Five Flavors of Form Rejection

Form rejection letters come in many different shapes and sizes, and it can be easy to read a lot into these boilerplate missives, largely because there is such a wide variety. In my experience, though, whether a form rejection is short and to-the-point or wordy and apologetic, they only communicate one thing of importance. To show you what I’m talking about, let’s look at five examples from my own personal collection.

Thanks for submitting “XXX,” but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.

This a good example of the short and direct form rejection. It’s polite, professional, and tears the Band-Aid off quick. Now, you might get hung up on the phrase “It didn’t quite work for me,” and you might be tempted to read a lot into those six little words. Don’t. Remember, this is a form rejection, so it’s likely just the standard language this publisher uses in every single form rejection they send out. Plus, they don’t tell you why it didn’t work for them, so there’s nothing to be learned here. The only important part of this letter is highlighted in red.

Thank you for submitting your story, “XXX”, to XXX. 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.

This is a nice example of the longer, more apologetic form rejection. It’s easy to read into this one because it looks like they’re telling you why they didn’t accept the story. They’re not. They’re giving you reasons why they might not have taken the story, and there’s not much you can do with that. Again, this is a form rejection, the same letter they send out to hundreds of other folks. It’s not specific to you or your story. I’ve highlighted the only part of this letter you should focus on.

Thank you for showing us your fiction, but we’re going to pass on this particular submission. As writers, we know rejection can feel like a punch in the nose, but try not to be discouraged. This kind of decision is naturally arbitrary, and we’d be happy to see more of your work.

I gotta admit, this is one of my favorite form rejections because the publisher is really trying to be encouraging, and I appreciate that. Still, despite all the nice things in this letter, it doesn’t tell you why the story was rejected, so, like the two before it, there’s no sense dwelling on it. Again, I’ve highlighted the important part of this rejection letter. You might be seeing a trend by this point.

Thank you for your submission of “XXX” to XXX, but we’ve decided not to accept it for publication. Please forgive the form letter, but due to the high volume of submissions we can’t respond personally on each story. We appreciate your interest in XXX.

I like this letter because it tells you why you shouldn’t read much into form rejections. The publisher says, “…due to the high volume of submissions we can’t respond personally on each story.” The key word in there is personally. In other words, they don’t have time to tell you why they didn’t accept your story, if they hated it, if they liked it a lot but it wasn’t a good fit, if it almost made the cut, and so on and so on. This is the case with most form rejections, and it is the primary reason why you should not spend much time thinking about them. They don’t tell you anything concrete except for the highlighted bit.

Thank you for submitting “XXX” for consideration. I was glad to have the opportunity to read it. Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite what we’re looking for at this time.

Another short, polite, and apologetic letter. This one includes the phrase “…isn’t quite what we’re looking for at this time,” which is as common as dirt in form rejections. You might ask yourself, “Well, what are they looking for then?” The only sensible answer to this question is: not the story I sent them. If you’ve read the submission guidelines closely, read a sample story from the publication, and then based your own submission on that criteria, then, likely, all this phrase means is they’re not going to publish this story.

In summation, though form rejections come in hundreds of different flavors, they only say one important thing: they’re not going to publish your story. In my opinion, everything else, in almost all cases, is just fluff, a polite attempt to let you down easy. Again, you shouldn’t read anything into these canned niceties and synthetic bits of encouragement because they are not specific to you or your story. What you should do is file that rejection away after you read it, move on, and send that story somewhere else.

What are your thoughts on form rejections? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Baby’s First Rejection

A couple of days ago, I commented on a writer’s blog who had just received her first rejection. That first one is tough, and I wanted to offer a little sympathy and solidarity to this person. Of course, it got me thinking about my first rejection (on an unsolicited short story, anyway), so I immediately had to go and find it. I was forced to delve into the dark and forgotten vault of my now-defunct Hotmail account to unearth the beastly thing, but I found it, and here it is, coming at you from the dim, misty yesteryear of 2005.

Dear Mr. Rudel,

I’m going to decline “XXX” It’s not ready for publication.

1) You’ve used words incorrectly, and in redundance.

On the first page, Jacob is not “struggling to discern the distance.” He’s trying to estimate or gauge it. The result would not be a judgment, but an estimate or guess.

Stygian is capitalized. Refers to the River Styx. A monocular glow likely comes from a “single” headlight. Therefore, “single” is redundant.

“object” is vague…be more specific, in all instances in the story. Remember, the reader is going to fixate on this as the source of danger. He needs some details to hang onto.

“he might run afoul of” is unnecessary by implication.

2) The storyline is incomplete. Jacob flees Donna, reminisces of their relationship, is chased by a demon on PCP, and dies. There’s no story here. In a story, by definition, the protagonist changes in some way as a direct result of having experienced the events of the story…and this does not mean being consumed, unless the reason is clear, explicit, and serves a purpose.

In summary: do not overwrite your story. And adjust the storyline. Also, read more. There are lots of good horror short stories out there [we publish them in XXX, XXX, and XXX]. See what other writers are writing, and how they develop their stories.

Hope this helps.

At the time, over ten years ago, I was devastated. This was the first time I had sent a short story out for publication, and, you know, my friends said it was good, so my chances at publication had to be, like, what? Ninety percent? I remember reading this as a neophyte writer, as naïve about the craft and business of writing as you can possibly be, and feeling like someone had ripped my guts out, thrown them on the ground, and then danced a spiteful little jig on my poor, defenseless entrails.

I’ll admit, I let this rejection set me back, and it kept me from submitting my work for quite a while. That was stupid and immature because this is a good rejection. Sure, the editor pulled no punches with his comments, but he also didn’t send me a form letter. He took the time to break down what was wrong with my story, and that kind of feedback is invaluable to a new writer. By the way, pretty much everything he says is right on the money, and this story was absolutely, positively not ready for anything even resembling publication. I had a look at it again, and ten-plus years have not been kind to it. I think there’s a decent idea in there, but goddamn, it fucking screams amateur.

In the decade-plus since this rejection, I’ve put a lot of what’s in this letter into practice, and while I’ve gotten a lot more rejections over the years, I’ve also had some success, much of it owed to editors like this one, who took the time to tell me exactly what I was doing wrong.

Do you remember your first rejection? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

November 2015 Rejection Roundup

November 2015 is in the rearview mirror, so it’s time to round up all the “we’re going to pass’s” and “not for us’s” for your viewing pleasure. This time, however, I’m gonna throw in some positive reinforcement and show you the other letters I received in November as well.

Rejections first, though. I mean, this blog isn’t called Acceptomancy, right?

Rejection 1: 11/13/15

Thank you very much for submitting “XXX” to us. It’s an interesting story, but it didn’t quite come together for us and we’ve decided to pass on it.

We appreciate your interest in XXX; thanks again for giving us the chance to look at your story.

What we have here is a fairly good example of a simple personal rejection. I’ve submitted to this publication (and its sister publications) a number of times, and I’ve gotten good feedback on a number of occasions. Obviously, this one didn’t hit the mark for them, and as vague as it might be, I think I actually know what they mean by “didn’t quite come together.” This particular story has received enough feedback of the “liked it, but . . .” nature that I’m going to give it a significant overhaul.

Rejection 2: 11/21/15

Dear Aeryn,

Thank you for submitting to XXX, and for your query regarding the status of “XXX.” We really liked this piece, and had been holding it for a while until we made a decision; ultimately, however, we decided it wasn’t a match for our needs at this time. 

Thank you for your patience, and best wishes for future success!

Okay, this a nice personal rejection, and it looks like I got pretty close to an acceptance. That’s encouraging, but this rejection was 419 days in the making. I submitted this story almost sixteen months ago. As you can see, I also sent a query regarding the status of my story, and when I didn’t hear anything back, I assumed this was a no-response rejection and gave up on it. I’ve sent two stories to this publisher, this one and another that was rejected in a single day. That’s quite a gap. I’d love to have a story featured in this pro-paying market, but looking at their Duotrope profile, I now see that 419 days is about average on an acceptance (I should have checked this a while ago). They do accept sim-subs, which is nice, but, man, that’s a long time to wait.

Rejection 3: 11/25/15

Thank you for your submission, but this doesn’t quite catch my interest.

Short and to the point. This form rejection says all it needs to say in a single sentence. Some publishers appreciate brevity in rejection letters, and, honestly, so do I. Not much else to say about this one, so let’s move on.

Rejection 4: 11/30/15

Thank you for showing us your fiction, but we’re going to pass on this particular submission. As writers, we know rejection can feel like a punch in the nose, but try not to be discouraged. This kind of decision is naturally arbitrary, and we’d be happy to see more of your work.

The final November rejection is a form rejection for “Story X.” I cover that letter in detail in this post.


Okay, now let’s get to two other letters I received in November.

Acceptance: 11/7/15

Thank you for sending us “XXX”. We love it and would like to publish it in the next issue of XXX. Your contract is included in this email.

Please accept the contract by following the link at the bottom of this email and include your 100 word bio and mailing address, or PayPal email address if you’d prefer, in the Requested Information box. We’ll send an email with editorial suggestions two to three weeks before the issue publication date.

Thank you for your submission and we look forward to working with you!

November 7th was a good day because the dark clouds of rejection parted for the briefest moment, and a bright ray of hope and validation shown down upon my weary, chewed-up writer soul. Or something like that. Anyway, yeah, getting an acceptance letter is always awesome. So let’s take a look at it.

First, I want to point out that form letters are not just for rejections. Some publishers use them for acceptance letters too. I’ve published another story with this market, and I received this same acceptance letter for that story. Nothing wrong with that; there’s a lot of info a publisher needs to get across in an acceptance letter, and having a boilerplate version ready to go is just smart and efficient.

Like all acceptance letters, this one is asking for some basic things: sign the contract and send us a bio. They’re also letting me know to expect editorial suggestions, which I’m looking forward to. The editors at this publication had some great suggestions for the last story they published.

I signed the contract and sent them my bio the same day I received the acceptance letter. Do you have to do that stuff same day with an acceptance letter? Probably not, but I think you should do it within 48 hours unless there is a good reason you can’t, even then, it’s probably a good idea to send the publisher a quick thank you and let them know when you can sign the contract and whatnot.

Of course, when this story is published, I’ll announce it on the blog.

Further Consideration Letter: 11/22/15

Thank you very much for letting us read “XXX.” I enjoyed it, and have passed it up to the editors for review.

Thanks again, and best of luck!

Although not an acceptance, I was pretty happy to get this further consideration letter. It’s from a pro-paying market I’d very much like to crack, and I’ve been getting solid feedback from them with my last couple of submissions. This is the closest I’ve gotten, and, you know, finger’s crossed and all that.

Like many publications, it appears this one has tiers of editors, and this letter came from an associate editor. I don’t know where that is on the editorial food chain for this market, but I’m hoping there’s only one more hurdle to pass before rejection or publication. Hopefully, I’ll find out in December. Either way, the result will end up in that month’s rejection roundup.

Well, that’s it for my November. How was yours?

Ranks of the Rejected – Josh Goller (The Molotov Cocktail)

Today, we’re shaking things up a bit on Ranks of the Rejected. I recently spoke with Josh Goller, the editor-in-chief for the excellent flash fiction lit-zine The Molotov Cocktail. I asked Josh for the interview because he produces one of my favorite publications, and I really dig his approach to the editorial gig. My own association with The Molotov Cocktail began in July of 2014 when they accepted a quirky little story of mine called “At the Seams.” Since then, they’ve published four more of my flash stories, and I’ve placed in three of their quarterly contests (you can find links to these stories here).

Josh was kind enough to share his thoughts on writing and rejection from the editorial side of things, and I think you’ll find what he has to say interesting, enlightening, and maybe a little bit motivating. If you write or read flash fiction, The Molotov Cocktail should be on your “can’t miss” list.

1) Give us the quick and dirty on The Molotov Cocktail. What types of stories do you publish?

The whole concept behind The Molotov Cocktail is to serve as a projectile for explosive flash fiction. We’re a zine that seeks the dark and offbeat. Another way to put it would simply be that we like to publish weird stuff. We like strange and surreal, unsettling and uncanny. When we first started, the emphasis was perhaps a bit more focused on dark subject matter, whereas now we’re really looking for all sorts of unusual stuff, it doesn’t all have to be macabre or disturbing anymore (but hey, that doesn’t hurt either). Dark subject matter will always catch our attention, but some of the fiction we publish now is oddly funny, exhilarating, or even inspiring in its own offbeat way.

2) How did The Molotov Cocktail get started? For you personally: Why on earth did you decide to spend countless hours of your life reading through piles of slush?

The idea for the project came to me in grad school in 2009, when I was working towards my MFA in Writing at Pacific University. Going into the program, I hadn’t given much thought to electronic journals. But that was around the same time that major newspapers were shuttering up, and it seemed like print might actually be on the way out with Kindle and e-books emerging. So I attended a few lectures about the burgeoning online lit journal market, and I also learned about searchable lit journal databases like Duotrope, and I started doing my homework.

I got a few pieces of my own flash fiction published here and there. But what I was discovering was a chasm between the literary markets (the academia-backed journals and the hip, sometimes pretentious indie ones) and the more accessible genre venues. There wasn’t a whole lot of journals that tried to fill in the middle ground. So I started to realize that, not only was an online lit zine something I could totally start myself, but I could also try to create a space to promote exciting flash fiction that blends a literary approach with some of the vibrant imagination of genre work.

Our quarterly contests, which we started in early 2014, have really helped invigorate the zine and have taken it into some new, exciting directions. Associate editor Mary Lenoir Bond came onboard (we met in grad school) to help judge the contests, and we’re really happy with the results. Mary studied fiction at USC with some tremendous writers like T.C. Boyle and Aimee Bender, and she also has an MFA in poetry, so her insight and perspective has been invaluable in making our quarterly contests so successful. And while each contest has a specific theme, the overall aesthetic of the site still holds true: we want stuff that’s dark and offbeat but doesn’t take itself too seriously. (By the way, folks, The Molotov Cocktail has a quarterly contest going on right now. It’s called Flash Phenom, and you should absolutely check it out.)

3) Why did you settle on flash fiction as the sole format for The Molotov Cocktail?

Unsexy answer: Because 1,000 words or less was manageable enough that I could confidently get the project off the ground. Longer form short stories, those that stretch to several thousand words, would simply take too much time to comb through, especially before I really knew what I was doing. And I realized that, being a fledgling site, it would be a lot easier to gain some traction and some relevance by churning out issues frequently. So I decided on flash fiction, with new issues published twice monthly. Also, from a reader’s standpoint, flash fiction is short enough that the reader can digest a few pieces within a few weeks, whereas people might not otherwise have time to get through a batch of longer stories.

But we’re planning to dip our toes into poetry in the near future, if only for one special issue. Associate editor Mary Bond will be heading up a poetry contest, and we’ll see where that takes us. Flash fiction will always remain our bread and butter, but we’re not averse to experimenting.

4) What pointers can you give writers submitting to The Molotov Cocktail?

Read. Our. Guidelines. In our submission guidelines, we’re pretty candid and thorough about what we want to see, but it’s amazing how many submissions we receive from writers who have clearly only skimmed them. After doing this for nearly six years now, I can spot a mindless mass submission almost instantly. We also get plenty of submissions that clearly don’t fit our aesthetic, and it becomes clear that those writers aren’t familiar at all with The Molotov Cocktail. That’s understandable in some way; nobody has time to read every journal out there. But if a piece feels like an e-mail forward, it’s definitely starting off on the wrong foot. It’s basically a cliché at this point for a lit journal to advise writers to read an issue first, but when it comes to online stuff (and flash fiction, specifically), that’s not such a tall order, and it really will greatly increase your odds of us accepting your piece.

When it comes to the contests, however, we’re a bit more open-minded. For instance, our Flash Fool contest last spring required a twist ending of some kind, which is not something we’d usually go for (M. Night Shayamalan be damned!). The contests definitely branch out from what we typically look for. They’re also a great way for writers to get their name in print, since we’ve now started collecting each contest’s Top 10 finishers into an annual Prize Winners Anthology.

5) I know you’re a writer too; in what way (if any) does that affect your work as an editor?

I wouldn’t say that my writing affects my work as an editor nearly as much as being an editor affects my writing. I’m also the managing editor at Spectrum Culture, which involves editing a lot of film and music reviews, features, and lists each week. Do that for very long at all, and you’ll learn that one of the best ways to improve your own writing is to edit the work of others. It soon becomes clear what types of pitfalls writers tend to fall into. Editing almost inevitably tightens up your own writing.

Specifically with Molotov, I’ve come to realize that a lot of people tell similar stories. When it comes to fiction, the idea is as important as the quality of the writing itself. A technically well-written story doesn’t mean anything if the driving idea behind it isn’t unique.

6) Okay, since this blog is (mostly) about rejection, let’s get to the meat. What are the top three reasons The Molotov Cocktail rejects a story? Please, be blunt. We writers rarely understand subtlety.

  1. If a piece doesn’t fit our aesthetic, or it clearly ignores our guidelines, it doesn’t last long in our consideration process. Sad to say, but a piece can sink in mere sentences.
  2. A quick look at Submittable tells me that we’ve received nearly 3,000 submissions over the years—not including our quarterly contests, or the first year-plus of our existence when we misguidedly tried to handle all submissions with nothing more organized than a Gmail account. I think a lot of people think that, when they submit a piece, it’s an up or down vote on their individual worth as a writer rather than a mad dash to the finish line against many other writers. We’ve rejected tons of a good stuff simply because we only publish three pieces per issue and there’s simply not enough room for everything worth publishing.
  3. Overwritten or underwritten. We don’t want to feel like the writer is more important than the story, or that grammar and punctuation are just suggestions.

7) Do you provide feedback in rejection letters?

We don’t, actually. I’ve personally submitted to a few publications where I’ve received detailed feedback from the fiction editor. I’d love to be able to do this, but it would require a cloning machine—and a bunch of sugar and spice. However, we try to send the most encouraging rejection letters we can, especially to those stories that were close calls.

8) Rejection is an unavoidable part of being a writer. Do you have any pro tips for dealing with it?

Every time you hit “submit,” put that publication out of your mind. Just assume it’ll be rejected. Move on to others. Even if they tell you not to simultaneously submit (that’s bullshit, by the way), go ahead and spread that story far and wide to venues that you think might want it. When it’s eventually accepted, pour a drink.

As I said before, don’t take rejection personally. As writers, we like to think we’re bleeding all over the page, but when you think about it, everybody bleeds. Bleeding is so passé. Journals only have so much space, and even if a few dozen journals turn you down, there’s likely still one out there that will fall all over itself to publish you.

Josh Goller grew up in the Midwest, but he moved to Portland because frigid temperatures are (paradoxically) of the devil. He wishes the wages of sin would include a cost of living increase every once in a while.

Submission Protocol: Simultaneous Submissions

Let’s talk about one of my favorite writerly topics: simultaneous submissions. A simultaneous submission (sim-sub, for short) is when you send one story to multiple markets to increase the chance you’ll put the story in front of an editor who will publish it. As with all the subjects I’ve covered in the submission protocol series, you should check the submission guidelines when you’re considering sending out simultaneous submissions. In the case of sim-subs, most markets take a pretty unambiguous stance of “yes, we accept them” or “no, we don’t.” If a publication does not accept simultaneous submissions, I don’t send them one. My reason for this is simple: I don’t want to end up in a situation, unlikely as it may be, where I sell a story to two publishers, one or both of which does not accept sim-subs. That’s just a pickle I’d rather avoid.

You’ll notice I’m not taking the usual hardline approach here as I often do with submission guidelines. That’s because sim-subs can be a hot-button subject, and I know some authors do send sim-subs to publishers that don’t accept them. Why would an author do that? Well, for starters, some authors, myself included, view simultaneous submissions as a really good way to increase a story’s chance at publication. The more editors that are looking at it, the more likely it is to be published. When you send a story to a publisher that doesn’t accept sim-subs, the story is out of circulation while they make a decision. If a publisher can turn submissions in a reasonable amount of time, that’s not a big deal. Some publishers, however, may take quite a while to make a decision (120 days or more in some cases), and some of these publishers do not accept sim-subs. Because of these long turn times, an author might sim-sub these publishers anyway, taking the risk the no-sim-sub publisher will reject the story or accept the story first, and they’ll avoid the pickle I described earlier.

Is an author wrong for doing that? Tough call. I mean, I get it. When I look at a publisher’s guidelines and see no sim-subs and “please do not query until 180 days have passed,” it gives me pause, and I might not submit to that publisher if I think I can sim-sub the story to two or three good markets rather than just the one. That said, I also understand the other side of the coin and why a publisher might want to avoid simultaneous submissions. Having been a magazine editor for years, I know firsthand that putting a publication together is a pain in the ass. It’s a never-ending race against the clock to get the issue out on time, and the last thing you want to do is waste that precious time reading and reviewing an article/story the author might pull out from under you before you can make a final decision. How do you keep this from happening? You don’t allow sim-subs. Admittedly, this line of reasoning is easier for an author to swallow if a publisher can turn a story in a reasonable amount of time. What’s reasonable? Depends on the market, really. Longer turn times, for example, are more common in the literary genre, or so I’m told by friends who write that type of fiction. For the genre market, I think sixty days is reasonable, and the vast majority of publications I submit to have turn times in that range and/or allow sim-subs.

What are your thoughts on simultaneous submissions? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

The 7 Stages of Literary Rejection

A writer goes through a lot of emotions when that rejection letter shows up in his or her inbox, and it occurred to me these emotions are similar to those involved with grieving or loss (more or less). I’m sure you’ve all heard of the seven stages of grieving, and I’ve seen the model used for everything from breakups to business deals, so why not rejection letters. So here are the seven stages of rejection, as this writer sees it, anyway.

1) Shock

What the actual fuck?! A rejection? But “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” was perfect for Monkey Junkies Quarterly!

I think this feeling is truer for new writers. I’m certainly not all that surprised when I get a rejection letter these days. Still, I can remember my first few rejections, and I do recall being a bit shocked that one submission didn’t equal one acceptance. Crazy, right?

2) Denial

So what if Monkey Junkies Quarterly is a totally rad professional market I’ve been trying to crack for the better part of a decade. Who cares they just sent me my thirty-seventh form rejection? Whatevs.

Rejection hurts. So, of course, the first thing you tell yourself is that it doesn’t. You know, cuz you’re a tough, salty writer with skin thicker than alligator ass. And that’s what I’ll tell you if you ask me how I’m feeling right after a rejection (sometimes it’s even true). Usually, I take my denial with a healthy dose of distraction: video games, binge-watching documentaries about dinosaurs, anything that takes my mind off my writerly woes for a while.

3) Anger

It’s bullshit, man. I’ve read the stories in Monkey Junkies Quarterly and “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is way, way better than the crap they’re actually buying.

Remember when I said rejection hurts? Well it’s only natural that sometimes you react to pain with anger. It happens to the best of us, and as long as that anger doesn’t travel beyond the fleshy confines of your noggin, say in the form of a reply to a rejection letter, it’s perfectly natural to get a little pissed off from time to time. Just remember, a rejection isn’t a personal attack on you or your work.

4) Bargaining

Well, if I completely change the first half of the story, make the moon monkeys moon gorillas, and then add a subplot about their mole-people allies, I might have a better shot at acceptance next time.

For me, this stage of the rejection cycle invariably makes me want to tinker with the story. Sometimes this is the right reaction, especially when I’ve been given solid feedback I agree with. The danger here is to tinker too soon, like when you’ve only received a couple of form rejections that don’t tell you anything useful. There are plenty of good reasons to revise a story, but doing it as knee-jerk reaction to a rejection isn’t one of them.

5) Guilt/Anxiety

Fuck, “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” wasn’t ready for submission. Why in the world did I send it out? If I’d only spent another month defining the motivations of Mofo, the Master Moon Monkey, I might have had a chance.

This one is similar to the bargaining stage, but instead of doing something potentially constructive (like revising the story), I usually just wallow in anxiety and focus on all the things that must be wrong with the story. This stage usually passes quickly for me because, hey, the good stuff is in the next stage.

6) Depression

“Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is fucking terrible, and I’m a terrible writer. My dream to be the premier author of lunar-based simian fiction was just a pipe dream. Who was I kidding?

If you’re a writer, then I’d put money on the fact that you’ve dealt with depression at some point in your life. Rejection can trigger depression like nobody’s business, especially if you haven’t sold a piece yet or if a particular piece you like gets rejected a bunch of times. Again, I think this a pretty natural way to feel, and for me, the best way to get over it is to commiserate with my writer pals, read good reviews of my work, and maybe, you know, write an entire blog about rejection.

7) Acceptance

You know, now that I look at it again, “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is actually pretty fucking rad. My beta readers loved it, right? Hey, looks like All About Apes is open for submissions again . . .

Yep, like most things, this too shall pass. After the sting of rejection fades, and you look at the story again, more often than not, you’ll see what needs fixing. Or maybe it’s fine as is, and you just need to find the right market for it. If it’s a good story, it will find a home eventually. That said, sometimes the acceptance stage of rejection is the realization that the story or even your writing needs more work, and that’s okay too. The point is to take the whole rejection thing in stride, keep working on your craft, and to realize you are absolutely not alone when it comes to getting kicked in the skull by the ol’ rejection roundhouse.

Got a different take on the seven stages? Tell me about it in the comments.

Rejection Letter Rundown: The Apologetic Personal Rejection (with Rob Mammone)

As I have said many, many times on this blog, (most) editors are not heartless monsters out to grind your hopes and dreams into a fine spreadable paste. Nope, they’re just regular and often passionate folks who happen to be in a position to judge your work. As many editor are writers too, it’s not surprising some of them might feel the sting of rejection vicariously when they have to reject an author whose story they like. Thus, the apologetic personal rejection, which, as far as rejections go, is a pretty encouraging one. Sure, they’re still rejecting your story, but they’re telling you why, praising your work, and they actually sound sorry about it. I mean, next to an acceptance, that’s about as good as it gets, right?

So, here’s the skinny: I’ve never actually gotten a rejection letter like that. (I guess I’m a love it or hate it kind of writer.) Not to worry, though. It turns out a few people actually read my blog (I know, madness), and some of them are writers too. What’s better is that some of these folks are so super fuckin’ rad and gracious they have offered to loan me their rejection letters to share on the blog. That’s just all kinds of awesome.

Anyway, the example letter in this post came to me from Rob Mammone, and here’s a bit about him.

Rob Mammone lives in Melbourne, Australia. He’s been published in Doctor Who Magazine and more recently in the anthologies Ill at Ease 2, Darker Minds, and Darkest Minds. He can be contacted at his blog and @dread_sinister on Twitter.

Now let’s have a look at that rejection letter.

Dear Robert,

Thank you for sending me “XXX”. If you are receiving this email, that means your story made it past my first and second rounds of reading. We received nearly 200 submissions for XXX, and so many of them were absolutely wonderful. But the sad fact remains that we cannot publish every great story that comes our way. For one thing, we would go broke. And secondly, when it comes to an anthology like XXX, every story accepted into the table of contents must benefit the others. They must share blood, even if it is distant. The atmosphere needs to be more similar to a family reunion, rather than an orgy of strangers, despite how much fun that sounds.

Therefore, I must regretfully decline “XXX.” Please understand this rejection has less to do with your skills as a writer and more to do with the anthology’s stubbornness to be built a certain way. Your story certainly fought hard for a spot here, and it came very close to succeeding.

I wish you the very best with placing it elsewhere, and hope to see more from you in the future.

Pretty cool, huh? First, the editor gives him solid (if not exact) reasoning for why his story was rejected. From the feedback in the letter, it sounds like the editor thought Rob’s story was just a hair off theme or took the theme in a cool new direction that made it stand too far apart from the other stories in the anthology. (Rob, feel free to throw us a comment if you have another theory.) The editor goes on to tell Rob that his story came really close, and it sounds like it was under consideration for some time. Finally, the editor would like to see more work from Rob, which, in my book, is the standard by which all “good” rejection letters should be measured.

If I were to get this rejection, I’d feel pretty good about it. Yeah, sure, it’s always a bit of a bummer when you get rejected, but there’s a lot of positive, encouraging stuff going on here. I’d send the story out again right away, and I would abso-fucking-lutely get another story in front of this editor as soon as possible.

Have you received an apologetic personal rejection? I’d love to hear about in the comments.

Again, my sincere thanks to Rob Mammone for letting me post his rejection letter on the blog. Do me a favor, and check out Rob’s blog and/or follow him on Twitter.

And if you’d like to share one of your own rejection letters on the blog, shoot me an email at Note, I’ve covered all the basics, so send me something different, funny, weird, whatever. I will not reveal the name of your story, the publisher, or the editor if I post and discuss your letter.

October 2015 Rejection Roundup

October 2015 is in the books, and I’ve rounded up all the rejection letters I received for the month for your viewing pleasure. I received a few more rejection in October than I did in September, but I also published a couple of stories, so that’s a bit of an improvement.

Let’s get to the rejections:

Rejection 1: 10/7/15

Thank you very much for submitting “Story X” to XXX. While we enjoyed reading it, it’s not quite what we’re looking for right now, so we have decided to pass on this one.

This is a bit more dark urban fantasy than horror. The tension is solidly developed, but we’re missing the concurrent dread. I found this sentence awkward, so you might give it another look: [Clunky sentence I’ll revise before the next submission.]

While this story wasn’t a fit for us, please consider us for future submissions. We wish you the best luck finding the right home for this one, and we look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

This is a nice informative personal rejection for “Story X,” which I covered in detail right here. If you’re new to the blog and unfamiliar with the gripping saga of “Story X,” you can get all the details starting with this post.

Rejection 2: 10/26/15

Thank you for submitting your story to XXX.  Unfortunately, your story does not meet our needs at this time.  Yours is one of many high-quality submissions we received, and we encourage you to try us again if you have another story that you think would be a good fit.

This is another rejection for “Story X.” It’s a common form rejection that I discuss in (too much) detail in this post.

Rejection 3: 10/27/15

Thank you for your submission of “XXX” to XXX, but we’ve decided not to accept it for publication. Please forgive the form letter, but due to the high volume of submissions we can’t respond personally on each story. We appreciate your interest in XXX.

This is a pro-paying market I would very much like to crack, and they held on to this submission for a good long while (long enough for me to generate a fair amount of dangerously destructive hope). In the end, I got a common form rejection, which, in and of itself, doesn’t bug me. This particular publication doesn’t send out a lot of personal rejection letters (less than 2% of their overall rejections, according to Duotrope) because, as the editor said, they get a high volume (as in a metric fuck ton) of submissions. I’ll definitely try again.

Rejection 4: 10/31/15

Thanks for allowing us to consider this one, but I’m going to pass.

Overall, it’s just not a perfect fit with what we’re currently publishing. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll come by the site and read our November issue, which just arrived yesterday!

The last one for October is another pro-paying market, and this is technically a personal rejection (I think). I’m never surprised to get a rejection, but I really should have been expecting this one from the moment I hit send. You see, this is an example of very bad submission targeting on my part. The editor said my story was not a “perfect fit,” and I think that’s a bit of an understatement. I was vaguely familiar with the types of stories this market published (or so I thought), but when I went and looked at the November issue, as the editor suggested, it was pretty clear just how far off my submission targeting was. So, the lesson here is simple: be familiar with your market before you send off that submission. Most publications offer free examples of the types of stories they publish on their websites, and there really is no excuse for missing the mark as badly as I did here. This is not to say they would have accepted my story had it been more in line with what they generally publish, but it certainly would have helped my chances.


That’s it for rejections in October, but as I mentioned earlier, I did have two publications last month. I published a flash story called “The Rarest Cut” with Evil Girlfriend Media, and my story “Beyond the Block” took fourth place in The Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Monster II contest. Check ‘em out when you have a second.

“Beyond the Block” – Flash Monster II Results

The Molotov Cocktail has posted the results of their Flash Monster II contest, and I took 4th place. I’ve ended up in the top five in three of their contests, so I’m pretty damn pleased. My Flash Monster II story is called “Beyond the Block,” and you can read it right here. If you’d like to read the other top ten stories–and you should, cuz they’re really good– click the image below.


And if you’d like to read my other Molotov Cocktail flash contest stories, well, what do you know, here’s a couple of links.

“The Rarest Cut” – My Latest Publication

I talk a lot about rejection on this here blog, but I do get the occasional acceptance. Here’s one of them, a flash fiction story called “The Rarest Cut” published today at Evil Girlfriend Media. It’s gross and quirky, and I had a lot of fun writing it. Check it out right HERE.

If you dig this one, you can read more of my flash fiction at The Molotov Cocktail. Here’s a bunch of links:

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