Swings & Misses IV: Revenge of the Rejection Streak

Submitting short stories to genre and lit magazines is a process that can be, uh, well, let’s just say discouraging. Why? Because rejections are inevitable, multiple rejections for the same story are expected, and even two or three rejections in the same day are not out of the ordinary. Most writers have a thick enough skin to withstand the fusillade of NOs, but what about when the rejections pile up and there’s not an acceptance in sight? Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that the dreaded rejection streak is also not that uncommon. I have endured three that crossed the twenty-rejection threshold. In fact, one just ended a few days ago. As I have done before with rejection streaks, I’m going to break down the latest one and see how it compares to the others. Then we’ll talk about why these streaks happen and what you can do about it.

First, data! Stat for my three rejection streaks in the table below.

2017-2018 2020-2021 2022
Rejections 27 21 22
Duration 12/9/17 to 2/18/18 12/27/20 to 4/1/21 4/12/22 to 6/4/22
Duration (Days) 74 96 54
Unique Stories 13 13 13
-Flash Fiction 8 9 7
-Short Stories 5 4 3
-Novellas 0 0 1
-Other 0 0 2
Markets 17 14 15
-Pro 12 10 9
-Semi-Pro 5 4 5
-Token 1 0 1

The key difference in the three rejections streaks is duration. The other numbers are eerily similar. I mean, look at the unique stories line. That isn’t a mistake. Those with triskaidekaphobia would be understandably horrified. The rest of the data–number of markets, types of markets, and lengths of stories–are all pretty much the same. So what’s happening here? I’m a modestly successful short story writer with lots of publications. Why am I running afoul of these long streaks not-for-us’s? Now that I have a lot of data, some of my answers to that questions have changed, while some are evergreen and immutable. Let’s discuss.

  • Bad Luck: Let me start with this a sports analogy. (Sorry.) In baseball, when a player goes on an extended hitless streak at the plate, his coaches will often turn to the analytics to figure out why. Sometimes, they can see that his exit velocity off the bat is consistently high, i.e., he’s hitting the ball hard, but by sheer luck he’s hitting the ball right at the defense and his hitless streak continues. My rejection streaks are similar. Hard hit baseballs translate to close-but-no-cigar rejections, and each of these streaks tends to feature more than usual. In other words, I’m making good contact, but the hits just aren’t dropping in. There is absolutely nothing you can do about that. You just have to keep stepping up to the plate and telling yourself this time it’s going over the fence.
  • Tough Markets: I tend to submit primarily to pro and semi-pro markets. Often the acceptance rates at these markets are vanishingly small, so even a good story is likely to get rejected and require multiple submissions before it finds a home. Nearly all the short stories I’ve sold to pro markets were rejected upwards of ten times. You get a couple of those out there at the same time, and hello streak-ville.
  • Long-Form: Unlike previous rejection streaks, this current one included a novella. Long-form fiction can be tougher to sell because there are fewer markets, and many of those markets are short story publishers that might occasionally publish a novella. In other words, the odds are stacked against you even more with pieces over 10,000 words or so. A fair number of rejections in this streak were for the novella I’ve been shopping around, but I’m happy to report there’s some good news on that front. 🙂
  • Stuck in a Rut: We all have our go-to tropes and themes and narrative styles, and even if they are generally successful, you can find yourself churning out the same story over and over again. If you submit to a lot of the same publishers, they might get tired of reading ANOTHER tale about two people talking in a bar and one of them is a zombie/vampire/demon. I mean, who would write such a thing? 🙂 Anyway, I definitely needed to break out of a certain mold and get a little more creative with my work. It’s not that I’m not still writing about demons and vampires and weird psychic phenomenon. I’m just trying to stretch a little in terms of character and narrative structure. Too soon to tell if I’ll be successful, but I feel pretty good about the latest crop of stories.

So what’s the takeaway here? Essentially, the more you submit work, the more rejections you get, and occasionally, through bad luck and a few other factors, those rejections pile up. You honestly can’t avoid it, in my opinion. The thing to remember though,  is that streaks, by their very nature, must end. You just have to be patient, try to take an objective look at your work, and see if there’s anything you can adjust. Often times, there isn’t, and it’s really about getting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. So, hang in there, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.

Submission Statement: May 2022

May is in the books, and here’s how I did. 

May 2022 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 7
  • No Response: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 1
  • Further Consideration/Shortlist: 0

Well, as you can see, I was not particularly productive in May on the shot story front. I spent more time working on my current novel and doing freelance work. That might be because the seven rejections in May give me twenty-two in a row. I’ve hit these streaks in the past, and this one, though long, is still not my longest. I need twenty-seven to turn that trick. So, what do you do when you have two discouraging months in a row? One, you keep writing and you keep submitting. Two, you look for patterns in your stories and submissions that might illustrate the need for change in one or both. You have to be careful with that second one, though. When you hit a rough patch, the urge to change something can be strong, but it’s important to remember that what you’re doing has resulted in success in the past. Anyway, I have some new stories to submit in June, and I feel pretty good about them, so that’s where I’ll put my short story focus. All streaks, good and bad, have to end some time, right?

One anomaly this month is the single no response. It’s an interesting one because the market in question says in their guidelines that if you don’t hear back from them in 90 days, then assume they are not going to publish your story. I hit the 90-day mark and marked the story as no response, but, in truth, this is a no-response rejection. I’ll likely change it at some point, you know, after my next acceptance. 🙂

Rejections

Seven rejections in May.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 4
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 3

It sounds funny to say it, but the quality of rejections in May was much better than it was in April. Three personal rejections tell me the submitted stories are likely to find homes at some point. As I said above, the no response is probably just a rejection, so it’s eight for May rather than seven.

Publications

I did have one publication in May. The third volume of THE REJECTONOMICON, my Q&A column over at Dark Matter Magazine, went up last month. You can check it out below. As always, I need your questions, so check out the guidelines, and send them to me. 🙂

Here’s how to send writing and rejection questions to me.

  1. Email your question to questions@rejectomancy.com.
  2. Put REJECTONOMICON in the subject line of the email.
  3. Write your question in the body of the email. Try to keep it brief.
  4. Please let me know if you’d like your first name published along with your question or if you’d like to remain anonymous.
  5. Please restrict your questions to the subjects of writing, submissions, and rejections. Those are pretty broad categories, though, and I’d be happy to field questions about my past career as a Tabletop RPG game designer/editor and media tie-in writer.

Got it? Then send me those questions!


That was my May. How was yours?

First Draft Finish Line: What’s Your Speed?

How long should it take you to write the first draft of a novel? There’s no right answer, really, but as both a writer of novels and a former editor of authors who write novels, I’ve identified three categories that most writers fall into (more or less). This is all ballpark math, but it might be helpful to folks thinking about tackling that first novel.

Before I get into the details, let’s talk ground rules. I’ll be using daily word count (DWC) goals to measure writing speed in conjunction with a five-day “work” week. So, 1,000 words per day would be 5,000 words per week. I’m using 90,000 words as the target number for a completed first draft. That’s fairly average in the genres I write, but shorter or longer novels are not uncommon in other genres. Now, I know not everyone is comfortable with word count goals, so if you’d rather use time or pages written, just figure 1,000 words is roughly two hours of work and about five double-spaced pages.

Speed One – Easy Does It

  • DWC: 1,000
  • Weekly Word Count: 5,000
  • First Draft Completed: 18 weeks

Notice I didn’t call this speed slow. That’s for a couple of reasons. One, I think words like slow, deliberate, and so on have negative connotations that aren’t useful when discussing something as challenging as writing a novel. Two, 1,000 words a day is plenty fast most of the time, and it’ll get you a first draft in six months, which is entirely reasonable.

Writing at this speed has a lot of advantages. Let’s discuss some.

Not Overwhelming: I think 1,000 words per day is manageable for most folks. If you can write flash fiction, then writing 1,000 words per day on a novel probably won’t be too arduous.

Good For Complicated Novels: If you’re writing a book that needs you to do a lot of research, this is a comfortable pace. In fact, this what I’m doing right now, as my current work-in-progress requires me to do a fair amount of research while I write. It also has a lot of characters, so I find myself referring to my outline and character spreadsheets a lot. I can do all this, and still hit 1,000 words without feeling overwhelmed.

Good for Multitasking: If you write blog posts, articles, short stories, and other stuff on a daily basis, another 1,000 words on a novel is still manageable. Especially, if you do your 1,000 words on the week days, and then write shorts or whatever on the weekends.

Speed Two – The King Method

  • DWC: 2,000
  • Weekly Word Count: 10,000
  • First Draft Completed: 9 weeks

I call this the King method because this is the pace Stephen King writes. He does 2,000 words every day, but for we mere mortals, 2,000 words a day, five days a week is plenty.

So why write at this speed? Here are few reasons.

Fast but still Manageable. This is my usual pace for aa first draft, and I’ve found that it’s possible to knock out this many words in two to four hours depending on how I’m feeling, how much research I need to do, and so on. I generally don’t feel overwhelmed at this speed, and I always feel like I’m making good progress.

Solid Output for Deadlines: I’ve written a number of novels on deadlines, and, generally, if you can complete first drats in around nine weeks, most publishers are gonna be happy with that. Of course, there’s the usual revision and editing that needs to take place, but you’re getting a good jump on it.

Still Pretty Good for Multitasking: This pace still allows you to write other things, but I will say it drains the creative battery a bit more than 1,000 words.

Speed Three – The Deadline Looms

  • DWC: 3,000
  • Weekly Word Count: 15,000
  • First Draft Completed: 6 weeks

For most folks this is really moving, and I’ve done it once (finishing a first draft in 43 days). Unlike the other two speeds, there are some real drawbacks here as well as advantages.

Fast but All-Consuming: Knocking out a first draft in month and a half is really moving, and when I did it, I found I didn’t have much time for anything else. It requires a lot of commitment. But is it necessary? Probably not. I know plenty of authors who write fulltime, who don’t write this fast. In my opinion, it’s great for when you really need to churn out the words for a deadline, but I generally find it unsustainable.

Fresh in Your Mind: The advantage of this pace is that everything stays fresh in your mind. The plot, the characters, themes, all that stuff because you’re so immersed in the book. For me, 3,000 words is roughly one chapter, so when I did this, there was a real feeling of completion and progress, because I’d finished an entire beat in my outline. In other words, you’re less likely to forget details about the plot of characters at this pace because, well, it wasn’t that long ago that you write about them.


I chose these three speeds because they’re paces I’ve actually written, and I can relate firsthand knowledge. I’ll reiterate, however, that there is no right speed to write a novel (unless you have a deadline, and then you should, you know, hit that deadline). I started at 1,000 words, but, hell, if all you have time for is 500 words per day or 250 or whatever, then do that. Those words add up, and if you keep plugging, you’ll have a first draft before you know it. What I’m saying is that, most of the time, the right speed is one you can maintain and one that results in a finished first draft.

What’s your speed? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Weeks of Writing: 4/25/22 to 5/15/22

Well, I am more than a little behind here, so let’s catch up. Three weeks of writerly doings all at once.

Words to Write By

Today’s quote is from author James Lee Burke

“Every rejection is an incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”

— James Lee Burke

Well, since I’m on a rejection streak (19 and counting), I figure a quote about rejections is appropriate. I think you have to look at rejections as accomplishments to some degree. Yeah, they’re not exactly a good time, but they show you’re working, that you’ve got the guts to send your work out there to be judged, and that, hopefully, you are willing to learn and improve. That last bit is what I think James Lee Burke is getting at. Every rejection is an opportunity to grow as a writer, even if it’s a tiny, incremental amount. I learn something with every no and not for us. Sometimes, it’s what’s wrong with a story or my work in general, and sometimes it’s don’t send this market that kind of story or even don’t send this market anything. Each rejection teaches me something, even when I’m not really in the mood to learn. 🙂

Short Story Submissions

Although April was a strong submission month, I have not been very active in May.

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 3
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 2
  • Shortlist/Hold: 0
  • Withdrawn: 0
  • Pending: 11
  • 2022 Total Subs: 38

Only three submissions in the last three weeks and three rejections to boot. That’s not great, nor is my current streak of nineteen straight rejections. I have a number of stories that need to go out, so I expect to send three or four this week. Hopefully some of those will come back with a much-needed acceptance. The rejections have been particularly disappointing of late because I thought the stories where good matches for the markets, but I missed the mark. It can be hard to keep going after so many rejections in a row, but you have to keep writing, keep submitting, and know that acceptances will come. I did have two stories published recently and the reaction to those was very good. 

The Novel – Hell’s Aquarium

I may have been a little lax with my short story submissions, but I keep on trucking with this novel. I added over 12,000 words to the manuscript and broke the 50,000-word mark, which I think is about halfway. I’m writing this novel slower than usual, at about 1,000 words a day, because there’s a lot of research that needs to go into it. I’m stopping a lot to look things up, check my notes, and check my outlines. I’ve come to terms with that, and, hey, I’m still looking at a complete first draft sometime in early August. That’s totally fine. I think this novel is the best idea, concept, and characters I’ve yet created, so if I need to take it slower so I don’t fuck it up (much), then that’s what I’m gonna do.

Publications

Two publications in the last three weeks, both of which you can read for free on line. The first is a piece of crime flash called “Left is Right” published at Shotgun Honey. The other is a dark sci-fi take called “Fertilizer” in Radon Journal’s inaugural issue. Click the images below to read the stories.

“Left is Right”
Radon_journal_cover_Bell_shadow_small_center_issue_top.png
“Fertilizer”

Goals

Keep working on Hell’s Aquarium and send more submissions.


Those were my weeks. How were yours?

Submission Statement: April 2022

Not gonna lie, April was a tough month. Read all the gory details below. 🙂

April 2022 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 9
  • Rejections: 10
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Further Consideration/Shortlist: 0

Any month where the number of rejections eclipses the number of submissions is probably gonna be a bad month. Add to that exactly zero acceptances or publications, and, well, I’ll just stand by my opening statement. If I search for a silver lining, I guess it’s that I sent 9 submissions, giving me 36 for the year and a pace of 108 for 2022. So there’s that. Still, it was a tough and disappointing month. I really thought a couple of those rejections had a good shot at being acceptances, but it was not to be.

Rejections

Ten rejections in April.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 10
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 0

Yep, ten form rejection. If I squint, I might be able to call a couple of the rejections upper-tier, but that would be disingenuous because I’m not certain the publishers in question actually send upper-tier rejections (many publishers don’t). The ten rejections in April bump my current rejections streak to fifteen. Not my longest by a long shot, but, you know, fifteen is enough. I also had a couple of multi-rejection days in April that made the rejections sting a bit more.

Okay, I’ve complained about my pile of rejections enough. The truth is, as always, rejections are just a reality of writing and submitting. If you do both long enough, you’re all but guaranteed to run into these little (or large) streaks of no’s and not for us’s. That said, if you’re a long-time short story submitter as I am, you know these streaks come to an end, and an acceptance is right around the corner. You just have to be patient, keep writing, and keep submitting. So that’s what I’ll do. 🙂


That was April. How was your month?

Good, but Not Good Enough

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is talent. Specifically, writing talent (obvs). A lot of this comes down to my specific version of impostor syndrome, which says, “Yeah, you’re good, but you’re not good enough.” Impostor syndrome is a real asshole, huh? Still this belief that I have talent, just not enough of it persists. So when I find myself pondering this awful conundrum, there are two quotes by Stephen King I like to think about. To me, they handily sum up the “good” and the “good enough”.

Quote 1: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” – Stephen King

King’s formula for talent is pretty simple. If someone is willing to pay you for something you wrote, you probably have talent. I’ll add on to this and say, if multiple someones are willing to pay you to write things, you probably have enough talent to piece together something resembling a career in writing. This covers the good part. People who get paid to write, even a little, are probably good at it. (Of course, money is not the only measure of talent, but it’s an easy one to identify.) Still, having talent is not what I worry about. The second quote covers that.

Quote Two: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King

There it is. The good enough part. When I say good enough, what I mean is good enough to land that dream agent, publish my novels, be recognized as a writer of note. You know, the big dreams, and, dare I say it, the improbable ones. I think what King is saying here is that talent is the baseline, the starting point for most of us. It’s not what makes us successful (whatever your definition of success might be). No, what we need to do is focus on that second part. The hard work part. Why? Because it’s the only part of the process we control. You can’t control whether an agent or publisher is gonna like your story or book or whatever. You can’t control if readers are going to love your work, hate it, or simply ignore it. What you can control is putting words on the page, making those word the best you can possibly make them, and then putting those words in front of as many agents, and editors, and readers as possible as many times as it takes. If you do that, and you have that little bit of talent, I like your chances.

Okay, let’s get to work. 🙂

Weeks of Writing: 4/11/22 to 4/24/22

Two more weeks of writing. Let’s dive in.

Words to Write By

Today’s quote is from author Allegra Goodman.

“Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.” 

—Allegra Goodman

Great quote, and one I’ve somehow missed all these years. I think a lot of us start out trying to sound like our favorite authors. I know I did. Those are the literary traditions I think Allegra Goodman is talking about. You read your favorite works and authors, and think, well, this is how a successful author should sound. Then, what happens is a subtle shift, you start to draw inspiration from those authors, those literary traditions, and weave them into your own voice. Sure, I take a little Stephen King here, and but of Elmore Leonard there, and maybe a touch of Robin Hobb over there, but again, how and what they write is inspirational, and I’ve long since stopped trying to sound exactly like them. (God, I hope). So, I no longer worship. I no longer fetishize. I do, however savor and maybe borrow just a little, and I think that’s okay as long as I sound like me and not like them. 🙂

Short Story Submissions

I was pretty active over the last couple of weeks.

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist/Hold: 0
  • Withdrawn: 0
  • Pending: 12
  • 2022 Total Subs: 36

Six submissions over the last couple of weeks, which gives me 36 for the year. That’s exactly on pace for my goal of 100. I just sent another this morning, so I’ll end up with nine for April at a minimum. Not bad. That said, April has seen A LOT of rejections. I’m on a streak of 15 in a row, and last week I has two multi-rejections days. These little slumps happen from time to time, but, I’ll admit, I thought at least one of the rejections I received in the past week was going to be an acceptance. That’ll teach me to get my hopes up. 🙂 Anyway, the only thing you can do in these situations is keep writing and keep submitting. Those acceptances are around the corner.

The Novel – Hell’s Aquarium

About four years ago, I had a great idea for a novel. I started writing it, got about 35,000 words in, and then got spooked about all the research I needed to do. I moved on to write two other novels in the next four years, and while I enjoyed writing those books, I have yearned to return to Hell’s Aquarium. Last week, I did that, and I produced over 5,000 new words in the manuscript. I detailed how I’m going about reclaiming a novel I haven’t worked on in four years in this post. Anyway, I’m taking baby steps back into this book, writing at about half the speed I usually do on a first draft (1,000 words per day as opposed to 2,000). I’m sure I’ll pick up the pace eventually, but this is enough for now, and I feel pretty good about where the book is going.

The Rejectonomicon

The second volume of THE REJECTONOMICON, my Q&A column over at Dark Matter Magazine, went up last month. You can read it by clicking the banner below. The third volume is coming in May, and I’ve already got some great questions, but as usual, I want MORE!

Here’s how to send writing and rejection questions to me.

  1. Email your question to questions@rejectomancy.com.
  2. Put REJECTONOMICON in the subject line of the email.
  3. Write your question in the body of the email. Try to keep it brief.
  4. Please let me know if you’d like your first name published along with your question or if you’d like to remain anonymous.
  5. Please restrict your questions to the subjects of writing, submissions, and rejections. Those are pretty broad categories, though, and I’d be happy to field questions about my past career as a Tabletop RPG game designer/editor and media tie-in writer.

Got it? Then send me those questions!

Goals

Keep working on Hell’s Aquarium, send more submissions, and finish up a short story or two.


Those were my weeks. How were yours?

Three Steps for Novel Reclamation

So, recently, I returned to a novel I abandoned about four years ago. It’s tentatively titled Hell’s Aquarium, and I wrote 35,000 words, essentially the first act, got spooked by the research I needed to do, and moved on to other projects. I’ve since written two other novels, but I’ve longed to return to Hell’s Aquarium. Well, now I have finally summoned the courage to do what needs to be done, and I’ve started writing the book again. It really think it’s the best idea I have for a novel, and I’m excited to see where it goes. Anyway, in this post I thought I’d talk about the steps I’ve taken to return to a novel I’ve barely looked at for four years. I figure I’m not the only one with a half-written manuscript crying out to be completed by its wayward creator. 🙂

Step One – Thank God for Prep: As a dedicated plotter, I wrote a complete and thorough outline for Hell’s Aquarium, which is proving invaluable. Even more helpful is something I’ve only ever done with this particular novel. It has a large cast of characters, so I way back when I was planning out this book, I made a spreadsheet listing every one of them. The info includes character names, descriptions, motivations, and their professions (important in this novel). I have returned again and again to that spreadsheet, and it has been a real life-saver. Now, I know not everyone prepares for a novel in the same way, but I would encourage folks to make some kind of notes on the book you’re writing just in case you end up in a situation like this.

Step Two – Read What You Have: The very first thing I did when I decided to return to Hell’s Aquarium was to carefully read what I’d already written. I approached my first read-through less like a writer and more like a reader (as much as that’s possible), really trying to absorb the tone of the book and the voice of the main character. My second read-through was one-hundred percent writer-oriented, and I made more notes about individual characters and plot points that would help me down the line. These read-throughs really helped me get reacquainted with the book, and were vitally important.

Step Three – Baby Steps: I began writing the book again this week. Normally I write 2,000 words a day minimum when I’m writing a first draft. For this first week, and likely the second, I’m cutting that down to a 1,000. It feels more manageable, and because of the research I need to do, I don’t get overwhelmed. I plan to get back to my 2,000 words a day benchmark soon, but for now, easy does it is the way to go. I’d recommend this approach to anyone getting back to a novel they’ve not worked on for some time, but, of course, every write is different, and diving into the deep end, might be more beneficial to some. Just not me. 🙂


So those are my three basic steps for reclaiming a novel you’ve set aside for some time. As I mentioned above, every writer is different, and what I have here may not work for everyone. It’s worked well for me, though, and I believe I’m on my way to finishing this book, which is pretty damn exciting because I think this one has real potential.

If you have tips on novel reclamation projects, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Weeks of Writing: 3/28/22 to 4/10/22

Another catch-up post, so here’s a few weeks of writing in one go.

Words to Write By

Today, I don’t have a quote, but more a comment about a type of quote I was unable to find. I searched for quite a while for a quote from any well-known author about taking the occasional break, and I couldn’t find one (if you know of one, let me know). I think that says a lot about how we authors approach writing. There’s this feeling that you must be writing every minute of every day or you’re failing. Or, worse, that if you take a break, even for a few days to let the creative batteries recharge, or. shit, just to deal with life, you’ve somehow done something wrong. Maybe it’s just me, but as I said, I think my inability to easily find  a quite about taking a break says a lot. I’m not talking about writer’s block or anything here. Just that sometimes, just maybe, it’s okay to take a week away from your work, that it’s not a moral or professional failing, and, in fact, might be the best thing for your productivity than simply grinding it out day after day after day.

Anyway, like I said, if my Google skills have failed me, and you do know of a good quote about taking a break, please share it in the comments. 

Short Story Submissions

A little slow in submission land these last couple of weeks.

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 4
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist/Hold: 0
  • Withdrawn: 0
  • Pending: 13
  • 2022 Total Subs: 30

I’ve only sent three submission over the last couple of weeks, giving me thirty for the year. Two of those three subs went out in April, and I’ll need to pick up the pace if I want to hit my numbers for the month. I need roughly nine submissions per month to stay on pace, so that means seven more over the next few weeks. Doable, but I need to finish some new pieces to really have a good shot at it. I received four rejections over the last fortnight, all form, all standard, and all pretty boring, so I won’t be sharing them with you (I guarantee some of you have seen them before). And that’s it, honestly. Nothing to report on the novel front, mostly because I’ve been taking a bit of a mental health break over the last few weeks from big, long-form projects.

The Rejectonomicon

The second volume of THE REJECTONOMICON, my Q&A column over at Dark Matter Magazine, went up last month. You can read it by clicking the banner below. The third volume is coming in May, and I’ve already got some great questions, but as usual, I want MORE! 

Here’s how to send writing and rejection questions to me.

  1. Email your question to questions@rejectomancy.com.
  2. Put REJECTONOMICON in the subject line of the email.
  3. Write your question in the body of the email. Try to keep it brief.
  4. Please let me know if you’d like your first name published along with your question or if you’d like to remain anonymous.
  5. Please restrict your questions to the subjects of writing, submissions, and rejections. Those are pretty broad categories, though, and I’d be happy to field questions about my past career as a Tabletop RPG game designer/editor and media tie-in writer.

Got it? Then send me those questions!

Goals

Keeping it simple this week, Finish short stories and send them out.


Those were my weeks. How were yours?

Rejection: It’s Not Personal

If you’re a writer who submits fiction on the regular, you’ve undoubtedly had someone tell you rejections aren’t personal. Hell, that person might have even been me! For the most part this is true, and in this post we’re going to discuss why it might feel personal, even when it’s probably not. Okay, let’s dive in.

Feels Personal but Probably Isn’t

First, let’s look at why a rejection might feel like you’re being singled out, then we’ll discuss the reasons why that likely isn’t the case.

1) Speed of the Rejection: This one tops the list because let me tell you, when you fire off a submission and get a rejection the same day or even the same hour, it can feel pretty personal. The feeling that the editor has not given your story due attention can really sting, but is that what happened? Probably not. There are definitely markets that have ultra-fast response times. This comes down to the market a) having a enough slush readers/editors to get to and through submissions quickly and b) those slush-readers/editors knowing exactly what they’re looking for in a story. They can sometimes tell by the first few paragraphs if a story is going to work for them. If it doesn’t, they don’t waste more of their time and yours and send the rejection notice. Personally, I love markets that respond this fast. If I’m gonna get a rejection, I’d rather not wait six months for it. This way, I can get that story out there again right away.

Now, of course, a super-fast rejection sure feels like the editor might hate your writing, but that’s almost certainly not the case. What it comes down to is fit (a word you’re going to hear a lot in this post). Certain stories are a better fit for certain markets and certain markets are very quick at identifying them. Here’s the good news. I’ve gone on to sell stories to markets that same-day rejected me (and one that rejected me in ten minutes flat). You will too.

2) Number of Rejections: Maybe even more demoralizing than getting a same-day rejection is when you get that tenth, twentieth, or even thirtieth rejection in a row from the same publisher. Talk about feeling like its personal. But again, we must ask ourselves, is it really? Does the editor think you’re a terrible writer? Again, my answer is probably not. As I’ve said many times on this blog getting a story accepted is about putting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. If you miss even one of those, you get a rejection. Miss one of those a lot with the same publisher, and you get a lot of rejections from that publisher. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard editors on Twitter talk about having to reject a story they actually like because it wasn’t the right fit at that moment or for that issue.

Using myself as an example again, I have absolutely cracked markets that rejected me ten-plus times. If the past rejections were personal and they didn’t like my writing, that wouldn’t happen, right? I just managed to get that right editor, right story, right time combo correct for once.

3) Feedback: Sometimes a rejection contains actual feedback on why the editor rejected the story. Unlike the first two, this one is kinda personal. In fact, it’s actually called a personal rejection, but it is not a personal attack (big difference there). If an editor takes the time to give you detailed feedback on a story, more often than not, they’ve seen something in the story they like, and they’re trying to help you avoid those first two things I mentioned. You may not agree with the feedback, and that’s fine, but as long as that feedback is honest and constructive, try to view it as someone trying to give you useful and targeted advice and not a harsh condemnation of your writing. It is almost always the former and almost never the latter.

The Ugly Truth – When it is Personal

We’ve discussed the instances when a rejection feels personal, but very likely isn’t. But are there times when an editor sends a rejection to a writer that is, even a little? I think so, and here are some possible reasons.

1) Serial Guidelines Flaunters: The first rule of story submissions is follow the guidelines. if you make a habit of not doing this–using the wrong font, going over or word count limits, sending in genres the market doesn’t publish–it’s possible your rejection might have a little spice on it. The editor probably won’t send you anything but a form rejection, but if you’re a serial guidelines flaunter, they might remember your name, and maybe not read as objectively as usual even if you do follow the guidelines. I should point out that the vast majority of editors will overlook an honest guidelines mistake–it happens to us all–so don’t worry too much about the fact you forgot underline instead of use italics that one time.

2) Responding to Rejections: Don’t do this, and especially don’t do this if your plan is to argue with the editor about why they rejected your story. It’s a very bad look, and one that will get you remembered for all the wrong reasons. Personally, I don’t believe there’s some huge do not publish list floating around among editors. I do, however, believe individual publishers might keep a list of names of particularly obnoxious or abusive writers they’ve had to deal with in the past whose stories might then get rejected without getting read. (And who could blame them?) Don’t be one of those people.

3) They’re Just Not Into You: Look, this is an objective business, and publishers and editors are just like the rest of us. Some writing they enjoy, and other they don’t. If an editor is looking for stylish literary prose and you send them a stripped-down commercial style, well, I don’t like your chances (or mine either). Again, a story has to be a good fit for a publication, and, well, so does the author. The trick is identifying which publishers are not a good fit for you and your style and not wasting their time or yours by sending them work. How do you do this? Reading a couple of issues of a prospective magazine can help. though sometimes you just have to test the waters. A ton of form rejections without any feedback or shortlists is usually an indicator. So, yes, this kind of rejection is personal in the fact that the editor is not into your writing (even if they maybe recognize it’s quality), but it’s not a personal attack. It just means your submission time is better spent elsewhere.

4) The Corner Cases: It’s rare, but sometimes an author will get a rejection that is abusive, not-constructive, and absolutely an unwarranted personal attack. When this happens, it should be shared with other writers (so they can avoid the publisher). Editors who do this have no business in the business. Period.


Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that when one of your precious word babies comes back battered and bruised by multiple rejections, it can be difficult not to go full-on parental protective mode and take it personally. But before you do any of the things that might result in an actual personal rejection, stop, take a breath, and think about the first three points I listed. Your rejection is most likely not about you or your writing. It’s about THAT story not being a good fit for THAT publisher. It’s not a personal attack, it’s an invitation to send your work somewhere else, somewhere that it IS a good fit. So do that. 🙂

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