Form Rejections: What Do They Actually Mean?

As a longtime student of rejectomancy, I’ll be the first to tell you the arcane art of divining meaning from rejections only gets you so far. Sometimes a rejection just means what it says and nothing more. Attempting to read complex hidden motives into a simple “no thanks” can lead you down a dark, miserable path of self-doubt. In this post, we’ll discuss how to avoid that path with some examples of form rejections from my own collection and a little rejectomantic analysis.

Form Rejection #1

Thank you so much for thinking of [publisher]. Unfortunately [story title] is not quite what we’re looking for at the moment. We wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

This is a standard form letter, using very standard language. Things like “not quite what we’re looking for” and “best of luck placing it elsewhere” are the stock in trade of form rejections. There’s no point in reading further into a letter like this, and let me give you two reasons why. One, this story sold on it’s next submission. Two, this market published the last story I sent them before this one. So, I KNOW this publisher likes my writing enough to publish it, and I KNOW this story was good enough to sell elsewhere. That data tells me this form letter meant one thing: the story wasn’t a good fit for THIS publisher. That’s all.

Form Rejection #2

Thank you for submitting [story title] to [publisher]. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we don’t feel it is a good fit for us and we’re going to have to pass on it at this time.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.

Another standard form letter. “We don’t feel it’s a good fit for us,” is just another entry on a long list of boilerplate phrases that make a form letter a form letter. Again, there’s no need to read further into this. There’s no feedback here, just a polite no thanks. Move on and send the story somewhere else. That’s what I did, and this story sold a few submissions later. One more thing, this story was rejected nine times before it sold, five of those rejections being ones just like this. The point is a bunch of boilerplate nos doesn’t mean a yes isn’t right around the corner.

Form Rejection #3

Thank you for submitting your story, [story title], to [publisher]. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

This is a form rejection, but I like that it breaks down some of the reasons why you might be receiving it. Wrong fit, similar theme, etc. are all perfectly valid reasons for a story to be rejected, even a good one, even one the publisher likes. In other words, they’re kind of saying what I’ve been saying all throughout this post: don’t read into form letters. Like the other stories rejected here, this story eventually sold to another publisher.


So, what did we learn from these form rejections? One, they generally don’t mean much other than no, and, two, each of the stories rejected here went on to sell somewhere else. If I had read dire meaning into any of these rejections and stopped submitting those stories, well, I’d have three fewer acceptances to my name.

Look, form letters are just a polite and efficient way for an editor to reject a story when they don’t have the time or need to offer more feedback. But, hey, I get it. If you’re new to the process, something like “don’t feel it’s a good fit” might send you down that aforementioned dark path in search of the TRUE meaning being the word “fit.” Let me turn the light on and save you some time. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. It’s just a no, nothing more, and one of dozens and probably hundreds you’re going to get if you keep sending out submissions. Move on, don’t read into it or dwell on it, and send that story out again.

Thoughts on form rejections? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Rejectomancer Mk II

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you’ve likely seen the “Be a Rejectomancer” page. It’s been a fixture in my menu bar since I began Rejectomancy. Essentially, it translates rejection into a game of sorts, an RPG-class-inspired bit of fun designed to take some of the sting out of rejections. I’ve been threatening to update it and add new features to the “rejectomancer class” for a while, and, well, after four years of this blog and a whole bunch of rejections, it’s time. So here’s the new and improved rejectomancer. New features highlighted in red. Enjoy!


You’ve decided you’re a writer, and you’re going to send your work out to publishers, hoping for the glories of publication and likely ill-prepared for the realities of rejection. You have taken your first step on the path of rejectomancy.

Like anything else, rejectomancy is a skill that must be practiced, and the only way to practice it is to be told “this is not for us” and “we’re going to pass” over and over and over again. You see, rejectomancy is not a measure of your talent or even your success—though, those things often come with the higher levels of rejectomancy—it is a measure of your perseverance against the relentless grind of the submission process. The rejectomancer has developed a toughened skin that can turn aside the sharp sting of rejection letters and the mental fortitude to endure the sometimes years-long wait for a response to a submission. The rejectomancer learns from rejection and grows stronger from it.

How do you become a rejectomancer? You submit work and get rejected (mostly). Each rejection earns you vital experience that propels you down the path of rejectomancy, allowing you to stand up to more and more disappointment, until, finally, rejections are no more than minor irritations along the path of writerly achievement.

Since I’m a giant nerd who has worked in the tabletop gaming industry for the better part of my professional career, I’ll be quantifying rejectomancy using the framework of an RPG character class. Yes, I know, that’s a little weird, but I have a feeling it’ll make sense to many of the folks who read my blog. If you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, think Dungeons & Dragons, and try to follow along.

And a quick disclaimer:

Of course, I do not mean to imply your rejectomancy level is, in any way, a real measure of your writing ability. This whole thing is just a way to have a bit of fun with the often painful reality of literary rejection. So, please, don’t take this seriously or anything.

Rejectomancer Advancement

Level XP Resistance
1 Baby Bunny
2 5 Paper
3 10 Glass
4 25 Ceramic
5 65 Denim
6 140 Leather
7 225 Bark
8 325 Wood
9 500 Lead
10 650 Stone
11 850 Tin
12 1000 Copper
13 1250 Brass
14 1500 Bronze
15 1750 Iron
16 2000 Steel
17 2250 Titanium
18 2650 Tungsten
19 3050 Diamond
20 3550 Adamantium

If you’re familiar with tabletop roleplaying games, the table above is going to look pretty familiar to you; if you’re not, let me break it down:

Level: This number indicates your general rejectomancy skill, a quick way to gauge how much rejection you’ve endured over your career.

XP: You gain rejectomancer experience points by submitting work and surviving rejection. Rejection letters, long waits, and story withdrawals add to your point total. Awesome things like acceptance letters and contest wins also add to your total (because nothing makes you stronger like success).

Resistance: This indicates the relative thickness of the rejectomancer defenses against rejection. Below is a more detailed summary of the rejectomancer at various milestone levels.

  • 1st Level: A 1st-level rejectomancer is a pitiful creature with skin so thin you can see their delicate organs squirming beneath it. The barest hint of rejection can utterly destroy the neophyte rejectomancer, but if they survive those first few nos, they’ll get tougher.
  • 5th Level: By fifth level, the rejectomancer has a few calluses, and their skin is tough enough to turn aside the odd form rejection. They can still be devastated by multiple rejection letters in the same week, which is sure to shred their meager protective covering like a chainsaw through kittens.
  • 10th Level: The 10th-level rejectomancer is a true veteran, and they have developed a high level or resistance to literary disappointment. Form rejection letters bounce off their scaly hide without a scratch, and they can weather multiple rejections in the same week with relative ease. The 10th-level rejectomancer can still be wounded by multiple rejections in the same day or long periods between publications.
  • 15th Level: The rejectomancer at fifteenth level is one tough motherfucker. They barely notice form rejections, understand feedback is a chance to improve, and have likely weathered rejections numbering in the triple digits. They are not invulnerable, but a modicum of success has made their weaknesses more specific. The 15th-level rejectomancer has hidden doubts that allow certain criticisms to bypass their armored skin and strike their vitals. Maybe it’s sensitivity about dialog skills or writing combat scenes. Maybe their trying a different genre for the first time and uncertain if they can pull it off. Whatever the vulnerability, a well-placed bit of feedback can wound the high-level rejectomancer, though, if they’ve made it this far, they’re likely to refocus and carry on.
  • 20th Level: At twentieth level, the rejectomancer has mastered the art. They are an unassailable juggernaut whose impenetrable confidence defies rejection of all types. They’ve probably attained some real success at this point: sold multiple novels, gathered a large following of readers, makes an actual living at writing, or had so many acceptances rejections no longer even register. The master rejectomancer has proven they’re tough enough to survive everything the industry can throw at them.

So, how do you get that precious rejectomancer XP? By doing things that writers do: submitting your work, getting rejection letters, getting acceptance letters, and so on. Here’s a list of ways to gain XP with links to the posts covering most of these topics. I’ll update this table as I add more posts.

Event XP
Common Form Rejection 1
Improved Form Rejection 2
Further Consideration Letter1 3
Personal Rejection 3
Shortlist Letter1 3
Revision Request Letter  5
Acceptance Letter 10
Withdrawal2 1

1 If a rejection comes after a shortlist or further consideration letter, add the shortlist/further consideration total to the rejection total. For example, if you receive a shortlist letter (3 pts) followed by a personal rejection letter (3 pts), add 6 total points to your score. If you receive an acceptance after a short list letter, count only the 10 points for the acceptance.

2 If you send a withdrawal letter after sending a query letter with no response, then award yourself 1 XP for time spent and for handling the situation professionally. If you send a withdrawal letter because you sent a sim-sub and the story was accepted elsewhere, you don’t get the extra XP. (Hey, you still got an acceptance, right?)

***

In addition to the standard responses you might receive from a publisher worth rejectomancer XP, there are other events that can modify the XP earned.

Event XP Modifier
Multi-Rejection Day1 Total x1.5
Rejection – 62 months x1.5
Rejection – 12 months x2
Contest Cash3 +1
Contest Win +3
Every 100 rejections +25
500 rejections +100
1,000 rejections +500

1 On a multiple rejection day, take the total points from all rejections for the day and multiply by 1.5. For example, if I received a common form rejection (1 pt) and personal rejection (3 pts), my total points for the day would be 6 (4 x 1.5).

2 Getting a rejection after a very long wait can be, well, extra disappointing, so after a rejection taking six months or more multiply the rejection XP by 1.5. For a rejection taking over a year, multiply the rejection XP by a factor of 2.

3 Contests often add an additional factor of difficulty to getting an acceptance. There are generally fewer spots for more submissions than a typical zine or online market. So, if your story places in a contest and earns a cash prize, add 1 XP to the acceptance. If you actually win a contest, then add 3 XP to the acceptance. Placing in a contest that does not offer a cash prize still counts as an acceptance, of course. (10 XP).


You might have noticed I removed the things that cost you rejectomancer XP. Why did I do that? There’s already enough negativity involved with rejections that I don’t think I need to pile on for what might be simple mistakes. Of course, if you keep making mistakes like complaining to editors about rejections and whatnot, you’ll see very real consequences well beyond my silly little game. 🙂

Some of you might be recalculating your rejectomancy score based on these new features. If you do, put your new rejectomancer level in the comments. What’s mine? Well, I hadn’t calculated it in some time, so I sat down and added up all the XP on the roughly 400 submissions I’ve sent since I started tracking them via Duotrope. If my math is right, I have 1,160 rejectomancer XP, which puts me at level 12 (copper).

Got any suggestions for how I can expand or improve the rejectomancer class? I’d love to hear about that in the comments too.

My Most-Rejected Story (24 & Counting)

One of my favorite things to talk about on this blog is my most-rejected story. It’s a battered and beleaguered urban fantasy tale that has endured more close-but-no-cigars, shortlists, market closures, and of course plain old form rejections than any other story I’ve ever written or submitted. Of course, it may be time to take the hint and trunk or self-publish the piece, but before we get into that, here’s the story’s report card.

  • Submissions: 27
  • Rejections: 24
  • Withdrawals: 3
  • Personal Rejections: 8
  • Short Lists: 3
  • First Submission: 9/20/14 (rejected 9/25/14)
  • Last Submission: 3/4/19 (rejected 4/1/19)

So, yeah, this story has been around the block a time or two or, you know, twenty-seven. It’s piled up the rejections, but what’s kept me going is the fact it keeps getting good feedback and the occasional shortlist. It’s also seen a bit of bad luck. Two of the withdrawals came about because the market in question closed down. One of those markets had the story shortlisted at the time.

It may be I’m blind to the story’s faults at this point or just stubborn about them. I have listened to the feedback I’ve received, though, and said feedback comes in two stages: prior to a substantial rewrite and after. Much of the feedback before the rewrite mentions how the story feels like a prelude to something longer. I took that to heart and expanded the tale, adding a bit more world-building and character background. The second stage of feedback is the more general close-but-no-cigar stuff. Basically, praise for the story (especially the overall concept), but still a no.

I think the rewrite improved the piece, but obviously not enough to get it accepted. For score-keeping purposes, four of the personal rejections and two short lists came before the rewrite and four personal rejections and one short list came after. So, pretty even there.

The real problem here is this story has gone to twenty-seven different markets, and I’m running out of places to send it. Now, I wait for fledgling fantasy markets or anthologies to pop up on Duotrope before I send the story out again.

Back to the original premise of this post. Should I trunk, self-publish, or stick to my guns and keep firing the story out there? Let’s look closer at those options.

  • Trunk/Rewrite: Some of the feedback I’ve received indicated I might have a good idea in the wrong story. Or a good idea that needs more than a short story to tell properly. So maybe not a trunk story but one that needs to be something much longer, like a novelette.
  • Self-Publish: Now that I have a good venue to pursue self-publishing (Curious Fictions) this option is more attractive. In fact, I could do something like I outlined under the trunk option, turn this into a longer piece, and serialize it. That could be fun.
  • Keep Submitting: I’m sure some of you are shaking your head that I would even consider this after twenty-four rejections. I hear you. I really do. Buuuuuut, I know authors who have placed a story after this many rejections and more, and I personally placed one after sixteen rejections. That’s anecdotal, sure, but it does give me hope, and, hey, one-third of the rejections on this story were of the personal variety and had nice things to say about the piece.

Ultimately, I’m still on the fence about this story. Though, if pressed, I’d say I’m leaning toward a combo of rewrite and self-publish.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 6/10/19 to 6/16/2019

Another week of writing and stuff.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote is another from Mark Twain.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

― Mark Twain

I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity or more precisely the lack of it. A lot of folks call that writer’s block, but when I’m not productive it’s generally not because I can’t write, it’s because I’m terrified to start writing or editing or revising or whatever. Mark Twain’s quote describes almost exactly what I do to get out of my funk. Looking at something like a novel (or the revision of said novel) as one colossal task is completely overwhelming, so much so that I just spin my wheels and fail to get anything done. If I break down that huge task into a bunch of little ones, like Mr. Twain suggests, I can get on with it.

With a novel, those little tasks are writing an outline, then finishing the first chapter, then writing 2,000 words a day. Basically, I never let myself dwell too long on the overall task, I just complete the task(s) I assigned myself for the day. If I do that for like 90 days in a row, one day I’ll look up and have a completed first draft. For revision, it’s roughly the same process. I’ll assign myself one or two plot points to resolve and focus entirely on those, or if I’m doing a more general proof, I’ll assign myself a number of pages per day.

There’s a bit of self trickery in this process, but I’ll use every dirty trick in the book if it means I can push past the fear and doubt and get more done. 🙂

The Novel

Well, I’m back to revising Late Risers and making good progress. Last week I primarily focused on starting from page one and re-reading the first half of the novel. I did a lot of work in the first half and added a ton of new material. So I needed to reacquaint myself with all those shiny new words and figure out if they’re worth keeping. The good news is that most of them are worth keeping, and, as usual, with a little distance from the novel, it reads a lot better and more cohesively than I thought it would. This week I plan to plow through the second half of the book. I won’t need to revise as much, but there’s one huge plot point I need to rework in the third act. After that, it should be pretty smooth sailing. I hope.

Short Stories

Yes, behold my shame.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

No submissions last week, but, hey, I did get a form rejection (womp womp). I’m lagging this month with new submissions, though I am working on new short stories that will become new submissions. I hope to get one or two or three of those out this week. I was also invited to contribute a story or two to a sword & sorcery magazine, so I’ll be starting those stories this week.

The Blog

Here are the blog posts from last week.

6/12/19: Weeks of Writing: 5/20/19 to 6/9/19

Getting caught up on the weeks I missed.

6/15/19: Submissions: A Pair of Never Have I Evers

In this post I discuss two publisher responses I’ve never received.

Goals

Novel, novel, novel. Short story, short story, short story.

Curious Fictions

I’ve started posting some of my reprint flash fiction and short stories up at Curious Fictions, and I plan to do that every Monday for a while. I’ll eventually get around to posting new material, and maybe even a serialized novella. For the moment, getting some of my old reprints some fresh air has been a lot of fun.

This week’s story is “Caroline,” a zombie tale published by Red Sun Magazine a few years ago. It’s definitely one of the darker pieces I’ve written, and you can check it out by clicking the link(s) below.

“Caroline”

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash


That was my week. How was yours?

Submissions: A Pair of Never Have I Evers

With over four hundred submissions you might think I’ve seen just about everything when it comes to editorial responses. I’ve certainly seen a lot, but there are a couple of anomalies in my submission record that stick out. Let’s talk about them.

1) Never have I ever received a revision request.

Yep, not once. I think I’ve received just about every other kind of response you can get from a publisher, but the revision request eludes me. I know authors who receive tons of them, to the point where it’s almost commonplace. So why not me? Here are two possible reasons.

  • The market. Some publishers just don’t send them. It’s either a yes or a no because they don’t have the time to work with an author to develop a maybe. This is certainly anecdotal, but the authors I know who receive revision requests on the regular write more lit-fic, so maybe it’s more common in that circle.
  • I’m a true outcome writer. Borrowing a term from baseball, a true outcome player is one who often generates one of three outcomes in an at bat: a home run, a walk, or a strikeout. So far, I tend to be that kind of writer. I either get an acceptance (a home run), a form rejection (a strike out), or a personal rejection (a, uh, walk, I guess). I’m not sure how much of that is what I write and how much is where I submit, probably a bit of both. It’s possible I’m a true outcome writer because my submission targeting needs work. That’s always worth reexamining.

2) Never have I ever received a rude rejection.

I hear tales of rude or mean-spirited rejections a lot, but I’ve never been on the receiving end of one. Unlike the first anomaly, I’m, uh, okay with that. I’ve received feedback I thought was wildly off base, but it wasn’t rude, just wrong for the story I wanted to tell. So, why haven’t I got one of these literary kicks to the teeth?

  • I’m just lucky. Totally plausible. Maybe, I’ve just managed to avoid the editors that send rude rejections, or I’ve managed not to do anything that would bring their ire down on my head.  *Knocks on wood.*
  • They’re pretty rare. When I do see an author talking about a rude rejection on social media it invariably gets a whole bunch of clicks, shares, and retweets. It’s the kind of salacious tidbit folks love to read and talk about. So, when it does happen, I think it gets magnified, and that might make it seem more common than it actually is. (My personal opinion is that rude rejections are rare as hen’s teeth, but see my last point.)
  • Rude is subjective. Sometimes, when I see an author talking about a rude rejection, it turns out to be what I’d consider a pretty standard form rejection. Yeah, these things can be short and to the point, and if you’re feeling salty about the rejection, it might come across as terse or dismissive. In other words, one author’s rude is another author’s shrug and move on. I’m not saying rude rejections don’t exist–I’ve seen conclusive evidence they do–but I think it’s best to get a little distance before using any rejectomancy to divine a rejection’s intent, good or bad.

Got anything to add to my submission anomalies? Or maybe you have some of your own. Tell me about them in the comments.

Weeks of Writing: 5/20/19 to 6/9/19

Yikes. Time to get caught up on these weeklies.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote is another from Jodi Picoult.

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

― Jodi Picoult

I love this quote because it’s such a simple truth. Essentially, writing is always better than NOT writing. I recently wrote a blog post about what I’d learned from working under deadlines, and this was one of the best lessons. I called it “fix it in post,” but it’s the same concept. Getting the words on the page, getting the broad strokes of the story down, even when it feels terrible, is a necessity, and it’ll almost never be as bad as you think it’ll be. Like Jodi Picoult says, you can always edit a bad page. You can improve it, make it better, even make it great. But you need to get those words on the page before you can do literally anything.

The Novel

I’ve spent the last three weeks or so working on a Privateer Press novella (and then entertaining family), so I haven’t worked on Late Risers at all. That changes this week, and I’m headed back to the revision salt mines. I stopped the revision at a good place, and I had added most of the new material I needed. This week I’m gonna read through all that new stuff now that I’ve head a chance to step away and gain some perspective, then I’ll head into the second and third act, and hopefully it’ll be a gentle downhill revision from there.

Short Stories

Some submissions. Not enough, but some.

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 4
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I managed a couple of submissions per week over the last month. These six put me at forty-six for the year, still mostly on pace for my one-hundred. I still have nine submissions pending, and I’m hoping one or more of those will break my acceptance-less streak dating back to April.

The Blog

Here are the blog highlights for the last three weeks.

5/29/19: Deadlines: What Can They Teach You?

In this post I discuss what I’ve learned from working under tight deadlines.

5/31/19: Submission Protocol: Further Consideration Letters

A discussion of further consideration letters and if/when you should respond to them.

6/4/19: The Post-Rejection Process

What do you do after a rejection? Well, here’s what I do.

Goals

The novel is the primary goal as I inch closer to a completed revision. As usual, I’d like to get a few submission out too.

Other Stuff

There’s one more thing I’d like to call to your attention. I’ve started putting some fiction out at Curious Fictions, mostly reprints that are free to read, though I do have plans for original, even serialized stuff. So, head on out there, read some of the free stuff I have up (and will add to each week), and if you’re so inclined, give me a follow and/or a like. 🙂 Just click on my smilin’ mug below to get to my author profile.

Aeryn Rudel Curious Fictions


That was my week(s). How was yours?

The Post-Rejection Process

Rejections are inevitable. You can’t avoid them, you can’t (and absolutely shouldn’t) argue with them, and though they lose some of their sting over time, they’ll always have some bite. What you can do is control how you deal with rejections. For me, that boils down to a specific four-step process that lets me put rejections in perspective and move on. Of course, this is going to be a very different process for each writer, but here’s what I do.

  1. Read and feel. You can’t avoid this part, so I just lean into it. Be disappointed, be angry, be sad. There’s nothing wrong with any of that . . . as long as you set some kind of time limit. If I need it, I’ll usually give myself anywhere from ten minutes to an hour just to deal with the emotions. I remind myself none of this is personal, that selling a story is all often about putting it in front of the right editor at the right time, and all the other little adages and affirmations I talk about on the blog. What I don’t want is to let those emotions overwhelm me and keep me from being productive, i.e., sending out more submissions. This is also a time I might reach out to other authors to commiserate, normalize the experience, and, hey, get a little sympathy from folks going through the same thing.
  2. Observe and report. The next thing I do is all the bookkeeping. It’s a clinical process that removes me from the emotional aspect of rejection. First thing I do is move the rejection email from my inbox into a rejection folder. It’s kind of an out of sight, out of mind thing, but it’s also so I can put the rejection where it belongs. There’s something vaguely comforting in that. The next thing I do is head out to Duotrope and report the rejection there. I want to keep accurate records because I need them for my blog, and I want to make sure I don’t make stupid mistakes like sending a rejected story to the same publisher. I can’t let a disappointing rejection hurt my chances at future publication.
  3. Get analytical. Okay, now that I’ve let my emotions have their moment and I’ve done all the necessary accounting, I’m usually in a pretty objective place. If I’ve received a personal rejection with feedback, I’ll pull up the email and really try and absorb it. Is it useful to me? Do I need to revise the story based on the feedback? More importantly, does the feedback possibly pinpoint a larger issue in my writing? If the feedback resonates with me, then I’ll revise the story. If I’ve received a form rejection, then I generally go straight to step four.
  4. Fire and forget. I often send out a rejected story right away if I received a standard form rejection and the story has only been submitted a few times (or if I can’t use the feedback I received from a personal rejection). It’s another process that has, I don’t know, kind of a cleansing element, especially after I’ve done all the stuff above. Sending that story out again feels like the final step in the process, one that allows me to put a rejection behind me and move forward.

So that’s my process, my ritual if you will. It keeps me sane and keeps me sending out more submissions, and that’s all I can hope for.

What do you do post-rejection? Tell me about it in the comments.