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.

The Random Rejection Generator v1.0

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I like to have a little fun with rejections (it helps keep me mostly sane), and I’ve created a number of activities writers can do with their nos and not for us’s to make the process less heart-breaking. My last creation was Rejection Bingo, but this time I want to give authors the chance to create their very own rejections with my new Random Rejection Generator!

Here’s how it works. Just grab a six-sided die and roll it once for the INTRO, once for the BAD NEWS, and once for the CLOSING to generate your random rejection.

INTRO

1) Thank you for submitting [story title] to [publisher], but
2) We appreciate your interest in [publisher], but
3) Thank you for considering [publisher], unfortunately
4) Thank you for thinking of [publisher], alas
5) Thank you for sending [story title], but
6) Thanks for giving us a chance to read [story title], but

BAD NEWS

1) this story is not what we’re looking for at the moment.
2) we are going to have to pass on this one.
3) your story does not fit our current needs.
4) this one is not for us.
5) we will not be using your story in this issue.
6) this one didn’t quite grab us.

CLOSING

1) Please keep us in mind in the future.
2) We look forward to your next submission.
3) Best of luck placing this elsewhere.
4) We wish you all the best with your work.
5) Best of luck finding a home for this.
6) We appreciate your interest in our magazine.

So, for example, if I rolled 1, 2, 4, my random rejection would be:

Thank you for submitting “When the Woodchipper Whispers Your Name” to Buckets-O-Blood Quarterly, but we are going to have to pass on this one. We wish you all the best with your work.

Or if I rolled 6, 3, 5, my random rejection would be:

Thanks for giving us a chance to read “Vegan Vampire Vengeance,” but your story does not fit our current needs. Best of luck finding a home for this. 

How might you use the Random Rejection Generator? Well, for fun, mostly, but, hey, if you get a no-response rejection, feel free to roll up a random rejection on the table for some closure. Of course, the current version of the Random Rejection Generator only produces standard form rejections, but keep an eye out for a new and improved RRG with options for higher-tier rejections.


Roll up your own random rejection and post it in the comments or throw out suggestions for the RRG v2.0. 🙂

Submission Top Ten: Shortest Waits

Last week I showed you my ten longest waits for submissions. This week, I’m gonna flip the script and show you the ten shortest waits. So, without further ado, here they are:

Time Elapsed Result Sold
1 10 minutes Rejection
2 17 minutes Acceptance Yes (2)
3 46 minutes Rejection
4 49 minutes Rejection Yes
5 1 hour, 37 minutes Rejection
6 1 hour, 52 minutes Higher-Tier Rejection
7 2 hours, 30 minutes Rejection
8 2 hours, 58 minutes Rejection
9 3 hours, 22 minutes Rejection Yes (3)
10 4 hours, 6 minutes Higher-Tier Rejection

Instead of going through each one of these (they’re all pretty similar), I’ll just give you the highlights.

  • Yep, 10 minutes is my record, and it’s one I’ll probably never break. You might be thinking, “Wow, they must really hate your work,” but that is apparently not the case, as they’ve since bought a story from me. This market is just one that rejects quickly, and they could likely tell within the first paragraph the story wasn’t going to work for them. You might also be wondering if I just really screwed up the formatting or missed some other crucial guideline. I thought the same thing, and I went back over the submission with a fine-toothed comb. As far as I can tell, the submission was formatted correctly.
  • My second shortest wait was an acceptance, which is another record I doubt I’ll ever break. They bought another story from me a few weeks later, but the response took almost THREE DAYS, an eternity compared to the first submission. 🙂
  • There’s ten spots here, but they only cover four markets. One of the markets has five slots, and another has three. These are both well-known for rejecting (and accepting) very quickly.
  • Three of the stories here I’ve gone on to sell to other markets, sometimes multiple times as reprints. I’m only pointing that out because the speed of rejection often has a lot more to do with the market than your story.
  • Most of these are form rejections, but there’s a couple of higher-tier rejections, and I’ve even gotten full-blown personal rejections with tons of feedback on next-day responses. So, just because a market responds quickly doesn’t meant they didn’t read your story or gave it due consideration.
  • You might be wondering if these speedy rejections bother me. They don’t. I appreciate how quickly these markets respond, as it means I can send the story out again (or make revisions) almost right away.

That’s my top ten shortest waits. Tell me about some of yours, especially if you’ve beaten my record time for a rejection or an acceptance. 🙂

The Rejectomantic Arts: Reading the Wait

As you know, rejectomancy is the practice of divining hidden meaning from rejection. This is the most commonly done with rejection letters, but rejectomancy is a broad tent sheltering many mystical writerly arts. You see, a writer looks for meaning, patterns, and validation in more than just rejection letters. They will attempt to apply other forms of literary prognostication to, well, just about everything related to the submission process. In this post we’ll examine the merits (or lack thereof) of one of these esoteric arts: reading the wait.

What is reading the wait? It is the rejectomantic practice of finding hidden meaning not in the rejections themselves but how long it takes for them to arrive. I’ve touched on this subject in past blog posts, but this time I have a sterling example of how it works (in my brain, at last).

There’s one pro publisher to whom I’ve submitted over a dozen times without an acceptance, though I’ve gotten close (and I’ll keep trying). I have enough data points on when they send rejections I think I can see patterns and then apply a little rejectomancy. Here’s what I mean. According to Duotrope, this market rejects a story on an average of sixteen days and accepts a story on an average of thirty-eight days. So, if one of my stories is held beyond sixteen days, I may begin to hope. I have other data points too. I received a higher-tier rejection after twenty-nine days, so if a story is held longer than that, I may really begin to hope. Finally, I received a close-but-no-cigar rejections after forty-three days, which means if I start getting into the the mid-thirties, I think, “Hey, maybe I have a real chance.”

But is there any real information to be gained by my literary tea leaf reading? Maybe a little, depending on the market, but you shouldn’t hang your hat on it. The publisher above is pretty consistent, and most of my form rejections have come within a few days of their average response time, but a few have come as many as eleven days after. It’s possible the longer this market (or any market) holds a story the better, but there are so many factors that could influence the wait time that have nothing to do with your story (a large glut of submissions, editors or slush readers on vacation, when you send the submission, etc.). In other words, it can be misleading to read too much into it. This is especially true with markets that send further consideration letters. A market like Apex or Pseudopod, for example, will straight up tell you they’re holding your story for further consideration or kicking it up to the editors. No rejectomancy necessary (and, yes, I think it’s okay to hope a little at that point).

In summation, it’s fun to read into wait times, but, as hard as it may be, I wouldn’t put much stock in it. I’ve had a market with an average wait time for acceptances of seventy-five days accept my story in three, and a market with a rejection wait time of four days send me a form rejection in sixty. After three-hundred-some rejections, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s likely best to look at each submission in a vacuum with it’s own set of invisible parameters and wait times unknowable to even the most skilled rejectomancer. It might not be as fun, but it’ll be easier on your sanity. 🙂


Thoughts on reading the wait? Tell me about it in the comments.

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.

300 Rejections or THIS. IS. NOT FOR US!

A few days ago I received my 300th rejection. Well, that’s not entirely true, but it’s the 300th since I started tracking my submissions diligently through Duotrope, so I’m gonna run with it for the cool 300 Spartans vibe.

How do I feel hitting this milestone? Pretty good, actually. It is a lot of rejections, but just about right, I think, for how long I’ve been submitting and for the markets I’ve been submitting to. I also think the numbers show some serious progress both in the amount I’m submitting and how many stories are getting through despite all those rejections. Now, what else can we learn from all those rejections? What rejectomantic secrets does the data hold? Let’s dive in and take a look.

Rejections by Year

Year Rejections
2012 5
2013 12
2014 27
2015 38
2016 42
2017 60
2018 100
2019 16 (so far)

At some point in 2012 I discovered Duotrope and started tracking my submissions there. I was still pretty tentative with submitting short fiction, as you can tell my the minuscule number of rejections. I had been writing and editing professionally (mostly in the tabletop gaming industry) for some time, but the world of short fiction submissions was still new to me. My submission rate (and rejections) went up every year after that, and last year I hit the vaunted 100-rejection mark. We’ll see what this year brings, but I’m currently on pace for roughly the same number of rejections as last year (but hopefully more acceptances).

Wait Times

Days Notes
Fastest 0 10 minutes
Slowest 419
Average 27

Yeah, that note on the fastest turn time is not a mistake. That rejection came ten minutes after I sent the submission. I don’t think that a record I’m gonna break any time soon.

The slowest rejection is also kind of a strange one. After about 90 days I sent a submission status query. I got no response, so I sent a withdrawal letter a few weeks later and began submitting the story elsewhere. Nearly a year later, I received a rejection, and a shortlist, we almost published you rejection at that.

As you can see, the average is about where you’d expect it, even with the two outliers. In my experience, most genre markets are going to get back to you in around a month or less.

Most Rejected Stories

Rejections Notes
23 No acceptances
17 Accepted
10-12 7 stories, 4 acceptances

Okay, so this one highlights my personal philosophy on submissions, namely that getting a story accepted has a lot to do with putting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. So, yes, I do have a hard-luck loser twenty-three rejections, but that story has been short-listed three times and received a lot of good feedback, so I keep sending it out, and I believe it’ll find a home eventually.

The second story was rejected seventeen times before it was finally accepted, and it was similar to the first story in that it racked up short-lists and personal rejections, but I just needed to find the right market for it.

Finally, I have seven stories that have been rejected ten times or more, and I’ve sold four of them, and the other three are out for submission right now.

Most Rejected Markets

Rejections Notes
28 13 acceptances
16 no acceptances

Yep, twenty-eight rejections from a single market is a lot, but that number is a little deceiving since they’ve also published me thirteen times. I also tend to send them submissions in batches, so that inflates the numbers a bit.

The second market is a pro market that I’ve been trying to crack for a long time. My last submission got achingly close, and I hope to place a story with them soon.

Unique Stories/Markets

Total Accepted
Unique Stories 65 32
Unique Markets 95 13

My total rejections comprise sixty-five unique stories, roughly half of which I’ve managed to publish. That’s a pretty good ratio, I think, and it doesn’t count a number of stories that were one and done submissions (that’s becoming a little more common for me).

I have been rejected by ninety-five unique markets, thirteen of which have published me at some point. This number needs a little explanation. For one, it doesn’t include markets that I’ve submitted to and have not yet rejected me (there are a few). It also includes a number of publishers, twenty-six in fact, that went out of business after a single submission. Many of the remaining markets I don’t submit to any longer, and I’d say my core target publishers is probably about fifteen to twenty semi-pro and pro magazines/zines, with the occasional anthology or contest thrown in.


I won’t bore you with more stats, but I think these numbers give a pretty good snap shot of what 300 rejections means. We’ll talk again when I hit 400 rejections. 🙂

Hit any rejection milestones of your own lately? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Rejection Archives: Rejection #84 (Personal)

Time to dive back into the Rejectomancy vault and fish out another rejection from my collection of nos and not for us’s. We’re gonna stick with the same theme as last week, and I’ll show you another detailed personal rejection. Here it is:

Rejection Number: 84
Story Sent: 12/20/2015
Rejection Received: 1/31/2016
Rejection Type: Personal Rejection

Thanks for letting us see [Story Title].  I regret to say that it’s just not right for [Publisher].

It’s a solid piece, with some good characters and good tension. Unfortunately, by the end, I’m afraid it just didn’t “grab” me the way it might have.  I’ve been sitting here thinking why not, and it occurs to me that I never really connected with [main character].  Maybe if it had been first-person instead of third-person.  That’s not a request for a rewrite (I don’t make too many of those).  It’s just a thought.

In any event, I’m sorry.  Best of luck with this one in other markets.

Last week I showed you a personal rejection from an editor where I largely rejected the feedback (mostly because I thought it came down to an issue of personal taste). This rejection, however, got me thinking, because the editor highlighted something that does pop up in my work–main characters that are difficult to connect with. The editor’s suggestion of making this a first-person POV instead of third-person turned out to be what the story needed. I made that change, which allowed me to dig deeper into the MC’s thoughts, motivations, and personality. Now, that wouldn’t work for every story, but this one in particular benefited from the closer POV. This is a great example of a helpful rejection, and I’m grateful to this editor for taking the time to point out what they thought needed to change in the story.

I’m still shopping this piece, but I’m confident it’s a better story than it was, and I think it’ll find a home soon.


Thoughts about this rejection? Tell me about it in the comments.

If you’d like to read the other posts in this series, check out the links below:

  1. The Rejection Archives: Rejection #1 (Form)
  2. The Rejection Archives: Rejection #7 (Personal)