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.


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 ( 

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.


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.

Rejection Letter Rundown: Even Good Stories Get Rejected

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time,  you’ve certainly heard me say that a rejection does not (necessarily) mean you wrote a bad story. In fact, it can mean you wrote a good story that was rejected for a bunch of reasons you simply can’t control. Sometimes an editor might tell you your perfectly good story was rejected for one of those beyond-your-control reasons I mentioned above. In my experience, this type of rejection is pretty rare. I’ve never received one, and to write this post I had to borrow one from a friend. My writer pal Patsy Pratt-Herzog recently received a rejection where the editor was kind enough to share the reason Patsy’s good story was rejected. Patsy has graciously agreed to let me post the rejection letter here with my usual editorial scrub.

Thank you for sending us this piece. We appreciate the chance to read it, and we thought it was a great story (love the Cinderella twist!), but unfortunately, this is purely a case of getting two similar pieces and having one fit better with our vision of the book than the other.

A rejection that calls your story great and gives you a totally legit reason why it was rejected is like finding a diamond on top of a unicorn at the end of a rainbow. In this case, the editor received two good stories that were very similar and had to make a tough decision. I think this kind of thing happens fairly regularly, especially with themed anthologies. Yeah, an acceptance is always better, but a rejection like this means you can send that story on to the next publisher with real confidence. So keep this rejection letter in mind the next time you get a form rejection or even a personal rejection that says the story just wasn’t a good fit.

Thanks again, Patsy. Best of luck finding a great home for your story!

Have you received a rejection letter like this one? Tell me about it in the comments.

Tales from the Editor’s Skull – Interview with Howard Jones

Goodman Games is about to unleash a brand-new sword-and-sorcery magazine on the world called Tales from the Magician’s Skull. The first issue is filled with old-school pulpy goodness written by authors who know the genre well (including yours truly). I recently spoke with Howard Jones, the editor-in-chief of Goodman Games’ latest venture, and he was kind enough to answer some questions about the magazine and the current Kickstarter campaign to support it.

1) Okay, give us the skinny on Tales from the Magician’s Skull. The elevator pitch if you will.

It’s a magazine dedicated to old-school sword-and-sorcery. Not pastiche, not homage, but new fiction about new characters in new worlds, inspired by the great old ground-breaking stuff. That means there’s forward momentum and inventive world building and dark sorcery and darker deeds and heroes wandering where brave men fear to tread.

2) Tells us a bit about your background as a writer and editor. How did you get involved with the project?

I’ve written a historical fantasy series set in ancient Arabia for St. Martin’s, four Pathfinder novels, and a slew of short stories. A new fantasy series from me will be dropping (again from St. Martin’s) next summer. I grew up reading and loving the kind of fiction this magazine emulates, fantasizing and dreaming what it would have been like to edit for one of the great old pulp magazines, so this is a dream come true.

Long before I was a published author I was an in-house editor for Macmillan Computer Publishing, breaking into fiction editing when I assembled eight volumes of swashbuckling historicals by Harold Lamb. And I was the Managing Editor for a sword-and-sorcery e-zine, Flashing Swords, and then, near the end of its run, Black Gate Magazine. I met Joseph Goodman when I was reviewing role-playing supplements he’d published for Goodman Games, and one year at GenCon I dropped by his booth to hand him my first published novel.

In short, over the course of a few years, we came to admire and appreciate the work the other was doing.

3) How did you and Goodman land on sword and sorcery for Tales from the Magician’s Skull? What about that genre interests you?

We’re both drawn by the sense of the adventure and the pacing. There’s little to no navel gazing. It’s all about the story. And while there IS darkness and dread, most of the time the tales aren’t drowning in it. These are typically tales with heroics and death-defying action. In earlier fiction there are fewer conventions about what magic looks like or what elves are or other issues that have become so codified some have a hard time breaking out of the mold. We love that.

There are tombs and treasure and strange enchantments, bizarre and curious locations, and protagonists desperate to get in or out of such places, sometimes in pursuit of lofty goals but more often simply to live another day.

4) Who are the writers in the first issue? And, uh, how did they get so damn lucky?

Here’s a funny thing. It started out as Joseph Goodman asking me if I wanted to contribute a story to the Goodman Games 2017 GenCon magazine. He’d asked me for one for the 2016 mag, and I said yes both times. Shortly after receiving the one for 2017, though, he wondered if maybe I knew some other sword-and-sorcery writers. Well, most of my writer friends are sword-and-sorcery writers, so that was easy.

He kept asking for a few more, and before we knew it, there were more than enough for an entire magazine. When Joseph proposed that, I lobbied to become its editor.

Because the whole thing grew organically, we tapped people we knew well who could exactly get the sword-and-sorcery vibe we were after. For issue two we’re reaching a little further afield but  still working for the same feel.

As for who’s within, there’s you and me! Then there’s Chris Willrich, best known for his Gaunt and Bone sword-and-sorcery tales and books, which are a well-known secret amongst modern sword-and-sorcery fans. He penned a new one about his characters. And James Enge, perhaps the breakout writer from Black Gate, who’s drafted a new adventure starring Morlock the Maker. There’s Bill Ward, who wrote a tale of dark conspiracy in an Asian-inspired fantasy coastal setting. And Clint Werner, well-known Warhammer author, who gave us a creepy Hammer-horror infused sword-and-sorcery tale, and John C. Hocking, probably best known as the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, but more recently known for his tales of the archivist, writing a dark, punchy adventure set in that character’s world.

If you want to know more, the Kickstarter gives you thumbnail synopses of each story!

5) So besides awesome tales of sword and sorcery, what else can we expect from Tales from the Magician’s Skull?

Well, there’s horror and suspense as well, which are important components of the genre, and I think you’ll see an occasional tale with those features more primary than secondary. But within the magazine you’ll find some great artwork, and maps to lost places within the stories, and then an appendix that presents the monsters and challenges in Dungeon Crawl Classics game statistics, in case you want to bring any of the events to life at your own game table.

6) I know a lot of my readers are dying to know the answer to this next question. Will the magazine be opened up to unsolicited submissions at some point? If so, tell us a little about what Editor-in-chief Howard Jones looks for in a story.

To know what I look for in a story, check out the first two issues, and read yourself some great old sword-and-sorcery, like the Conan stories, or the early Fafrhd and Gray Mouser stuff (particularly from the Swords Against Death collection) or practically anything from Leigh Brackett. We don’t plan on publishing space opera, as she often wrote, but her sense of color and pacing is definitely something to model off of.

We do plan on opening to submissions, eventually. But it’s likely to be a few issues yet. First we want to establish the magazine and build up a reader base, which is challenging enough without adding slush reading on top of it!

7) How and where can folks support this awesome project?

Not only can you drop by the Kickstarter campaign and pledge for an e-copy or physical copy of the magazine (or maybe even join our secret society) you can help spread the word. I’m tremendously pleased that we met our funding goal in the first day. But I’m also certain  there are many more sword-and-sorcery fans out there. Surely they must number in the thousands. Help us reach them! Spread the word. We love this fiction and want to share it!

Howard lives in a lonely tower in Indiana with a wicked and beautiful enchantress. When not running his small farm or spending time with his gifted children, he can be found hunched over a laptop, mumbling about flashing swords and doom-haunted moors. His books have been acclaimed by well-known mortal critics. Sometimes he edits short stories for magazines and he once anthologized the work of historical writer Harold Lamb. He knows karate. Yah!