The Common Form Rejection Revisited

One of the first posts on this blog was about the common form rejection. In the intervening two years and change, my thoughts have changed some, and I find I have more to say about what they usually mean.

First, as a refresher, what is a common form rejection? Well, it’s the basic, boilerplate communication you’re likely to get from most publishers when they decide not to publish your story. They come in all shapes and sizes but tend to use a lot of the same language and phrases. Here are some examples:

Common Form Rejection 1:

Thank you for submitting “XXX” to XXX. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite meet the needs of our podcast. 

Thanks for submitting, and best wishes for you and your work. 

This is a common form letter from a top-tier speculative market. It’s a nice professional letter and a pretty standard one as such things go. As an aside, this is one of my favorite markets, and they’re one of the first markets I send new stories to.

Common Form Rejection 2:

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

Sometimes form rejection are short and to the point. I appreciate that. This letter says all that it needs to say. Brief is not the same as rude, and “does not catch my interest” is not the same thing as “bad story.” More on that second bit below.

Common Form Rejection 3:

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 one of my favorite form rejections because the last sentence is key if you’re going to submit your work. It might sound like the editor is trying to be nice or soften the blow, and, sure, there might be a little of that, but everything this editor said is also true. Strong stories ARE rejected for half a dozen or more reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the story.

The rejection above leads me to my point with all this. Getting a form rejection or even a couple of them does not mean the story is without merit. How do I know this? Well, every one of the rejections above is for a story I ended up selling. That doesn’t mean these editors were wrong for rejecting them (far from it and not my point at all). It does mean all those things the last rejection letter said are probably true: wrong fit, similar theme, or half a dozen other reasons.

When you get a form rejection, don’t read too much into it and don’t immediately jump to “bad story” as the reason for the rejection. Bad fit? Maybe. Send that story out again because it might be a perfect fit for the next market.


What are your thoughts on the common form rejection? Tell me about them in the comments.

One-Hour Flash: Fairy Bad Behavior

Time for another one-hour flash story. If you’re unfamiliar with this series, these are 1,000-word stories I wrote in one hour for a writing contest/exercise. I’ve done a lot of these exercises, and sometimes those stories go on to bigger and better things, like getting published. The others wind up here.

This is an urban fantasy story that centers around an agency called the BFA (the Bureau of Fae Affairs), which I’ve used in a bunch of stories. One of these days, I might try and write something more coherent with the BFA than a bunch of disconnected flash pieces. Until then, here’s “Fairy Bad Behavior.”


Fairy Bad Behavior 

“What’s next, Jenkins?” Sergeant Ivan Danforth asked as he and his partner threaded their way through the tangle of desks and moving bodies in the BFA command center.

Agent Ryan Jenkins glanced at his clipboard. “Let’s see,” he said scanning the list of names and charges. “Looks like a Mr. Koruk.”

“Troll?” Danforth asked.

“Nope. Ogre.”

“That’s a first for me,” Danforth said, his hand sliding down to the butt of the huge revolver at his hip. The S&W .500 was the biggest he could find, and it was a pain in the ass to carry. You couldn’t fit it under a coat, and even on your hip it was like dragging around a sack of lead shot. Still, he often found the gargantuan revolver wholly inadequate. “What’d he do?”

Jenkins grimaced. “Jesus. Ate three kids in West Seattle.”

Danforth sighed and shook his head. “What is with these fairy-tale motherfuckers and eating kids? Remember that witch last year? She barbecued eleven before we caught her. Then she acted like it was the most normal thing in the world to do.”

Jenkins nodded and offered his partner a tired smile. “Well, at least work at the good ‘ol Bureau of Fae Affairs is never boring.”

They had reached the far side of the office. It was completely clear of desks, its only feature a massive steel door set in the plain white wall. Two guards armed with oversized rifles of black steel and carbon fiber—Barrett M82s—stood in front of the door.

“Gentlemen,” Danforth said. “We’ve got an interview in room ten.”

One of the guards nodded and spun the steel wheel set in the door’s center and pulled. it open At nearly four feet thick it made most bank vaults look tiny in comparison. Beyond stretched a long, wide hallway constructed of concrete. More steel doors were set at various intervals along the hallway’s length. Some were human-sized, others towered fifteen feet high.

Jenkins and Danforth entered the tunnel and the door shut behind them. Their destination lay at the far end—one of the oversized holding cells. Outside the cell, they found two more guards armed with the same heavy rifles as the last two.

“He’s chained,” one of the guards said as the two BFA officers approached. “But keep your guard up; one smack from this asshole and you’d look like a bug on windshield.”

Danforth smiled and unsnapped the S&W 500 in its holster. “Don’t worry. This isn’t our first rodeo. Go ahead and open up.”

The door opened and they stepped into a cavernous room with concrete floors and walls. At the far end of the room, chained to the wall was Mr. Koruk, their suspect. He was smaller than Danforth had expected—only ten feet tall—but what he lacked in height he made up for in bulk. The ogre wore a pair of grubby trousers, and his bare upper torso gave the two BFA agents a good look at his barrel chest, massive round belly, and arms corded with great slabs of sinewy muscle.

The ogre sat on the floor near the wall, and he turned as they entered. His face was coarse and ugly, with a wide brow, drooping jowls, flabby lips, and a squashed nose the size of large potato in the center of the whole mess.

“Officers,” the ogre said and held up his manacled wrists. They were bolted to the wall with a length of titanium chain. “Can you explain this violation of my rights?” The ogre’s voice was a deep baritone with a slight Irish lilt.

Danforth sat down in one of the two chairs near the door, well out Mr. Koruk’s reach if he decided to get rowdy. Jenkins sat in the other.

“Rights, Mr. Koruk?” Danforth said. “The BFA has been quite clear with you and your kind on what we expect of our relocated guests. Eating school children is pretty much at the top of the list of behavior we’d like you to avoid.”

The ogre frowned. “What am I supposed to eat? I have certain, uh, dietary needs.”

“We know, Mr. Koruk,” Jenkins said. “The BFA has made suitable artificial alternatives available to all ogres, trolls, witches, and giants.”

The ogre grimaced and stuck out his tongue. “That stuff doesn’t taste right.”

Danforth leaned forward in his chair. “I don’t give a goddamn if it tastes like a troll’s hairy asshole. You can’t eat children, you gigantic sack of shit.”

The ogre shrugged. “Old habits are hard to break.”

“Here are your options, Mr. Koruk,” Jenkins said. “You can write and sign a full confession to the crime or we can send you back to Jotunheim and let the frost giants deal with you.”

The ogre blanched, his yellowish skin taking on the color of sour milk. “What? You can’t send me back to Jotunheim. I’ve got asylum.”

“You’ve got asylum as long as you don’t break any laws,” Danforth said. “And although it’s been a while since I checked the codes, I’m pretty sure grinding up eight-year-olds to make sausage is still against the fucking law.”

“So it’s a confession, a last meal, and the needle, or we turn you over to Thrym and let him and his boys deal with you,” Jenkins said, a thin smile playing across his lips. “I hear they still cut the blood eagle on defectors. That’s a nasty way to go.”

“I’ll do it,” the ogre said and slumped against the wall. “I’ll confess. Don’t send me back.”

“Excellent,” Danforth said and stood. “One of the guards will be in shortly with pen and paper and to get your final meal request.

Jenkins grinned. “I suggest the vegetarian option.”


Okay, so what’s wrong with this one? Well, like a lot of failed flash, this is basically the beginning of something longer. I like the characters and concepts it introduces, but it doesn’t feel like a complete story (because it isn’t). I spent way too much time in the intro, so there was no word count left for anything else. Thus, you get a rushed and, let’s face it, unsatisfying ending. Still, I had fun with the dialog, as I often do in these BFA stories, and maybe, just maybe, there’s the seed of a longer (and better) story in here.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

Close Encounters: The Shortlist Letter Revisited

There has been a definite theme to my submission endeavors in 2017. I’ve received more shortlist letters this year than I have in years prior. So, it got me thinking, how close am I actually getting when one of my stories is shortlisted? Well, a market that recently sent me a shortlist letter answered this question.

First, here’s the shortlist letter I mentioned above:

Thank you again for your submission. We really like this story and would like to add it to our short list, if that is okay with you. We will have the final decisions by July 1 at the latest. Let us know!

Nice, huh? They liked the story, which is always a good thing. The downside to a shortlist letter, of course, is it does get your hopes up, so if a rejection follows, it can sting more than usual. That’s because you know you got really close. Again, the questions is: how close? Well, this market told me in plain black and white because they actually published the stats for their last submission window. Take a look.

  • Total number of submissions: 575
  • Total shortlisted (fiction): 15
  • Total accepted (fiction): 8

Mine was one of the 15 stories shortlisted. My story was also one of the 7 stories ultimately rejected. That’s pretty damn close. Now, this is one market and one set of stats. It’s the very definition of sample size, but I think it’s probably ballpark for a decent-sized semi-pro market. In other words, I feel pretty good that my story was one of the 2.6% of submissions they seriously considered.

Yeah, shortlist rejections can be a little frustrating, because you KNOW you got close to publication. But there’s a silver lining. You also KNOW at least one editor had a positive reaction to your work. Since I’ve received more shortlist letters this year than in years past, I’ll hope that whole positive reaction thing is a general trend. 🙂


What’s your experience with the shortlist letter? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Statement: October 2017

October was a slightly more productive month. I sent out more submissions than what I’ve been averaging, and I finished some new stories that’ll be going out soon. I also expanded into a new genre, mystery/crime, which will certainly be reflected on these monthly tallies in the near future. 🙂

October 2017 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 6
  • Other: 0
  • Acceptances: 2
  • Publications: 0

I can live with this, especially with a couple of acceptances. I’d still like to bump up my average number of monthly submissions to around ten, though.

Rejections

Six rejections this month. Let’s have a look.

Rejection 1, 2, and 3: Submitted 9/28/17; Rejected 10/16/17

Thank you for submitting “XXX”, “XXX”, and “XXX” to XXX. They weren’t quite right for us, but we appreciate your interest in XXX and we hope you’ll keep us in mind in the future.

I love a market that allows multiple submissions, but there is a downside. Sending three stories at once creates the very real possibility of getting three rejections at once, like you see here. Still, this is a nice form letter from a market that is new to me, and I’ll definitely submit to them again.

Rejection 4: Submitted 10/15/17; Rejected 10/26/17

Thank you for submitting “XXX” to XXX. 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.

A standard form rejection from a top-tier market. Not much to see here. I’m gonna crack these guys, eventually. 🙂

Rejection 5: Submitted 10/9/17; Rejected 10/30/17

Thanks so much for entering our Flash Monster contest. 

Unfortunately, “XXX” did not make it into our Top 10. However, we are happy to report that the piece did make it through several rounds of cuts and was still in consideration until the later stages of judging. As a result, we’ve given you a “Close But No Cigar” shout-out on the site, which can be found on our Flash Monster results page (https://themolotovcocktail.com/). 

Though it didn’t place in the contest, we’d be happy to consider this piece for inclusion in one of our regular issues. Feel free to resubmit through our regular submissions portal (no submission fee, of course) on Submittable. We’ve published a good number of short-listed entries that way in the past. 

Thanks again for your participation, and for sending us such great work. 

A higher-tier form rejection from my favorite purveyors of fine flash fiction, The Molotov Cocktail. Yes, The Molotov is pretty much the only market I’ll actually identify in these rejection tallies. They’ve published me a bunch, and I know the editors don’t mind (because I asked). Anyway, this is for their Flash Monster 2017 contest, and as soon as you finish reading this post, you should go read the top ten stories for the contest. They’re great.

You should also check out the Ranks of the Rejected interview I did with Molotov editor Josh Goller. Lots of good insight into submissions, rejections, and publishing in general.

Rejection 6: Submitted 10/19/17; Rejected 10/30/17

Thank you for submitting work to the Flash Monster 2017 contest. As always, we had a high number of quality submissions. 

Unfortunately, “XXX” was not selected for our Top 10, but we very much enjoyed the chance to read it. 

Thanks so much for your participation

Another rejection from The Molotov Cocktail for the Flash Monster 2017. Again, you should really head out to their site and read the winning stories; they’re awesome. I’m looking forward to entering their next contest and hopefully getting back into the winning circle.

Acceptances

Two acceptances this month. Well, one and a half. I’ll explain below.

Acceptance 1: Submitted 7/24/17; Rejected 10/4/17

Thanks for letting us read “Reunion.” We would love to publish it in The Arcanist!

There’s more to this acceptance letter, but this is the important bit. This is my second acceptance from The Arcanist, a market that is quickly becoming one of my new favorites, and not just because they’ve published my work. They’ve been putting out some great speculative flash fiction on a weekly basis, so do yourself a favor and head on over and check ’em out. “Reunion” is one of my few Lovecraftian stories, and I’m excited you’ll get to read it soon.

If you write speculative flash fiction, you should definitely submit to The Arcanist. If you’d like some pointers in that arena, check out my Ranks of the Rejected interview with editor Josh Hrala.

Acceptance 2

Okay, this one is not a true acceptance since I was asked to contribute a story to a new sword-and-sorcery magazine called Tales from the Magician’s Skull, but, hey, it gives me another chance to talk about the magazine and my old friends at Goodman Games who are putting it out. Although the Kickstarter to support the magazine has ended (it funded like a boss), the campaign site will tell you all you need to know about Tales from the Magician’s Skull. My story, “Beyond the Block,” is a huge expansion on a flash piece I wrote a few years ago. It was a blast to write, and I hope you’ll check it out along with a whole bunch of other fantastic stories when the magazine drops.


And that’s October. Tell me about your October in the comments.

Branching out with a Bullet

When it comes to short stories, I primarily write horror with occasional forays into dark urban fantasy. Those two will likely always be my jam, so to speak, but there’s another genre that has long intrigued me, one that is a close cousin to both horror and urban fantasy. Yep, I’m talking about mystery and its many sub-genres (crime, thriller, noir, hard-boiled, suspense, etc.).

Many of my stories feature elements that would be right at home in the mystery/suspense genre, but the speculative nature of my work is usually a non-starter for these markets. So I got to thinking, why not write a story that has all those elements except the speculative part? I took the plunge and wrote a short story that would, I think, fall into the noir or thriller sub-genre (I’m still a little iffy on the sub-genres here). It’s called “Luck Be a Bullet,” and I honestly had a blast writing it.

Anyway, I’ve already submitted “Luck Be a Bullet,” and I’m excited to explore a new genre and the new (to me) markets publishing that genre. At the very least, it’s a currently untapped source of new rejections. 🙂


Do you write mystery/crime/thriller? If so, I’d love recommendations for short story markets, especially those that accept flash fiction.

The Oft-Rejected Story: A Rejectomantic* Analysis

*Adj. 1. rejectomantic – relating to or associated with the dubious practice of rejectomancy; “a desperate rejectomantic analysis”

My current record-holder for most rejections is a story called “Paper Cut,” which was published after a whopping 16 no-thank-yous, though it’s picked up another as a reprint, bringing the total to 17. Since that one was eventually published, it’s not a good example for this post, so I’ll turn to the runner-up—we’ll call it “Story R”—which currently sits at 16 rejections and has a very good chance to tie and even break the record.

Here are the raw numbers for “Story R.”

  • Submissions: 19
  • Form Rejections: 8
  • Higher-Tier Form Rejections: 1
  • Personal Rejections: 5
  • Short-Listed: 2
  • Withdrawals: 2
  • Pending: 1

To date, this story has received just about every response possible for a story except an acceptance. Admittedly, it’s had some bad luck. Two of the markets considering it went under, and one of them had short-listed the story. It’s had a number of “final round” rejections, where the editors have let me know they were strongly considering it but finally passed on it (one of those was a form rejection, by the way). It’s also had a fair number of personal rejections, where the editor told me they thought it was a good story just not a good fit.

The feedback the story has received has generally been positive. The editors have told me what they like but have given me little indication of what’s not working. That’s not uncommon, though, but it does make you pine for something to hang you revision hat on, even a simple, “Hey, you’re ending is kind of weak.”

So what’s going on here? Why is this story failing to find a home? Is it just a mediocre story? That’s certainly possible, but my gut and my beta readers tell me otherwise (both could be wrong, of course). Bad luck? Sure, a bit, with markets closing while the story was short-listed and whatnot. My submission targeting? Always a culprit and difficult to dial in. It might be the story is a weird genre: dark urban fantasy that leans more horror than fantasy. That could make it little too light for horror markets and perhaps too dark for fantasy markets. I’ve actually received that criticism on another, similar story.

With all that in mind, what are my options? I see three possible courses of action.

  1. Keep sending it out. I have a number of author friends who do this until a story finds a home, somewhere, rejections be damned. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy, but I feel like I’ve banged that drum already.
  2. Retire it. Maybe it’s just not up to snuff, and it’s time to put it back in the trunk. I do think this is a good’un, and my beta readers, who have yet to steer me wrong, agree.
  3. Revise it. There’s clearly something that’s not landing with editors, even thought it’s gotten close a couple of times. So a revision may be in order to make it a stronger story.

Well, I went with option three and heavily revised the story. In fact, I overhauled it completely, adding another 1,500 words, considerably more backstory, and a punchier ending. It was a little on the short side at around 2,000 words, which limited the markets I could send it to (a number of fantasy markets have a minimum word count of 2,500 or higher). After I revised it, I kicked it to my betas again, who gave me some additional feedback. Then I polished it up and sent out the new and improved version.

If the story keeps picking up rejections even after this major revision–say, it hits 20 or more–I may be forced to face facts and concede it’s just not up to snuff. Until then, it should be fun to see if “Story R” dethrones “Paper Cut” as my most rejected story. 🙂


Tell me about one of your oft-rejected stories. What did you end up doing with it?

8 Rejection Records & Other Dubious Achievements

I originally published a post titled 6 Rejection Records & Other Dubious Achievements back in June of 2016, and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve broken just about every one of those records in the last year and change. I thought I’d revisit these records, update them, and add a couple new “firsts” and “bests” to the list.

1) Fastest Rejection: 10 minutes (old record: 2.5 hours)

Yep, you read that right. Ten minutes. I have the time stamps on the emails to prove it. How does that happen, you ask? No idea. I followed all the submission guidelines (I double and triple checked after the rejection), so it wasn’t an auto-reject on that front as far as I can tell. It’s possible I just lucked out, ended up on the top of the slush pile right as the editor started reading that day and did not impress with my opening paragraph. I’ll never know why the rejection was so quick, but I do know I’ll probably never beat this record (and I’m okay with that).

2) Slowest Rejection: 419 days (no change)

No change here. Sixteen months is still the longest I’ve waited for a rejection. Though, I didn’t actually wait that long in this case. After three months or so, I sent a withdrawal letter after a query letter went unanswered and started submitting the story elsewhere. The publisher obviously didn’t get either one of those letters, because they wrote to inform me that I’d come super close to publication but they’d finally decided to pass on the story . . . sixteen months later.

3) Most Rejections before Publication: 17 (old record: 16)

The old record-holder and the new one are the same story. The funny thing is the story DID get published after 16 rejections and was rejected one more time when I sent it out as a reprint. I do have another story that’s closing in on the record and will likely surpass it in the near future.

4) Fewest Rejections before Publication: 0 (no change)

With 0 rejections before publication, I can’t really beat this record, but I’ve pulled the one-and-done trick seven times. I had only done it once when I wrote the first post.

5) Most Rejections by a Single Publication: two tied at 8 (old record: 3 tied at 5)

These two are both top-tier magazines that publish horror. I send pretty much every appropriate story to them if I can. In addition to these two, there a couple of markets tied at 7 rejections and one or two at 6.

6) Most Acceptances by a Single Publication: 10 (old record: 7)

The Molotov Cocktail continues to be good to me. More about my publications there in this post: Flash Doom & The Molotov 10.

7) Most rejections in a single day: 3

Here’s a new one for you. I’ve turned this trick four times. Oddly, I also tend to get acceptances on these big rejection days. I’ve done that twice.

8) Most rejection in the same email: 3

Another new one. I love publishers that accept multiple submissions, but there’s a downside to sending three stories to the same publisher at the same time. Can you guess what it is?


Got any records of your own? Share them in the comments.