6 Reasons for Rejections

I’ve written at length about the myriad reasons a story might get rejected, but let’s look at six of the most common and review them. As with all things on this blog, what follows is my (somewhat informed but hardly expert) opinion based on my personal experiences out there in submission land. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it.

  1. Ignoring the guidelines. Let’s start off with the obvious one. The quickest and surest way to get a rejection is to not follow the submission guidelines. It’s the literary equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot . . . with a bazooka. Your story is not an exception to the rules. Say it with me. Follow. The. Guidelines.
  2. Needs work. No one wants to hear this, but sometimes we have to face facts. Our writing may not be up to snuff, and even if it is, we all write the occasional clunker. This is why it’s crucially important to work at your craft, identify the weaknesses in your work, and then strive to improve on them. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to gather a group of critique partners who will be bluntly honest with you. It’s no fun to get a story back from a trusted reviewer filled with comments, questions, and red marks, but I think it’s the best way to improve.
  3. Editorial preference. Look, editors are people, and people have a wide variety of tastes and preferences. You can write a good story about superheroes, or baseball, or whatever, and if you send it to an editor that just doesn’t dig those things, you’re probably gonna get a rejection. Helpfully, some editors are up front about their preferences, and their guidelines will include a “do not send” or “hard sell” list to alert writers about subjects or tropes the editors don’t want to see. Pay attention to those.
  4. Bad fit. Similar to editorial taste, but more of a big picture kind of thing. Some markets, despite accepting the same genre you’re writing, might just be a bad fit for your style. If you write more commercial fiction, you might have a hard time selling to a market that leans literary or experimental. If your work tends to be downbeat and dark, a market that generally publishes more uplifting pieces is probably going to pass on your stories. You can often tell if your work might be a good fit by reading an issue or two from the magazine in question, but not always, especially of new markets that don’t have back issues for you to read.
  5. Bad luck. If you write an awesome story about, say, rabid space monkeys and send it to a magazine that just accepted another awesome story about rabid space monkeys, guess what? You’re probably going to get a rejection. Or if the publisher has, for whatever reason, seen a shit-ton of rabid space monkey stories lately, it’s gonna stack the odds against your rabid space monkey story. Yeah, it’s a bummer, but sometimes the editor will tell you this is why your story was rejected. I always appreciate that because it’s useful data, and I can send that story out again with some confidence.
  6. Lots of competition. If you’re submitting to big pro markets and anthologies, your story is going up against a lot of other stories, many from the best writers in the industry. These markets get a lot of quality submissions, but they can only publish so many stories, hence their very low acceptance rates. For more on that, read the excellent and inspiring article Nectar for Rejectomancers by C.C. Finlay, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. 

Three of the reasons I listed above you can do something about. You can keep refining your craft and submit your best work, you can and absolutely should follow the guidelines to the letter, and you can do some research and sharpen your submission targeting. But, even if you do all those things, you’re still gonna get your fair share of rejections because of the three reasons beyond your control. That’s okay. It’s all part of the gig and it happens to every writer. Accept it, keep writing, and keep submitting.


Any other reasons a story might get rejected? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 6/18/18 to 6/24/18

It’s Monday and time to come clean about all the writing, revisions, and submissions I finished last week.

Words to Write By

This quote perfectly sums up my week

Half my life is an act of revision.

– John Irving

I remember when I finished the first draft of Late Risers, my novel in progress. I was excited and happy, but guardedly so. That’s not because I didn’t feel like it was an accomplishment; I just knew how much work remained to be done. I knew I’d only finished the first half of the process as Mr. Irving so succinctly points out above.

The Novel

Last week I made my first real revisions. I’m not done with my initial read through, but I started working on an issue in the first part of the book. The book began a little too abruptly, so I’m adding a bit to smooth that out, fill in some details, and introduce the reader to a few characters much earlier than I originally had planned. This will necessitate a revision of the original first chapter, but I feel better about the direction of the first act now. I’d call that progress.

Short Stories

Revisions are ongoing on a number of stories, but I did polish up a new one and send it out last week. I’m managing about one new story or one new revision every week, and that’s kept me with a lot of submission material for the year.

Solid submission activity last week.

  • Submissions Sent: 4
  • Rejections: 3
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Further Consideration: 1

Last week’s submissions put me at 68 total for the year, though I did send another just this morning.

The Blog

I attended a convention last week Friday and Saturday, so I only managed two blog posts for the week.

6/18/18: A Week of Writing: 6/11/10 to 6/17/18

The usual weekly writing update.

6/20/18: Submission Protocol: When to Withdraw Part II

In this post I covered two situations where sending a withdrawal letter is a lot more cut and dry: sim-subs and defunct publishers.

Goals

Gonna continue my read through and initial revisions for Late Risers, and, as always, keep sending those submissions out.

Submission Spotlight

As another new feature on these updates, I’m going to point out some submission opportunities you might have missed. This week, it’s a big one.

Tor.com Publishing Opening to Novella Submissions on July 30

Tor.com Publishing will soon be reopening to unsolicited novella submissions! Starting July 30, 2018, Lee Harris, Carl Engle-Laird, and Ruoxi Chen will be reading and evaluating original novellas submitted by authors to https://tor.moksha.io/publication/tornovellas. You can find full guidelines here, and we highly recommend you read the guidelines before submitting. We will be open for two weeks beginning on July 30 around 9:00 AM EST (UTC-1:00) and ending on August 13 9:00 AM EST (UTC-1:00).

If you have a fantasy or sci-fi novella, click the link, and read the guidelines. I don’t need to tell you that getting your novella published by Tor is kind of a big deal.


That was my week. How was yours?

Submission Protocol: When to Withdraw Part II

Last week I discussed when and how to withdraw a story in Submission Protocol: When to Withdraw. In that post, we discussed a single situation when withdrawing a story might be the best thing to do. In this one, we’ll discuss two situations where it’s more cut and dry.

As with all things, check the submission guidelines before you send a withdrawal letter. Some publishers may have specific guidelines for withdrawing a story.

1) Simultaneous Submissions

This is one time sending a withdrawal letter is a must. If you submit a story to two publishers (that accept sim-subs) and one of them accepts the story, you should immediately inform the other publisher and withdraw the piece from consideration. It’s the professional thing to do, and, honestly, it’s usually in the guidelines for any publisher open to sim-subs (And we always follow the guidelines, right?) So what might that letter look like?

Dear Editors,

I submitted my short story [story title] to [publisher] on [date of submission]. The story has been accepted elsewhere for publication. At this time, I would like to withdraw my story from consideration.

Best,

I think you should alert the publisher in the email subject line that you are withdrawing the story. Something like: Story Withdrawal – [Story Title] – [Author Name]. A publisher that accepts sim-subs will have received this letter before, so they won’t be surprised by it, and if you’re professional and follow the guidelines, it won’t hurt you chances on future submissions.

2) Publisher Closing

This may seem like a corner case, but I’ve sent more withdrawal letters for this reason than any other (seven so far). Unfortunately, sometimes a new publisher or even an established one goes out of business. (We’ve had to say goodbye to some great ones in the last couple of years.) Often, the publisher will inform authors with stories under consideration, either on their website, through email, or via social media (or all three). The publisher will sometimes set a deadline for when they will stop accepting submissions and when/if they will respond to the submissions they currently have. In either situation, you probably won’t need to send a withdrawal letter.

Sometimes the only way you know a publisher has gone out of business is because they stop responding to submissions and/or their website and social media accounts disappear and/or they are marked as closed or defunct by Duotrope or The Submission Grinder. In that case, I generally wait a couple of weeks to see if the publisher makes an announcement. If they don’t, I’ll go ahead and send this withdrawal letter.

Dear Editors,

I submitted my short story [story title] to [publisher] on [date of submission]. At this time, I would like to withdraw the story.

Best,

I have put something like “It appears you are no longer considering submissions” into the email, but the simple letter above is probably sufficient. You likely won’t get a response, and in my experience, it’s not uncommon for the withdrawal email to bounce back because the submission address no longer exists. Still, I think sending the letter is the professional thing to do.


Any other reason you might withdraw a story? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 6/11/18 to 6/17/18

Hey, it’s Monday. Here’s my weekly writer report card for your entertainment/edification/judgment.

Words to Write By

A little something new for these updates. I’m going to start each one with a favorite quote about writing. To kick us off, here’s one by Stephen King.

By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.

― Stephen King

A sterling example of even the greats were/are rejected. I also kind of love the idea of getting rejection letters in the mail. I mean, it’s really no different than getting an email rejection, other than my idea of wallpapering my office with rejection slips will never come to fruition.

The Novel

Still working on my initial read-through and making revisions. I had a little analysis paralysis last week that slowed me down. What’s difficult for me is that I’m struggling to accept that the revision process is going to take as long, if not longer than it took me to write the first draft. I just need to be okay with that because I’ll end up with a better book.

Short Stories

I finished a new flash piece I quite like, and I’ll start sending that one out this week. I also worked on a couple of longer pieces, which are getting closer to done or revised.

Not a lot of submission activity last week.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0

All the submission activity this week revolved around the same story. I sent it out once, received a nice personal rejection, revised it a bit, then sent it out again. These two submissions put me at 64 total for the year.

The Blog

Another good week for the ol’ blog.

6/11/18: A Week of Writing: 6/4/10 to 6/10/18

The usual weekly writing update.

6/13/18: Submission Protocol: When to Withdraw

I returned to the always popular subject of withdrawing a story from consideration. This time I shared an order of operations or checklist to consider before sending a withdrawal letter.

6/15/18: Free Flash – Where They Belong

This is a piece of flash fiction I sold to Darkfuse Magazine a few years ago. Unfortunately, Darkfuse closed up shop a while back, and the story is no longer available to read online. So, since the rights to the story have returned to me, I put it up on the blog.

Goals

Keep pushing through my first read of the novel and revising. I (always) want to get more short stories written and submitted as well.

Story Spotlight

This week’s story spotlight is another I published with The Molotov CocktailThis is a weird one I was sure no one would ever publish, but The Molotov liked it, and I’m grateful for it. Anyway, it’s called “A Man of Many Hats.”

“A Man of Many Hats”

Free Flash – Where They Belong

Something a little different for you today. Below is a piece of flash fiction called “Where They Belong.” I sold it to DarkFuse Magazine a few years ago, and since the rights to the story have returned to me and it’s no longer available to read online, I thought I’d post it here. I’ll add it to my list of free-to-read stores on the blog too

Anyway, I’ve always liked this one. I hope you do too.


Where They Belong

by Aeryn Rudel

Daddy always says to put things where they belong. Toys have to go back in the chest. Milk has to go back in the fridge. Dead people have to go in the ground.

The gun is heavy, and I have to carry it with both hands. I had to figure out how to work it, how to make the round part pop out so I could put in the bullets. Before all the bad things happened, Daddy said I was too little to shoot. He said it would knock me down. I hope I am big enough now.

I carry the gun into the family room where Mommy is lying in front of the TV. I don’t want to look at her because I might cry again. I can’t cry. I need to be a big boy so I can help Daddy. There is blood all over the carpet, and there are pieces of Mommy missing, the pieces Daddy ate. I walk past her into the kitchen without looking.

Anna is on the floor in the kitchen. She was so little that she couldn’t even run when Daddy grabbed her. It doesn’t bother me to look at her, though. I’m sad, but I didn’t love Anna the same way I loved Mommy.

The basement door is next to the fridge, and it is open a little. I can hear Daddy in the basement. It sounds like he is moving things, heavy things, throwing them. I push open the door and look down the stairs. I don’t like the dark, and I switch on the light. I have to stand on my tippy toes to do it. I’m scared Daddy might come up the stairs when the light goes on, but he doesn’t. He is still moving around down there, making loud noises. It sounds like he is crying or breathing hard.

I walk down the stairs. I try to be very quiet because I don’t want Daddy to hear me yet. At the bottom, Daddy is trying to grab Sylvester, our cat, but he is way back under the water heater and Daddy can’t reach him.

“Daddy,” I yell.

Daddy turns around. He looks sick. His skin is gray, and his eyes are yellow. There is blood on his face and on his shirt. I know that blood is not his, and it makes my stomach hurt. He opens his mouth and yells or growls, like a monster. He doesn’t say any words. I don’t think he can say words anymore. I move up the stairs backwards.

“Come on, Daddy. Come out of the basement. Come be with Mommy.”

Daddy follows me up the stairs and into the kitchen. I back up against the counter and hold out the gun with both hands. I aim it at Daddy. He walks toward me. His mouth is open and black stuff runs out of it. He reaches for me.

I pull the trigger. The gun jumps in my hand and makes the loudest sound I have ever heard. The bullet hits Daddy in the head and makes a big hole. Blood and yellow stuff, like oatmeal, splashes the wall behind him, and he stops walking. He stands there looking at me, but I don’t think he sees me anymore. Then he falls down and stops moving.

I think it’s okay to cry now.

#

It was easy to pick up Anna, but Mommy and Daddy were too heavy to move. I tried, but I couldn’t get them outside. I got blood on my new shirt. It was one of my shirts for second grade. Mommy would be so mad if she knew, even though there’s probably no school anymore.

I found the shovel in the garage. Digging was hard, and it took me a long time to make a hole in the backyard because I had to dig through the grass. I put Anna in the hole, and then I felt bad she had to be in there by herself. I got Mommy’s purse and Daddy’s watch and the picture we took at Disneyland with all of us in it. I put them in the hole with Anna. Then I put the dirt in. I tried not to put it on Anna’s face at first, but I had to, and it made me feel a little better when I couldn’t see her anymore.

When I finished, I went into the front yard. I can see the city, and there is a lot of smoke. Yesterday, or maybe it was the day before, I heard sirens, but now I don’t hear anything but the wind. I wonder if other people will come to get me. I wonder if there are any other people.

I go back into the backyard and lie down on top of the dirt where the hole was. I whisper, “Goodbye, Mommy. Goodbye, Daddy. Goodbye, Anna.”

Daddy, Mommy, and Anna are where they belong now. I hope they go to heaven. I hope I go there too. I hope it is soon.

END

Originally published by DarkFuse Magazine, June 2016


Like a lot of my published flash fiction, this one started life as a one-hour flash fiction writing exercise. I think I got the story mostly right in that single hour, but it did take me a while to get the voice where I wanted it. It’s always challenging to write from a child’s POV (for me anyway), but I got some excellent advice from critique partners who actually have children. This story also holds the distinction of being one of my few one-and-done submissions. It was accepted and published by the first market I sent it to. That doesn’t happen a lot. 🙂

Submission Protocol: When to Withdraw

Withdrawing a story from a publisher is an oft-discussed topic in writer circles, and there are a lot of opinions on when and if you should do it. My views have evolved on this subject over the years, so I thought it might be a good time to revisit it. It should be noted that I’m specifically talking about withdrawing a story from a publisher that has been unresponsive for a considerable amount of time. There are other times when the decision to withdraw a story is much more cut and dry (sim-subs and defunct publishers, to name two).

When should you withdraw a story? Well, again, there are a lot of opinions, but here’s a checklist or series of “if this, then that” scenarios you might consider before pulling the trigger on the withdrawal letter.

Step 1: Has the publisher exceeded their stated (1) response time by a reasonable (2) period? If yes, go to step two. If no, then wait until that time has passed, then go to step two.

Step 2: Is the publisher responding to submissions on Duotrope or the Submission Grinder (3)? If yes, consider waiting until they’ve exceeded their actual (4) response time. If no, then go to step three.

Step 3: Has the publisher indicated on their website or social media they are working through submissions? (5) If yes, and the publisher has given a deadline, consider waiting until that date has passed. If no, go to step four.

Step 4: Does the publisher allow submission status queries? (6) If yes, and all criteria from the previous steps have been met, then send a submission status query and go to step five. If the publisher does not allow them, do not send one, and go to step five.

Step 5: Has the publisher responded to the submission status query (or responded in general if they don’t allow them) and resolved the submission with a rejection, an acceptance, a further consideration letter, or an update of some kind? If yes, congrats; you’re done. If no, and a reasonable amount of time has passed, then go to step six.

Step 6: Assuming the publisher has not responded to you, have they responded to any submissions on Duotrope or The Submission Grinder or left any indication on their website or social media about submissions since the first/last time you checked? If yes, it’s reasonable to wait and not entirely unreasonable to go to step seven at this point. If no, go to step seven.

Step 7: Send a withdrawal letter.

(1) The stated response time is usually in the publisher’s guidelines. For genre, I find it’s somewhere between 30 and 90 days. If the publisher does not list a stated response time, look at Duotrope or The Submission Grinder for an average response time and use that.

(2) What’s a reasonable amount of time in this situation? That’s really a gut check thing. A month past the stated response time for a query letter is reasonable, I think. Waiting a month after the submission status query to send the withdrawal letter is also reasonable. Still, this all comes down to what you are comfortable with, so take my checklist with a grain of salt and do what works for you (while still following publisher guidelines).

(3) If you don’t use Duotrope or the Submission Grinder, I’d recommend you do. If not for tracking submissions, then as a market database, and, of course, an excellent way to gauge publisher response times.

(4) The actual response time can vary dramatically from the publisher’s stated response time. It’s often longer, but there are markets that routinely have actual response times far shorter than their stated response times. Obviously, you won’t have to worry about the latter when it comes to withdrawal letters.

(5) It’s a good habit to check a publisher’s Facebook and Twitter for updates about response times. Many publishers also post a lot of great advice about submissions and writing in general.

(6) Even if a publisher allows submission status queries, they might mention a specific period of time they want authors to wait before sending one. Always check the guidelines before you send that letter.


If you do make it to step seven, what should the withdrawal letter look like? Here’s an example of one I’ve used:

Dear Editors,

I submitted my short story [story title] to [publisher name] on [date submitted]. I sent a submission status query on [date of query]. At this time, I would like to withdraw the story from consideration.

Best,

Just give the publisher the facts: story title, when you sent it, and when you sent the submission status query (if you sent one). I also think it’s a good idea to alert the publisher you’re withdrawing the story in the subject line of the email. Something like: – Submission Withdrawal – [Story Title] – [Author Name]. If the publisher assigns any kind of tracking number to the submission, you should also include that in the subject line or body of the email.

Keep the letter short, to the point, and, above all, professional. You don’t know the situation on the other end of that email, so be polite, move on, and send the story somewhere else.


Thoughts on withdrawing a story? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 6/4/18 to 6/10/18

Happy Monday. Another week down, another week of positive yardage, more or less.

The Novel

I’m still reading through the first draft of the novel, though I didn’t make much progress last week, mostly because I needed to focus on another project. This week, I’ll continue my read-through and start making some of the first big revisions to the book.

Short Stories

Last week I said I was going to ask my writing group to give a couple of short stories the once over, and I did. I received some really good feedback on two stories I like a lot that just weren’t quite there yet. I know what to do with them now, and hopefully once the revisions are done they’ll find a home.

Another slow week for submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Withdrawal: 1

This is the first week in a long time where I didn’t receive any rejections. I’m okay with that. I did send out two submissions, number 61 and 62 for the year. One is a brand new story on its first submission and the other is an older story I sent to a new market. I also withdrew a story after no response for many months. I’ll send that one out again this week.

Other Projects

One of the reasons I didn’t spend as much time on the novel is I finished up the D&D adventure I was writing for Goodman Games and turned it in. It had been a while since I did any game design, so it was a lot of fun to put that particular hat on again. I’ll reveal a bit more about this project as it gets closer to publication.

The Blog

Okay, last week was a good one for the ol’ blog, and I managed three posts.

6/4/18: A Week of Writing: 5/28/18 to 6/3/18

The usual weekly writing update.

6/6/18: The Final Round Form Rejection

In this post I discussed a type of higher-tier form rejection I called the final round form rejection. It’s a heart-breaker.

6/8/18: One-Hour Flash – Road to Ruin

Another piece of flash fiction jammed out in an hour. This one ties into a novel concept I’ve had kicking around for years.

Goals

Keep reading and revising the novel is goal number one. I’d also like to revise some of the short stories I mentioned above and get them out for submission.

Story Spotlight

This week’s story spotlight is the second piece I published with The ArcanistLike many of my published flash fiction stories, this one began life as part of a one-hour flash writing exercise (you can see one of the less successful results of those exercises in last week’s blog posts).

“Reunion”