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.

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.