Replying to a Rejection: Dos and (mostly) Don’ts

A topic I see a fair amount among authors is whether or not you should reply to a rejection letter. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’d say the answer is no, but my views on this blog are kind of an evolving thing. Something I said you should never do a couple of years ago, I might now say don’t do very often or don’t do it unless it’s under these very specific circumstances. So let’s revisit replying to a rejection letter and talk about some specific reasons you might think about typing out a reply and whether or not it’s a good idea.

1) To argue with the editor for rejecting your story. Do. Not. Do. This. It’s real bad form, and it’s probably (definitely) going to hurt your chances at future publications with that market. Look, rejections aren’t fun, but they’re part of the gig, and, most importantly, they are not personal. Editors reject stories for lots of reasons that often have nothing to do with the quality of the work, and what doesn’t work for one market may very well be exactly what another market wants. So, suck it up, move on, and submit that story somewhere else.

2) Because you didn’t like or agree with the feedback. If the editor took the time to actually give you constructive feedback, that’s probably because they saw some merit in the work. That’s a good thing. You should submit another story to that market. If you don’t agree with the feedback you received, that’s okay too. There’s no point in attempting to argue with the editor over something like that. It’s an opinion, and, again, it’s not personal. Absorb the feedback (or don’t) and move on.

3) Because the editor was rude. But were they? Really? I conceded that it’s certainly possible an editor might be rude in a rejection, and I’m sure it’s happened, but after receiving hundreds of them, I can’t remember a single one where the editor was anything but professional. Sometimes form rejection letters are short and to the point, and if you’re feeling salty about the no, you might be tempted to read terseness or rudeness into that (I’ve actually seen this happen). Don’t. See reason number one. It’s not personal.

4) They made a mistake. I mean an actual mistake. See reason number one for the “mistake” of not accepting your story. I once received a rejection for someone else’s story. Our pieces had very similar titles, and the editor made a very understandable error. I replied with a polite note explaining the situation, and the editor responded with an apology and then read and replied to my submission within the next couple of days. In a sense, my response to that error worked a lot like a submission status query, and my story was read well ahead of the publisher’s usual schedule.

So, yes, this is the ONE time you should absolutely respond to a rejection letter. I can’t imagine an editor being anything but appreciative, just like the editor in my example was.

5) To thank an editor for providing feedback. The last time I talked about replying to rejection letters, I said you shouldn’t do this. Mostly, because it’s not necessary or expected. That said, my thoughts have evolved slightly on this specific example. Let me explain.

A market I hugely respect published one of my stories a few years ago, and I send them a lot of my work. I generally get personal rejections, and, as is my standard operating procedure, I don’t respond to them. In this one case, though, the editor gave me some thorough and very insightful feedback that vastly improved the story. I was so grateful I wanted to let them know. I sent a quick, “I never do this, but thank you so much for that incredibly useful feedback.” They sent me a nice email about how they rarely take offense at responses to rejections (you know, unless they’re for those first two reasons), and they don’t mind hearing their feedback was helpful.

Despite my example, I don’t think you should do this often (I’ve done it exactly once), but if the market has published you before and you’re somewhat familiar with the editor and they’ve provided you with something really helpful, then, a quick, polite thank you after a rejection is probably not an issue.

Please note, however, some publishers straight-up tell you in their guidelines not to respond to rejections, even if it’s something like I outlined above. In that case, follow the guidelines and do NOT respond to a rejection from that publisher (with the possible, very rare exception of reason #3).


So, to sum up, replying to a rejection letter is almost always a bad idea or simply not necessary, but there are a couple of corner cases where you might consider it.

Can you think of a reason I left off? If so, tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 10/8/18 to 10/14/18

Fell of the weekly writing update wagon there for a bit, but I’m back at it. Happy Monday.

Words to Write By

This week it’s another one of my favorite quotes from Stephen King.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

—Stephen King

Show me a writer that doesn’t procrastinate, and, well, I just won’t believe you. 🙂 I think we all do it, and why do we do it? Mr. King hits that particular nail on the head with his quote. Before I actually start writing, all I can think about is what might go wrong, how I won’t be able to write that scene convincingly, make that character believable, revise this chapter into something coherent, even compelling. Of course, when I get over myself, and start, you know, writing, it’s never as bad or as hard as I feared. When I finish for the day, I almost always look back and think, “Now, why did it take me so long to get started?”

The Novel

I’ve been working on and off on the revisions of the novel for the last couple of weeks. Primarily, I’ve been writing new material to fix some of the plot holes and character motivation problems. This week, I’ll paste that new material in to the manuscript and then begin the process of revising the book as a whole. I’m still shooting to finish this round of revisions by the end of the month.

Short Stories

I started a couple new short stories last week. One is a compete rewrite and re-imagining of a piece I wrote nearly fifteen years ago, and the other is a completely new idea for a horror/humor anthology call. Just a couple of short story submissions last week, though I did send a few more the week before.

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

These two submission give me 102 for the year, and you might have seen my post about hitting my 100-sub goal. At this pace, I should end 2018 with something in the neighborhood of 120 to 130 submissions.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

10/8/18: 100 Submissions – An Analysis 

This posts gives you the dirty details on my journey to 100 submissions: all the rejections, acceptances, the works.

10/12/18: My Acceptance Rate by the Numbers

An in-depth look at my acceptance rates broken down by type of market.

Goals

Keep revising the novel and finish the two short stories I started. And, as always, more submissions.

Submission Spotlight

This week, Pseudopod, one of my favorite markets, has opened again to general submissions. They’re part of the Escape Artist group of podcasts that publish awesome audio short stories. Pseudopod is their horror podcast, and, as you can imagine, that’s kind of my jam. I also might be a little biased since they published my story “Night Games.” But only a little. They are a pro-paying market with a great editorial staff, so send them something if you have a story that fits. Submission guidelines below.

Pseudopod Submission Guidelines


That was my week. How was yours?

My Acceptance Rates by the Numbers

I’ve blogged about the chances of getting published by specific markets, but what about a more personal view of the subject? If you’re regularly submitting work to semi-pro and pro markets (with a token/free market here and there), how many acceptances should you expect? Hard to say, honestly. There’s not a lot of data out there regarding what a good overall acceptance percentage looks like. Since the only hard data point I have is my own experience, let’s take a look at my numbers since I’ve been tracking my submissions through Duotrope.

The table below shows the last seven years, complete with how many submissions I sent, how many were rejected, how many were lost, never responded, or withdrawn, how many were accepted, and my overall acceptance percentage for the year. I calculated my acceptance percentage by dividing the number of acceptances by the number of submissions less the number of withdrawals and pending subs. Pending subs only affected the numbers for 2018. (If you counted those pending subs, my acceptance rate for 2018 would be 16%.)

Year Subs Reject L/N/W Accept Acc %
2012 6 5 1 0 0%
2013 16 14 2 0 0%
2014 38 29 4 5 15%
2015 46 37 2 7 16%
2016 53 43 2 8 16%
2017 73 64 4 5 7%
2018 101* 72 2 16 18%
Total 333 264 17 41 13.4%

*to date

I wasn’t writing much short fiction in 2012 and 2013, but things picked up the following year, and I started submitting more and getting some acceptances. As the years went on, I sent more submissions, and I received more acceptances. Then 2017 happened, and I’m still not completely sure why I struggled so much to get stories accepted. With 2017 in the rear view, 2018 has been, by far, my best year for both submissions and acceptances.

With the exception of 2017, my acceptance rate has hovered around 15% and I;m at 13.4% overall. I think that’s pretty solid. I’ve heard anecdotally that a 10% acceptance rate is about average. Again, I have no data to back that up, and, honestly, I think the acceptance percentage can vary a lot based on the type of market you submit to. So let’s look at pro, semi-pro, and token/free markets and see if it makes a difference in my overall acceptance percentages. As usual, I’m using the Duotrope definitions for pro (.05/word and up), semi-pro (.01 to .04/word), and token (under .01/word).

Market % of Subs Acceptance %
Pro 53% 6%
Semi-Pro 33% 11%
Token/Free 14% 47%

As you can see, more than half of my subs go to pro markets. The next biggest chunk go to semi-pro markets, and, finally, about fifteen percent go to token/free markets. Not surprisingly, my acceptance percentages line up with the general acceptance rates of the three market categories. Pro markets are hardest to crack, then semi-pro, then token/free. This is not to say there is always a correlation between pay and how hard it is to get an acceptance from a market. There are many fine token/free publishers who put out top-notch stuff and have acceptance rates in the low single digits.

Now let’s look at the numbers for just 2018, and see if my strategy of subbing primarily to pro markets is working.

Market % of Subs Acceptance %
Pro 67% 9%
Semi-Pro 22% 16%
Token/Free 11% 70%

This year I’m sending even more subs to pro markets and my acceptance percentages are trending up in all categories That’s a trend I hope continues this year and into next. So, why am I seeing more success in 2018? Here are some possible reasons:

  1. Dumb luck. As I’ve said many, many times, sometimes getting a story published is about putting the right piece in front of the right editor at the right time. I think I did that more in 2018. Conversely, I think I might have been equally unlucky in 2017, as some of the stories I’ve sold this year, I started subbing last year.
  2. Better stuff. I think my short story skills have improved over the last couple of years, especially with flash fiction, and I think that’s translating into more acceptances.
  3. Better submission targeting. I’ve learned a lot this year about which markets are more likely to accept my work and which aren’t, and that may have led to a few more acceptances.

Of course, I am still very much a work in progress, but I think I might have figured out some things that will lead to more success in the years to come. I hope. 🙂


Care to share your own acceptance rates? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

100 Submissions – An Analysis

Yesterday I sent my 100th submission for the year. I’m thrilled to have achieved this goal well ahead of schedule, and in this post I’ll give you all the crunchy data that got me there. Before I get into the raw numbers, though, here are some things I learned from sending so many submissions in a single calendar year.

  1. You have to write a lot. Yeah, obvious thing is obvious, right? But if you write genre fiction and can’t benefit as much from sim-subs, then you need to write a fair amount of stories if you want to send 100+ submissions. Luckily, I write a lot of flash fiction, so I was able to churn out a good number of new stories.
  2. You get better. It’s a pretty simple formula in this business that the more you write the better you get at it. I think I upped my short story game this year. I still have work to do in that department, but the number of acceptances I’ve received so far tells me I’m doing something right(er).
  3. You get a better handle on the market. Sending so many submissions taught me a few things about some of the publishers I submit to and will help me target my submissions more accurately in the future.
  4. Your rejectomancer level goes up. Sending that many submissions means getting A LOT of rejections. Sure, I’ve received a bunch over the years, but I shattered my yearly rejection record, and my skin is now like elephant hide when it comes to the no’s, we’re gonna pass’s, and not for us’s.

Okay, let’s get to the numbers. Here are the basics.

  • Submissions: 100
  • Rejections: 72
  • Acceptances: 16
  • Withdrawn: 2
  • Pending: 10

This first set of numbers gives you the basic breakdown of my submission activity. I’m happy with both my productivity (a little over 10 submissions per month) and the results. Yes, I’ve received more rejections this year than any other, but I’ve also received a lot more acceptances. I’d call that a good trade-off. I had to pull two stories this year (though it seems like more) because the market went under while my stories were under consideration.

Let’s drill down a bit and look at the actual stories I sent.

  • Unique Stories: 33
  • Reprints: 3
  • Flash: 24
  • Shorts: 9
  • New for 2018: 18

I’ve sent 33 unique stories this year so far, nearly three-quarters of them flash fiction. Eighteen of the stories I wrote this year, though many of the older stories were heavily revised. Finally, I sent a few reprints, but they made up a very small percentage of my total submissions.

Now let’s look at the markets I submitted to:

  • Unique Markets: 45
  • Pro Markets: 27
  • Semi-Pro Markets: 15
  • Token/Free Markets: 3

I’ve submitted to a total of 45 markets in 2018. I’ve counted markets like The Arcanist or The Molotov Cocktail as one market, even though their regular submissions and contest submissions are listed separately in Duotrope and The Submission Grinder. As you can see, most of submissions when to pro and semi-pro markets, and that’s a trend I expect to continue from here on out.

Finally, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so let’s take a closer look at all my rejections for the year.

  • Rejections: 72
  • Form: 48
  • Upper-Tier: 16
  • Personal: 8

Lots of form rejections, which is no surprise, honestly, since I submitted primarily to professional markets. Some of those form rejections might be upper-tier rejections, but where I wasn’t certain I counted them as basic form rejections. The personal rejections this year were all from pro markets, and most of them provided me with very useful feedback.


That’s the skinny on my first 100 submissions for 2018. Of course, there’s still nearly three months left in the year, so I might end 2018 with something like 130 submissions. Here are some stretch goals I’d like to hit before 2019:

  • 20 acceptances – I think I’ve got a reasonable chance at this. I’ve only had one month without an acceptance so far, and 20 acceptances would be a great way to end the year.
  • 100 rejections – Yeah, I know, kind of a dubious goal, but, hey, great for branding, right? 🙂 I should hit this mark if my acceptance/rejection percentage remains where it is and I hit 130 submissions or so.

Submission Statement: September 2018

Another month of submissions, rejections, and acceptances in the books. Here’s how September shook out.

September 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 10
  • Rejections: 6
  • Acceptances: 2
  • Publications: 1

I’m happy with ten submissions for the month, and two acceptances is pretty solid too. Only one publication this month, but I’ve got a bunch slated for October. As for total submissions, I finished September with 96, just four away from my goal of 100.

Rejections

Six rejections for September.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 5
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 1
  • Personal Rejections: 0

Mostly standard form rejections from pro markets this month, though I think one might be an upper tier (more on that below).

Spotlight Rejection

The spotlight rejection for September comes from a pro market I’ve never submitted to before (though I certainly will again).

Dear Aeryn,

Thank you for submitting [story title] to [publisher] for consideration. Unfortunately, we’re going to pass on this one. It just didn’t work for us.

We look forward to reading further submissions from you.

Best,

This might be an upper-tier rejection, but it could just be their standard form too. Some markets include verbiage like the second sentence in all their rejections. Since I don’t have any other rejections from this publisher to compare it to, it’s hard to say.

Acceptances

Two acceptances this month. That continues my streak of eight straight months with at least one acceptance. So far, only January has skunked me. The two acceptances in September bring my yearly total to sixteen.

Here’s one of the acceptances I received in September. This one is for a story that had received a bunch of close-but-no-cigars. It took second place in a flash fiction contest, and I’m very pleased it has finally found a home.

Hi Aeryn,

We’re happy to announce that your story [story title] is the Second Place winner of our [contest name]

We’ll be publishing your story on October 19.

There’s more to this acceptance, but it’s just the usual payment and rights stuff. This one should be available to read soon.

Publication

One publication in September, which you can read below.

“What Kind of Hero?”

Published by Ellipsis Zine


And that was my September. Tell me about yours.