Charting the Rejection Progression

As I’ve discussed many times on the blog, there are different tiers of rejection letters that may indicate how close you might have came to an acceptance. Now, spread across multiple publishers, the differences in these rejections may not be so apparent, but when they come from the same publisher you can often see the progress you’re making. As usual, I have examples!

I’m going to show you three rejections from the same pro market, and I think you’ll see the progression I’m talking about.

Rejection 1*

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [story title]. 

Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere. 

A polite but unremarkable standard form rejection like you might see from a dozen different publishers. I racked up five or six more just like this, but I was undeterred. This is very tough market, and I knew I was gonna have to dial in my submission targeting to have a chance of getting through.

Rejection 2

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [Story Title]. 

Though several of our staff members enjoyed the story, it did not receive enough votes to make it to the third and final round of voting. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for this story elsewhere and hope you will consider us for future submissions. 

Well, okay, now we’re getting somewhere. As they said in this very informative rejection, the story made some progress, but ultimately it wasn’t for them. I learned some things here. This story is a bit different from what I’d been sending, so in my next original fiction submissions to this publisher I tried to choose work closer in tone and voice to this one.

Rejection 3

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [story title]

Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. 

As much as we wish we could, we can’t publish every good story that comes our way. Truthfully, we’re forced to return a great many stories with merits that make them well worthy of publication, including yours. 

Your story did, however, reach the final stage of our selection process–one among an elite group. Less than 5% of stories make it this far. That is no small feat. 

We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere, feel confident of your success in doing so, and hope to receive submissions from you in the future. 

Now this is a good rejection and it tells me so much. I know my story got close, so I learned a lot about the kind of stories they’re looking for. They also sent me detailed feedback, which was immensely helpful, and I’ve since revised the story based on the issues they called out. It’s a better story now, and I feel pretty confident it’ll find a home soon.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this progression? For one, don’t give up on a market, especially a tough one, just because you’re racking up rejections. This is even more important if you’re getting rejections like the last two examples. Sometimes rejections are like playing a game of Battleship– a few close misses can tell you an awful lot about where your target might be. Also, it’s important to understand when you get one of those higher-tier or close-but-no-cigar rejections from a market like this, you likely have a good and salable story on your hands. Yes, it wasn’t right for this publisher, but you can have some confidence the next one (or the one after that) might dig it.

*As I often do, I removed certain elements from these rejections that might identify the publisher or story in question. My goal, of course, is never to “call out” an editor or publication for a rejection (that’s stupid and immature) but to present informative examples like these so we can learn from them.


Thoughts on these rejections? Do you have a rejection progression of your own? Tell me about it in the comments.

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