just say it is very important you understand what these terms mean, so do your research. There are a lot of reputable sites that can break down all the rights a market might request. To get you started, here’s a great article on the subject by Marg Gilks called Rights: What They Mean and Why They’re Important.  

Most publishers put the rights they’re acquiring in the submission guidelines, but not all. Sometimes you’ll only find that out after the story has been accepted. In my experience, those publishers will ask for something pretty similar to my example, but it’s important you understand what you’re giving away before you sign on the dotted line.

It’s rare, but I have passed on a market because the rights they wanted to acquire were not ones I wanted to give up.

5) Payment

I’ve yet to encounter a publisher that doesn’t list the monetary compensation they’re offering in the submission guidelines, even if they’re offering nothing. Here’s an example:

Fiction is paid at a rate of eight (8) U.S. cents per word based on our word processor’s word count and excludes title, author information, etc. The minimum payment for a story is sixty (60) U.S. dollars.  Payment is made no later than the date of publication via PayPal.

This market is offering a (very good) professional rate of 8 cents per word. They also give you helpful info about how they calculate word count, the minimum you can make for a story, and how they want to pay you. If you don’t have a PayPal account, get one. A lot of publishers prefer to pay this way.

Payment is generally broken down into four tiers. I’m using Duotrope’s definitions here, which seem to be pretty standard across the industry.

  • No Payment: Sometimes called “for the love of it” publishers, these markets do not offer any monetary payment. They might pay you with a subscription to their publication or author copies of the issue in which your story appears.
  • Token: These markets pay under 1 cent per word, and that’s usually a flat fee of some kind. For example, they might offer a flat payment of $10.00 for stories up to 5,000 words, which will work out to less than 1 cent per word in most cases.
  • Semi-Pro: These markets offer at least 1 cent per word, and that minimum of 1 cent is pretty common in my experience. The bigger, more established markets at this tier are usually around 3 cents per word. These markets sometimes offer a flat payment too, something like $100.00 for short stories up to 5,000 words. When you do the math, it’ll usually work out to somewhere between 1 cent and 5 cents per word (usually on the lower end of that scale).
  • Pro: These markets offer 6 cents per word and up. I have seen flat payments offered at this tier but not often.

I do consider payment when I send out a story, but it’s important to understand that payment isn’t always commensurate with a market’s prestige or reach. For example, in the genre market there are semi-pro magazines that are as well-regarded as the pro magazines and a few brand new markets that offer professional pay. On the other end of that spectrum, my lit-fic friends tell me that some of the most prestigious markets in that space sometimes offer no payment.

6) Response Time

How quickly a market responds is a fairly important consideration for me, and, I admit, I tend to shy away from those that take six months to send a form rejection. It may not be as big a consideration for you. Most publishers will list their expected response times in their guidelines, like this:

Response times will vary depending on volume, but may average twenty-four hours (or less!). Query after one month (include title and date submitted). Please do not respond to rejection letters, for any reason, otherwise.

This is from one of my favorite markets, and they mean what they say. They are fast. According to Duotrope, they average 1.7 days for a rejection and 8.3 days for an acceptance. They also tell you when it’s appropriate to query, which is very useful info. Lastly, they ask that you not respond to rejection letters. There’s really no reason to respond to a rejection letter anyway, and that goes double for a market that specifically asks you not to do it.

7) Multiple & Simultaneous Submissions

This is an important one if you’re a writer who likes the shotgun approach to submissions. Some quick definitions. Simultaneous submissions are when you send one story to multiple publishers. Multiple submissions are when you send two or more stories to the same publisher. Generally, a publisher will address both in their guidelines:

We will not consider multiple submissions. Submit once and wait for a response before sending anything else. We will not consider simultaneous submissions. 

Pretty straightforward, right? In my experience, there aren’t many genre publishers that accept multiple submissions, and the ones that do are generally markets for flash fiction. Simultaneous submissions are more common, especially if it’s a market that takes a little longer to get back to you (usually 60 days or more). The market in this example is super-fast, so no sim-subs is a perfectly reasonable position.

8) Manuscript Format & Submission Method

Almost every publisher will tell you how they want you to format your manuscript and which file types they prefer, and that’ll look something like this:

Submittable is our preferred method of submission. We accept most file types as well. Please use standard manuscript format for your story (although headers and footers are not needed). 

In my experience, most publishers want manuscripts prepared in standard manuscript format, sometimes called Shunn standard format. If you’re not familiar with this format, get familiar with it. Occasionally, a publisher will ask for standard manuscript format with some slight alterations. This market, for example, says you can omit the standard header and footer. Other markets might ask for a different font or ask that you not underline words meant to be in italics and simply use italics.

The majority of publishers ask for the most common file types, with .doc, .docx, and .rtf being the most popular. If a publisher asks you for a specific file type, I recommend you send them that file type.

Like I said, most publishers want something resembling standard manuscript formatting, but not all. Some will ask you to paste the story directly into an email or a submission form through one of the submission management programs, like Submittable or Moksha. (It’s not a terrible idea to create a (free) author’s account for these two services. I’m seeing them a lot more in submission guidelines.)

Should the requested manuscript format and file type be a consideration when you send out a story? In my opinion, no, unless you simply cannot comply for technical reasons. I’ll admit, some manuscript formatting guidelines can be a little, uh, unique, and that can be time consuming, but it’s never kept me from sending a story to a market I thought might publish it.

9) Other Considerations

This is kind of a grab-bag of miscellaneous considerations that are largely conditional. Here are some I might look for.

  1. Reprints: I do on occasion submit reprints, which are stories I’ve sold and the rights have reverted back to me. Not all publishers accept them, and if they do, I generally start at the top of my checklist and see if everything else is a fit.
  2. Publication format: Are they publishing in print or digital? Will the story be available to read on their site for free? Most of the time this is a marketing consideration for me. If the story is online and available as a free read, I can use my blog and social media to send folks directly to it. This doesn’t always appear in submission guidelines, and I’ve yet to come across anything that would keep me from submitting a story.
  3. Submission method: The overwhelming majority of publishers want work submitted through email or through a submission manager (Submittable, Moksha, etc.). I might balk a little at a publisher that only accepts snail-mail submissions, but, honestly, I can’t think of one that does that.

That’s my general submission guidelines checklist. Did I leave something off that you always take into consideration? Let me know in the comments.

Submission Statement: December 2017

December was another good month for submissions. I didn’t think I’d match November’s output, but I did, and I had more than just rejections to tally in the final month of the year.

December 2017 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 13
  • Rejections: 8
  • Other: 0
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 2

I sent a lot of submissions in December because I finished three new stories, which are currently running the submission gamut. Like I said last month, 13 is a lot of submissions and that pace might be difficult to sustain, but I’d like do somewhere between 8 and 10 a month in 2018 (more on that in my 2017 wrap-up post). As you can see, a lot of submissions last month and this month (26 total) resulted in more rejections, which I expected, but there’s some good news too with an acceptance and two publications.

Rejections

Eight rejections this month for four stories. You’ll likely recognize a lot of these.

Rejection 1: Submitted 11/29/17; Rejected 12/2/17

Thank you for allowing me to consider XXX but I’m going to pass on this one. This is not necessarily a reflection of your writing ability. The story just didn’t fit the anthology as it’s beginning to take shape. Due to an overwhelming response for this anthology, I’m unable to provide feedback. I wish you luck in finding a home for the story elsewhere.

This is a rejection from the fifth volume of a popular horror anthology. I submitted to the fourth volume last year and was short-listed but eventually rejected. I entered pretty late in the submission window this time, and that may have been a factor in the story’s rejection, as the editor indicated. I really dig this particular anthology, and I’m sure I’ll submit to the eventual sixth volume in 2018.

Rejection 2: Submitted 11/24/17; Rejected 12/9/17

Thank you for submitting your story, XXX, to XXX. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

PS Nice surprise at the end.

This is a form rejection with an editor’s note attached, which I guess makes it a personal rejection. Anyway, it’s from a top-tier market I’ve been trying to crack for a long time with little success. They’re primarily a sci-fi and fantasy market, and I tend to send them stuff that is either sci-fi/horror or fantasy/horror. Well, this submission was pretty much pure sci-fi (with a darker tone, natch), and it looks like I may have gotten closer to an acceptance than I have before. That’s not to say I got close, just closer than usual. I need to write more sci-fi.

Rejection 3: Submitted 11/14/17; Rejected 12/18/17

Thanks for sending this my way. I’m sorry I won’t be using it for XXX.

This is a rejection for my one and only mystery short story. It’s brief and to the point, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. If I were to write more mystery, I’d submit here again.

Rejection 4: Submitted 12/6/17; Rejected 12/19/17

We appreciate you taking the time to send us your story, XXX.  After careful consideration we’ve decided to pass on this story. There are many reasons a story is not accepted, most of which are subjective in nature, so don’t let our denial deter your from sending your story to other publications.  We wish you the best of luck on finding a publication for this story.

This is a rejection from a brand new pro-paying fantasy and sci-fi market. I was so thrilled to see a new pro market in this space that I immediately sent them a story. Luckily, I happened to have something that was appropriate (one of the new ones I finished this month). This is a nice form rejection. It might be higher tier, but it’s hard to tell with a new market. I always like it when a publisher reminds authors that this is a subjective business. It’s something every author needs to take to heart. Anyway, I’ve already sent them another piece.

Rejection 5: Submitted 12/17/17; Rejected 12/20/17

Thank you for giving me a chance to read “XXX.” Unfortunately, this story didn’t quite win me over and I’m going to pass on it for XXX. I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future. 

So, normally, when I say a form rejection is higher-tier, I’m applying a bit of rejectomancy because there’s no way to know for certain. Well, that’s true for every publisher but this one. The editor of this top-tier pro market has said in blog posts and Twitter posts what his various form templates actually mean. So I know this one is a higher-tier rejection. That is handy info to have, for sure. This was the first submission of a new story I think is one of the better pieces I’ve written, so even though this is a rejection, it’s nice to know I might be on the right track.

Rejection 6: Submitted 12/20/17; Rejected 12/21/17

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.

This is a higher-tier rejection from one of my bucket-list horror markets. My last four submissions have gotten higher tier rejections, so maybe I’m getting somewhere. I will definitely keep trying.

Rejection 7: Submitted 12/19/17; Rejected 12/27/17

Thank you for submitting your story, XXX, to XXX. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

You’ll notice this is the same form rejection from rejection #2, sans editor note. I tried this market again with a story I thought was more sci-fi, but the horror element is also quite strong. I’m not saying that’s why it was rejected, though. Like the rejections says, there are lots of reasons stories get rejected.

Rejection 8: Submitted 12/19/17; Rejected 12/27/17

Many thanks for sending “XXX”, but I’m sorry to say that it isn’t quite right for XXX. I wish you luck placing it elsewhere, and hope that you’ll send me something new soon. 

A standard form rejection from another of my bucket-list horror markets. Like some of the other rejections here, you’ve likely seen this one a lot in my posts. Still, gotta keep trying.

Acceptances 

One acceptance this month. It comes from one of my favorite purveyors of flash fiction.

Acceptance 1: Submitted 11/15/17;  Accepted 12/5/17

Thanks for submitting work to The Molotov Cocktail. Great to see this one again, as it was actually the last piece to miss the cut in the Flash Monster contest. Weird premise, which resonates with us, and vividly written. We’d like to run “Little Sister” in our upcoming issue (to be published within the week). Nice work. 

Thanks again for allowing us to feature your story. 

The Molotov Cocktail is one of the few markets I’ll name in these lists because I know they don’t mind (I asked). Anyway, this is a cool acceptance because of how close the story got to publication in one of their contests. They always state in those rejections to resubmit the “close-but-no-cigar” stories because they sometimes publish them in the regular issues. Well, this is The Molotov putting their money where their mouth is (not that I ever doubted), and I’m thrilled to have placed another story with them.

Publications 

Two publications this month, and you can read both stories by clicking the links below.

Publication 1: “Reunion” published by The Arcanist on 12/1/2017.

Publication 2: “Little Sister” published by The Molotov Cocktail on 12/11/2017. 

Though these stories were written years apart, they both feature two somewhat similar characters (and kind of similar themes). I think that’s largely because they both originate from one-hour flash challenge writing exercises with very similar prompts. It’s kind of neat they were published so close together.


And that was my very busy December. How was yours?