Charting the Rejection Progression

As I’ve discussed many times on the blog, there are different tiers of rejection letters that may indicate how close you might have came to an acceptance. Now, spread across multiple publishers, the differences in these rejections may not be so apparent, but when they come from the same publisher you can often see the progress you’re making. As usual, I have examples!

I’m going to show you three rejections from the same pro market, and I think you’ll see the progression I’m talking about.

Rejection 1*

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [story title]. 

Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere. 

A polite but unremarkable standard form rejection like you might see from a dozen different publishers. I racked up five or six more just like this, but I was undeterred. This is very tough market, and I knew I was gonna have to dial in my submission targeting to have a chance of getting through.

Rejection 2

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [Story Title]. 

Though several of our staff members enjoyed the story, it did not receive enough votes to make it to the third and final round of voting. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for this story elsewhere and hope you will consider us for future submissions. 

Well, okay, now we’re getting somewhere. As they said in this very informative rejection, the story made some progress, but ultimately it wasn’t for them. I learned some things here. This story is a bit different from what I’d been sending, so in my next original fiction submissions to this publisher I tried to choose work closer in tone and voice to this one.

Rejection 3

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [story title]

Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. 

As much as we wish we could, we can’t publish every good story that comes our way. Truthfully, we’re forced to return a great many stories with merits that make them well worthy of publication, including yours. 

Your story did, however, reach the final stage of our selection process–one among an elite group. Less than 5% of stories make it this far. That is no small feat. 

We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere, feel confident of your success in doing so, and hope to receive submissions from you in the future. 

Now this is a good rejection and it tells me so much. I know my story got close, so I learned a lot about the kind of stories they’re looking for. They also sent me detailed feedback, which was immensely helpful, and I’ve since revised the story based on the issues they called out. It’s a better story now, and I feel pretty confident it’ll find a home soon.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this progression? For one, don’t give up on a market, especially a tough one, just because you’re racking up rejections. This is even more important if you’re getting rejections like the last two examples. Sometimes rejections are like playing a game of Battleship– a few close misses can tell you an awful lot about where your target might be. Also, it’s important to understand when you get one of those higher-tier or close-but-no-cigar rejections from a market like this, you likely have a good and salable story on your hands. Yes, it wasn’t right for this publisher, but you can have some confidence the next one (or the one after that) might dig it.

*As I often do, I removed certain elements from these rejections that might identify the publisher or story in question. My goal, of course, is never to “call out” an editor or publication for a rejection (that’s stupid and immature) but to present informative examples like these so we can learn from them.


Thoughts on these rejections? Do you have a rejection progression of your own? Tell me about it in the comments.

300 Rejections or THIS. IS. NOT FOR US!

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

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

Rejections by Year

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

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

Wait Times

Days Notes
Fastest 0 10 minutes
Slowest 419
Average 27

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

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

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

Most Rejected Stories

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

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

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

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

Most Rejected Markets

Rejections Notes
28 13 acceptances
16 no acceptances

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

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

Unique Stories/Markets

Total Accepted
Unique Stories 65 32
Unique Markets 95 13

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

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


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

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

Submission Statement: February 2019

And there goes February. Let’s have a look and see how I did.

February 2019 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 7
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1
  • Submission Status Queries: 2

Seven submissions is, well, not good enough. If I want to hit my goal of 100 submissions for the year, I need to step it up in March. I’m at 16 total for the year, an average of 8 per month, and I need to bump that up to an average of 9. So I’m gonna shoot for a dozen subs this month to get back on track.

You’ll notice I sent two submission status queries this month. I don’t generally have to do that, but occasionally the need arises. Don’t be afraid to send these when your submission starts getting long in the tooth, but be sure to check the publisher’s guidelines. Many will tell you when and when NOT to send a query. If you’re polite and follow the guidelines, the publisher won’t be offended. In fact, sometimes they’ll respond with an apology and a promise to read your work right away. (That happened with one I sent this month). If your curious about what a submission status query should look like, here’s the template I use:

Dear Editors,

I would like to inquire about the status of my submission [story title] submitted to [publisher name] on [month, day, year]. Thank you. 

Best,

Aeryn Rudel

That’s it. Short, sweet, to the point. Just the facts, basically.

Rejections

Seven rejections for February.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 5
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 1
  • Personal Rejections: 1

Not a particularly impressive group of rejections, and nothing really worth sharing.

Acceptances

Got another reprint acceptance from Mystery Tribune for my story “Father of Terror.” This one was originally published by The Molotov Cocktail and took second place in their Flash Icon contest a couple of years ago. The version Mystery Tribune published is just a tad different, but it’s essentially the same story. You can check it out under publications.

Publications

One publication this month, the aforementioned “Father of Terror.” Free to read online.

“The Father of Terror”

Published by Mystery Tribune (free to read)


And that was my February. Tell me about yours.

A Week of Writing: 2/18/19 to 2/24/19

Another week in the trenches, and other week of submissions, rejections, and miscellaneous literary endeavors.

Words to Write By

This week’s quotes comes from, uh, *checks notes* Wayne Gretzky?

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

– Wayne Gretzky

This is a quote from the greatest hockey player to put on skates (I know that, and I’m not even a hockey fan), but, damn, does it apply to just about everything, including writing. I send out a lot of submissions–one-hundred and twenty last year–and those are, well, shots I’m taking. They don’t all score, of course, but each time I send a submission I have a chance of acceptance. If I don’t submit, I have zero chance. The writing and submission gig can be a tough one. Rejections are as common as weeds, and some of them have thorns. They WILL get you down, and that’s okay, but you still gotta take those shots. Just ask Wayne Gretzky. His career shooting percentage was 17.6%, so even he missed a few, and, hey, they still call him The Great One.

The Novel

My next revisions of Late Risers is on hold while I finish a novella for Privateer Press. I wrote 8,000 words of it last week, and I’ll bust out another 8,000 to 10,000 this week.

Short Stories

It doesn’t get much slower than this, folks.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

Yep, no submissions and a single rejection last week. I’m not exactly setting the world on fire in February. I did send a submission yesterday, and I’ll send a few more in the next day or so. That’ll put me up to 10 for the month, which keeps me on pace for 100 submissions for the year.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

2/20/19: A Week of Writing: 2/11/18 to 2/17/18

The usual weekly writing update.

2/22/19: The Rejection Archives: Rejection #84 (Personal)

Another entry into my Rejection Archives series. This one covers a personal rejection with excellent feedback.

Goals

I’ll finish up the first draft of my novella for Privateer Press this week, and then I’d like to get some short story submission out.

Very Short Stories

So, I’ve started writing microfiction on a daily basis on Twitter under the prompted hashtag #vss365. It’s a great exercise trying to fit a story into 280 characters and a hell of a lot of fun. I’m gonna start rounding up the weekly crop of scribbles on these updates. If you want to get these tiny tales in real time, follow me on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

February 23rd – Prompt: Lame

They call me a leg breaker, but that ain’t right. Bones hurt, but soft tissue remembers. A guy hears that meaty pop when I shred his ACL, and he knows he’s gonna hobble like a lame horse forever. If that don’t remind him what he’s done wrong, he’s always got another leg.

February 23rd – Prompt: Humble

The men who come for me with crosses and holy books are sinners in pride, Daddy says. He hurts them, and I’m always hungry after. I know it’s wrong to waste the Lord’s bounty, and Daddy makes what he calls humble pie. It’s warm and red and just what a growing girl needs.


How was your writing week? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Rejection Archives: Rejection #84 (Personal)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A Week of Writing: 2/11/19 to 2/17/19

Yikes. How did it get to be Wednesday already. A little late with this update, but here’s my writing week that was.

Words to Write By

This week’s quotes comes from Sylvia Plath.

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

– Sylvia Plath

I’ve been in a bit of an acceptance drought to start the year, and the rejections have been piling up. Despite my admittedly thick hide, when rejections attack en masse they can wear me down. So, when that happens, and I feel like I’ll never sell a story again, I often read quotes about rejection from famous authors. This one is short and sweet and right on the money. Rejections are nos, certainly, but they’re meaning is greater than that. Like Sylvia Plath says, they say you tried, you put your work out there, and braved the literary minefields. Of course, if you follow this blog, then you know I think a lot of publishing is a numbers game. The more you submit (try), the greater your chances of acceptance, so it helps to think of each rejection as laying down another bit of road that will eventually lead to the next publication.

The Novel

I’ve started the next revision for Late Risers based on the notes from my agent. This time I’m going about things in a much more surgical manner. First off, I created a spread sheet that lists each chapter with a short summary of its content. That way I can treat the book kind of like a puzzle or maybe a delicately balanced Jenga tower. I can move or remove chapters and add in the new ones my agent requested. It’s been very helpful to view the novel this way, and it feels a lot less overwhelming. The first new thing I’ll write is the prologue, mostly because I know exactly what I need to do there, and the action in that bit will inform the rest of the novel. That said, this project is on temporary hold while I write the next piece of Stormbreak for Privateer Press.

Short Stories

This week was much more active than weeks prior.

  • Submissions Sent: 4
  • Rejections: 5
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1
  • Shortlist: 0

The 4 submissions last week give me 6 for the month and 15 for the year. That puts me a bit off my pace for the 100 submissions I want to hit by the end of the year. I’m not too worried about that, though. I’ll get a few more subs out in the next week to get back on pace. Five rejections this week, and they were a little tougher than usual, mostly because I thought I had a pretty good shot with a couple of them. That’s almost always a mistake, and as hard it can be sometimes, I find it best to treat each submission like an eventual rejection, and then just treat each acceptance like a wonderful surprise.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

2/11/19: A Week of Writing: 2/4/18 to 2/10/18

The usual (if not timely) weekly writing update.

2/15/19: The Rejection Archives: Rejection #7

The second entry into my Rejection Archives series. This one covers a detailed personal rejection.

Goals

This week and next I need to bang out the words on the next Privateer Press novella. As usual, I’m shooting for something between 2,000 and 3,000 words per day, and the first draft should go very quick. Looking forward to it, and it’s always a good time taking another trip to the Iron Kingdoms.

Story Spotlight

I did manage to publish a story last week with Mystery Tribune. This is a reprint flash fiction story called “The Father of Terror.” It was originally published by The Molotov Cocktail, where it took second place in their Flash Icon contest. I made some very minor changes to this version of the story, but it’s still 95% the same story Molotov published. You can read “The Father of Terror” by clicking the link below

“The Father of Terror”


How was your writing week? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Rejection Archives: Rejection #7 (Personal)

Got another rejection from the vault to share with you. This is the seventh rejection I received after I started seriously tracking my submissions through Duotrope. Let’s have a look.

Rejection Number: 7
Story Sent: 2/2/2013
Rejection Received: 2/21/2013
Rejection Type: Personal Rejection

Aeryn,

Thanks for letting us see [story title].  I regret to say that it’s not right for [publisher].

I loved the incredible vividness of this story, and thought the ending was rather awesome.  [Redacted detail about the story] However, the long digressions into [theme of story], while interesting and well written, really slowed the pace for me.  It ended up feeling like there was too much internal monologue for the bit of action the story provided.

Best of luck with this in other markets.

Regards,*

This was one of the first detailed personal rejections I received when I got serious about submitting short fiction. The editor kindly explains exactly what their issue with the story was. I also liked how they included qualifiers like “for me” rather than using imperative statements. Though I did not change the story based on this feedback, it does NOT mean the editor was wrong. It means my story was not a good fit for this market and this editor. I went on to sell this story to another publisher shortly after this rejection. Again, I am not trying to show this editor was wrong for rejecting my story. Instead, this is a good example that a rejection from one market absolutely does not mean it won’t sell elsewhere. These kinds of rejections can also be very informative, and I managed to sell a story to this particular market the following year, partly because the feedback here gave me a good idea of what they might like.

*You’ll notice I pulled some details out of this rejection. I did that because it would give away which story I’m talking about and possibly identify the publisher. That’s something I always try to avoid.


Thoughts on this rejection or this type of rejection? Tell me about it in the comments.

Also, check out the first post in this series below:

The Rejection Archives: Rejection #1