I’ve received a fair number of close-but-no-cigar or final-round or shortlist rejections this year, which I’m just gonna shorthand to shortlist rejections (hah!) in this post to make things easy. Overall, this kind of rejection is a positive thing, as it generally tells you the story has some merit. I’ve covered why stories are held or shortlisted and then get rejected in previous posts, but today I want to talk about three types of shortlist rejections based on the feedback they provide and what that means to me.
As usual, I removed certain things from the example rejection letters in an attempt to conceal the identity of the publisher. These posts are always, always, always about what we can learn from rejections and not about calling out editors or publishers. Plus, all the publishers in this post are excellent markets, with great editors, and I would be honored to work with and be published by any of them. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to the rejections.
1) Shortlist Rejection – No Feedback
The first type of shortlist rejection is what it says. It’s just a rejection, usually a form rejection, that says nothing more than we’re not gonna publish your story. Here’s an example.
Thank you for submitting [story title] to [publisher]. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the story does not meet our needs at this time. We’re going to pass.
I wish you the best of luck finding a home for [story title] and I hope to read something new from you soon.
This is the same form rejection this publisher sends for stories that weren’t held for consideration. Writers might expect some feedback after a story is held, but not every publisher provides it in every shortlist rejection. The reason for this is simply due to time constraints (and maybe how close the story came to actual publication). Like any form rejection, this rejection doesn’t give a lot of information, and its best to avoid reading into anything. That said, the story was held for further consideration, which generally means the publisher liked something about it. So you can send it out again with some confidence.
2) Shortlist Rejection – General Feedback
Probably the shortlist rejection I receive the most, this one does give you some feedback, but it’s more general and usually positive. Here’s an example.
For a post-nuclear war story, [story title] is quite a touching story with believable characters. Thank you again for sending it. Unfortunately the story is not quite the best fit for us in our next two issues, and so we’re going to pass on it. We wish you the best of luck in finding a home for it elsewhere.
Thank you for thinking of us at [publisher] again. We hope you’ll continue sending us more of your work in the future.
As I said, thee bulk of shortlist rejection I receive look something like this. The editor will offer general praise for the story and then give you a reason why it wasn’t chosen for publication. That reason is usually about fit, which is, honestly, why a lot of stories are ultimately rejected. When you get this kind of rejection, take the editor at their word–they did like the story, and it was just a matter of fit–and send that story out again with real confidence.
3) Shortlist Rejection – Specific Feedback
The last type if shortlist rejection is, in my experience, the most difficult because it requires some real thought on the part of the writer. Here, the editor gives you specific, even targeted feedback on your story, and points out aspect that didn’t work for them (as well as aspects that did). This type of shortlist rejection looks like this.
Thank you for allowing us to read your story, [story title].
While we don’t always offer comments on stories, this time we did. The following comments are meant to be helpful; if you disagree with the comments, then you should feel free to disregard.
[Editor] said: I appreciated the clear character motivations and the dinosaur hunting action. Though I like epistolary formats I did wonder if that was the best choice here where the journal is presumably going to be destroyed very soon after. Readers generally liked the action and the ideas here.
Some readers had some plausibility questions about it. In the lack of survival gear, the oddity of having to continue hunting them with modern science it would probably be synthesized once found (though that could be handwaved away), and wondering how they prevent “butterfly effects” causing major changes to the future.
As you can see above, the editor gave me very specific feedback on the story and also included curated reader comments. I always appreciate it when an editor takes the time to give this kind of feedback, as it’s often incredibly helpful. That said, when you get feedback on a story in a rejection, it puts you at a decision point–to revise or not to revise. After you read the feedback, you should sit with it a few days, let it marinate, and give it serious thought. Then, you’ll either decide the feedback resonates with you, and you’ll revise the story, or it doesn’t, and you won’t. In this case, it definitely did, and I revised the story based on this feedback before I sent it back out. I like my chances a bit better now.
So there you have it, three styles of shortlist letters. Keep in mind is that a shortlist or a hold or a final-round rejection is ultimately a good thing. It tells you the story probably has legs, and whether you decide to revise it or not, you should feel fairly confident about sending it out again. Thoughts on shortlist rejections? Tell me about it in the comments.