Even Good Stories Get Rejected

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. You finish a story, and you know it’s just the best damn thing you’ve ever written. Proud of your shiny new word baby, you send it out to a publisher you’re pretty sure will dig it. You wait with breathless anticipation for a few weeks, and then, BAM! The form rejection drops like a ten-ton weight into your inbox. Now what?

Well, sometimes I see authors want to overhaul a story based on that single rejection. A lot of the time, I think that’s a mistake. In my experience, most stories rack up at least one rejection before they sell. To illustrate this point, here are ten of my acceptances and the number of rejections they received before the blessed event.

Story Rejections
Paper Cut 16
Caroline 7
Scare Tactics 7
Night Games 6
Reunion 3
Little Sister 2
Luck Be a Bullet 2
New Arrivals 2
The Food Bank 2
Where They Belong 0

This list includes my story with the most rejections before publication and one of my few stories I sold on the first try. The only story on the list I revised was “Paper Cut” after about nine rejections. It still went on to collect seven more before I sold it. The rest of these stories I kept sending out until they found an editor that liked them.

Two of the stories on this list, “Night Games” and “Scare Tactics,” I’ve sold again to audio markets. I consider “Night Games” the best story I’ve published to date (YMMV), and it still racked up six rejections before someone liked it as much I do.

What am I trying to say with all this? It’s all in the title of the post. Even good stories get rejected. One, or two, or hell, half a dozen rejections doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve written a bad story or even a story that needs (major) revision. It can mean you’ve written a story that doesn’t quite fit the market you sent it to (might be time to dial in your submission targeting). It can mean you wrote a story about ghosts and sent it to an editor who just doesn’t like ghost stories that much. It can mean you wrote a story that’s very similar to a story the market just published or is planning to publish. In other words, it can mean a lot of things that have nothing to do with the quality of your story. Some editors are even good enough to tell you these things in the rejection letter.

This all leads to the next question. How many rejections should a story receive before you revise it or even scrap it? That’s gonna come down to a gut check. Obviously, I fall into the “keep sending it out until it finds a home” camp, but I generally start thinking about revision after six or seven rejections, especially if I’m only getting form rejections. Now, all this “advice” doesn’t mean squat if you get a rejection with specific feedback that resonates with you. In that case, revise away and thank your lucky stars you received such useful feedback right off the bat.

To sum up, consider letting your submissions stretch their legs a bit before you drag them back into the shop for an overhaul.  A couple of rejections probably doesn’t mean much.

How many rejection do you let a story rack up before you think about revision? Tell me about it in the comments.

One-Hour Flash – Big Game

Here’s another installment of One-Hour Flash. Yep, another flash piece written in one hour that has been languishing on my hard drive for years. I’ve deemed all the stories in this series not quite good enough to submit (for various reasons), but there are elements I like in each one that might warrant revision or more likely expansion at some point.

Today’s story is called “Big Game,” and I’m pretty sure it’s the only piece of true military sci-fi I’ve written.

Big Game

General DeVeers walked at a pace Daniels found hard to match. The general’s longer legs and superior fitness ensured Daniels would be breathless and sweating by the time they reached the firing range. The general seemed unconcerned about the discomfort of the short, chubby scientist half-running and half-limping behind him, and he peppered Daniels with an unrelenting barrage of questions.

“Have you solved the issue with aggression yet?” DeVeers asked.

“We think so,” Daniels said, puffing. “The most recent batch have displayed a vastly reduced predatory instinct, although they still retain enough of it to serve our purposes.”

DeVeers nodded. “What about manual dexterity? The last batch of quickened had trouble holding their weapons. That put accuracy in the shitter.”

“Yes,” Daniels said and grimaced, and not just because he had to jog to keep up with the general. They’d almost lost their funding and the entire project when DeVeers had seen the test results. Luckily, the addition of a bit more human DNA to the mix and a little good old fashioned trial and error had ensured the latest batch had fully functional opposable thumbs.

“And intelligence?” DeVeers asked. “Are they smart enough to take orders and carry them out?”

This was Daniels’ own area of expertise, and he was pleased with his efforts. “Average IQ in the last batch was 105,” he said. “Outliers as high as 120.”

“Christ,’ DeVeers said. “That’s higher than a lot of human grunts. Well done.”

Daniels suppressed the smile blooming at the corners of his mouth. Praise from General DeVeers was like water in the desert—both exceedingly rare and potentially life giving.

They had reached the end of the three-mile-long passageway that connected the two halves of Luna Base. The massive steel door in front of them led to the labs, the holding rooms for the quickened, and the firing range. A pair of guards in gray blastek armor barred their way. They, like all military personnel on Luna Base, were on loan from General DeVeers, and they quickly stepped aside to let their commanding officer through.

The general waited patiently while Daniels punched in the door code, then brushed past him once the door opened with a soft hiss of escaping air. Beyond lay a maze-like complex of hallways, rooms, labs, and everything else needed for Project Sapia. The general took the lead, navigating the labyrinth easily despite only visiting Luna Base twice before. He had at least slowed his pace a bit so Daniels could walk comfortably beside him.

Daniels soon realized the general didn’t really know where he was going; he just followed the gun shots. The thunderous roar of a Simpson Autocannon is hard to cover up, even four miles underground with a hundred yards of steel and concrete between you and the shooter. The general had a slight grin on his face. Daniel’s surmised that the autocannon’s cacophonous blasts were familiar music to an old veteran like DeVeers.

The firing range was at the very back of the base and opened out onto a massive cavern—a vault, really—as big as a football field. A group of soldiers in gray armor and scientists in white lab coats clustered around a low wall set up on one side of the cavern. A figure crouched in front of the wall, an oversized Simpson Autocannon pressed to his shoulder.

The autocannon went off again, and Daniels clapped his hands over his ears. He’d forgotten his hearing protection and would be nearly deaf for the next couple of days. DeVeers had obviously come prepared, and Daniels noticed bright yellow foamcore earplugs in the general’s ears.

The general approached a group of soldiers and scientists, smiling widely. The soldiers turned to greet them, very careful to leave their own autocannons pointed at the ground. Their eyes shifted nervously back and forth between the general and Luna Base’s pride and joy, Subject 31, also known as Simba. They’d had to put down no fewer than ten of the quickened in the last six months, usually because something triggered a prey response. Daniels silently hoped they’d worked out that last bit with Simba and his brothers.

“That’s enough shooting, Daniels,” DeVeers said. “Let’s have a look at him.”

Daniels nodded and signaled to one of the other scientists, Martinez, who acted as the surrogate for the quickened. She’d raised each one of them from test tube to adult.

“Simba,” Martinez called out. “Come here and meet General DeVeers.”

Daniels couldn’t help but smile at DeVeer’s sharp intake of breath as Simba stood and placed his autocannon on the rack next to the wall. At eight feet tall and 350 pounds, he looked even bigger in his custom blastek armor. His head and face were a smooth blending of human and feline characteristics, alien yet somehow alluring. His fangs jutted just below his upper lip, and his eyes were large and golden, although the irises were round like a human’s rather than slitted like a cat’s. Simba’s mane was long and a tawny yellow; it almost looked like human hair in certain lights.

“General DeVeers,” Simba said, his voice a low rumble. “Mother says I am to serve you. To fight your enemies.”

General DeVeers nearly shook with glee, but when he spoke, the words were laced with still, tight and rigid. “That’s right, Simba. You and your brothers are going to be the finest unit in the entire damned United Military.”

Simba’s mouth fell open in a toothy grin. “We will be your pride. We will kill for you.”

Daniels nodded at Martinez. She put her hand on Simba’s massive forearm and led him away.

“Jesus, Daniels,” DeVeers said. “He’s perfect. If you’ve really worked out all the bugs, the rebels won’t know what hit them. What about the other quickened?”

Daniels grinned, relaxing for the first time since the general’s visit. “If you liked Simba, wait until you see Smokey and Shere Khan.”

So, what’s the issue with this one? Pretty simple, really. This isn’t a complete story. It’s a vignette or the opening bit to a longer piece. Honestly, I kind of dig the military sci-fi premise, and I like the characters too. That said, there’s more work to be done to turn this premise into something resembling a real story. Maybe I’ll flesh it out at some point.

Oh, and I can’t remember why I called this one “Big Game.” The title doesn’t really work for the story, but it was certainly something I latched onto in the desperate seconds between finishing this story and posting it for the one-hour flash fiction contest. I know, I should have called it “Lions, Tigers, and Bears,” right? 🙂

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

Story Acceptance Prep Kit

Hey, you got an acceptance letter. Awesome. Now what? Well, the editor is likely going to ask you for a few things, and I think it’s a great idea to have these items ready to go and at your fingertips. So consider the following like a story acceptance prep kit and get busy.

1) Short Author Bio. Most markets will ask you for a short bio of around 50 words to run alongside your story. Here’s my current bio to give you an idea of what’s usually expected.

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press. Aeryn occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

That bio is right around 40 words and tells folks who I am, what I do, and where they can learn more about me and my writing. I’ve written two blog posts about creating author bios, which you can find here: Submission Protocol: Short Author Bio and Evolution of a Short Author Bio.

2) PayPal Account. One of the best parts of getting published is getting paid for getting published. The vast majority of publishers I’ve worked with prefer to pay via PayPal and some won’t pay any other way. So set up an account if you haven’t already.

3) Author Photo. This one is sometimes optional, and some publishers will also give you the option of not using one. That said, if you don’t mind having your picture appear on the web or in print, then have one ready to go. Here’s my mug shot as an example:

I like black and white, but color is usually fine too. Generally, an author photo should be a head-shot, high resolution (at least 300 dpi), and a JPEG or TIF file. If you’d like more info about creating an author photo, I wrote a blog post about that too, which you can find right here: Picture Me: Some Thoughts/Advice on Author Photos.

These are three things I find editors commonly ask for after an acceptance, and as I stated earlier, I recommend having them ready to go. This is not to say an editor won’t give you time to put these together–editors are generally reasonable folks–but if you can provide them quickly, you look like a professional and prepared author. That’s always a good look. 🙂

Anything else that should be included in the story acceptance prep kit? Let me know in the comments.

Submission Statement: February 2018

February is in the rearview, and despite a significant drop in the number of submissions sent, it was a pretty good month. I broke the longest rejections streak of my career at 27, so that alone makes February a-okay in my book.

February 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0

I sent only a quarter of the submissions I sent in January, but I’m still on pace to hit 100 submissions for the year, with an average of 12.5 per month for the first two months. The main culprits for the lower submission count are a lack of new stories and some markets taking a little longer than usual to get back to me (keeping me from submitting the story elsewhere). Both of those factors should change in March.


A fair amount of rejections this month, mostly from older submissions sent in January.

  • Standard Form Rejection: 7
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejection: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 0

All the rejections I received were garden-variety form rejections, but I’ll show you a couple just because I think they contain some solid advice.

Highlight Rejection 1: Sent 1/31/2017; Rejected 2/5/2018

We appreciate you taking the time to send us your story, [story title]. 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 standard form rejection from a new pro-paying market. I like this rejection because it mentions the subjective nature of getting a story published. Good stories are rejected all the time for all kinds of reasons. The editor’s reminder not to let that deter you from sending the story elsewhere is good advice and appreciated, even in a form letter.

Highlight Rejection 2: Sent 1/25/2018; Rejected 2/9/2018

Thank you for submitting your story, [story title], to [publisher]. 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’ve certainly seen this rejection on my blog before (I’ll crack this market one of these days), but I’m including it here because of this sentence: To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. I don’t believe this is a hollow platitude, and, as the letter says, I’m sure this publisher has turned down strong stories for fit or similar themes or many other reasons.

I’ve published four stories this market rejected, and I don’t bring that up because this market was wrong for rejecting my work (they were right to do so for the reasons they listed and probably a few they didn’t). I bring it up to demonstrate those stories were simply a better fit for another market, and continuing to submit them was the right move. So, when you get a rejection, don’t jump to “I wrote a bad story.” Instead, remember, “To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take.”


Stop the presses; I get to talk about an acceptance this month. 🙂

Acceptance: Sent 1/4/2018; Rejected 2/20/2018

Thanks for your submission, [story title].  I’m happy to say that I’ve acquired it for [publisher] [themed] issue!

There’s more to this letter, of course, but it’s all the usual stuff about contracts and edits and whatnot. I’ll announce the market and the story soon. This will be my second publication with this market, and I’m thrilled to add another repeat customer to my resume.

That’s it for my February. How was your month?