Rejected Stories: When to Revise or Resubmit

When I get a rejection on a short story, my first thought is do I need to revise this piece? Often as not, the answer is no, and I send the story right back out. I don’t come to this decision without due consideration, though, and the rejection itself is often the biggest determining factor on whether a story gets revised or resubmitted. So let’s look at some different rejections and how they influence my decision to revise or resubmit.

Below I’ll list various types of rejections, the chance I’ll resubmit the story after such a rejection, and then a short explanation of why.

Standard Form Rejection – Resubmit 75%

The usual run-of-the-mill not for us doesn’t include much information other than the editor is not going to publish the story. So with not much to go on, I’ll usually send the story somewhere else right away. I put the resubmission chance at 75% because if I start getting a bunch of form rejections with no other feedback, I’ll probably take that as a sign the story isn’t working and revise it.

Higher-Tier Form Rejection – Resubmit 90%

The higher-tier form rejection can be hard to recognize unless you know what you’re looking for and you have a little experience with the market in question. They don’t tell you much more than a standard form rejection except that the editor saw some merit in the story. Though the resubmission rate is higher than standard form rejection, if I keep getting these and nothing else, I’ll consider a revision.

Shortlist Form Rejection – Resubmit 100%

Often times, when a story is held for further consideration and then rejected, the rejection is either a standard or higher-tier form letter. In this case, it’s not the rejection that influences my decision to resubmit, it’s the fact the story was held. If a publisher liked a story enough to hold it, even if they subsequently reject it, I take that as a sign the story is good to go and send it out again.

Positive Personal Rejection – Resubmit 100%

If I get a personal rejection where the editor praises the story but declines it for wrong fit or some other reason that has nothing to do with the writing, there is a 100% chance I’ll send that story out again. That said, where I send the story might be influenced by the editor’s comments. For example, I had a story recently rejected because it wasn’t science fiction enough for a science fiction market. I did send the story out again right away, but I chose a market that accepts a broader range of speculative stories. Sometimes these rejections follow a shortlist or hold, but that only makes the decision to resubmit that much easier.

Constructive Personal Rejection – Resubmit 50%

At this point, you’re probably thinking, does this dude ever revise a story? The answer is yes I do, generally when I receive a personal rejection that includes substantive, actionable feedback. In my experience, these types of personal rejections come after a story is shortlisted, and they helpfully explain why the editor did not choose to accept the story. This feedback highlights areas of the story that didn’t work for the editor or their first readers, and puts me to a decision. Still, when I get feedback like this, I don’t automatically revise the story. Sometimes I disagree with the feedback or believe it to be simply a matter of editorial taste. In that case, I’ll send the story out again. Other times, that feedback will resonate with me and/or will point out less subjective plot holes, narrative issues, and so forth. Then, yes, I will pull the story from my rotation and revise it. It should also be said that if I keep getting the same feedback, even if I don’t initially agree with it, I’ll bow to editorial consensus and revise.

So that’s how individual types of rejections influence my decision to revise or resubmit a story. The numbers should be viewed as ballpark figures, of course. I have over the course of 600-plus submissions revised a story after a single form rejection, for example. In addition, if a story has received multiple different rejections, then my decision to revise or resubmit might be based on a consideration of all rejections rather than just the last one.

How do rejection influence your decisions to revise or resubmit? Tell me about it in the comments.

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