Close Calls: The Shortlist Rejection

I’ve discussed the shortlist rejection a few times on the blog, but it’s worth revisiting, mostly because I’ve gotten a bunch this year. 🙂 First, a definition. A shortlist rejection is when the publisher sends you notification they’re holding your story for further consideration, then the story is ultimately rejected, usually with some feedback as to why and/or general encouragement to submit more work. For the purpose of this article, I’m using shortlist and further consideration as interchangeable terms (though, there can be slight differences).

In my opinion, the shortlist rejection is one of the toughest a writer is likely to encounter. You can’t help but get your hopes up, and the disappointment is a little more intense. But let’s dissect this further and talk about the significant aspects of the shortlist rejection, both those that should encourage you and some that might take the wind out of your sails (at least at first).

  1. Feedback. Most of the time, the editor will include some kind of feedback with a shortlist rejection. This will often be what ended up being the deciding factor for them not choosing to publish the story. This kind of feedback does two things. One, if you revise the elements that ultimately made the publisher reject the story, you might have a better chance of an acceptance on its next submission. Two, this kind of feedback often tells you a lot about what the publisher/editor wants (or doesn’t want) to see in a story, which is very useful for future submissions with that market.
  2. Ouch. For my money, the shortlist rejection stings more than any other. Knowing you got close and were ultimately rejected is a tougher pill to swallow than a filing away another faceless form letter. Additionally, the feedback you receive might highlight real issues with the story or your writing, and while that’s incredibly valuable in the long term, it can be a bit of a gut punch in the short term. Though I firmly believe the shortlist rejection is overall a good thing, they can cut a little deeper than other nos.
  3. Good story. If the story was held for further consideration or was shortlisted, that means it’s probably pretty decent, right? I think you can be confident you’ve written a piece that is likely sellable. For reference, my acceptance rate on stories that received shortlist rejections is right around sixty percent, as opposed to an overall acceptance rate of between fifteen to twenty percent (depending on the year).
  4. Good stories get rejected. Sometimes the shortlist rejection feedback will be all positive, and the reason for the rejection is something you simply couldn’t control. Maybe they just published a similar story or maybe it’s not a great fit for their upcoming issue or a dozen other perfectly valid reason. As I’ve said many times on this blog, good stories get rejected all the time, and that’s just a reality of publishing.
  5. On the radar. I’ve found that getting a shortlist rejection sometimes puts you on an editor’s radar in a good way. Often, my next submission to a market that’s sent me a shortlist rejection received a response quicker than usual and a few times it resulted in an acceptance.
  6. How close did I get? A shortlist or further consideration letter is often sent when your story is passed up to the editor by the slush readers. Sometimes, the story has to got through multiple editors after that before it’s actually accepted and published. Some markets have a transparent process, and will let you know exactly how far along your submission progressed before it was rejected. Some don’t, and you won’t know how close your story was to publication. This is not an indictment of how any publisher handles their submissions, mind you. There is always some level of uncertainty that goes with a rejection. The shortlist rejection, however, ups the ante and makes that ever-burning question what can I do better? burn a little brighter. This, too, is just another reality of writing, submitting, and all they comes with it.

Despite how disappointing they can be, the shortlist rejection is a net positive in my opinion, especially when they come from incredibly competitive pro markets. Your story made it through one or several rounds of cuts and was likely enjoyed by slush readers, editors, or both. That’s a good thing and more often than not, you’ll have an even better shot at publication with the rejected story and with the market that rejected you. When you get a shortlist rejection, it might smart a bit, but once the pain subsides, take heart in the fact that you and your writing are probably on the right track.

Thoughts on the shortlist rejection? Tell me about it in the comments.

3 Comments on “Close Calls: The Shortlist Rejection

  1. I’ve got a story on hold at Apex Magazine. I think I’ve prepared myself mentally for a rejection, but I bet it will sting anyway. That said, I really hope I do get some feedback on it.

    • I’ve received a few shortlist rejections from Apex. The last one felt like I got a little closer than the previous, but that’s probably more rejectomancy than objective fact. 🙂

      Good luck!

  2. Oh yeah, I’ve gotten longlist rejections, and even that already stings. I also feel more hurt when rejected in competitions (or call for submissions) than when sending in regular unsolicited stories.

    But hey, at the same time, I also feel kinda stoked for making it on any list at all, so there’s that.

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