Rejection Newbie


Found at “The Zweig Letter” – no image credit listed

Hi, James,

[Story Title] was well received here, but we have decided it’s not quite what we’re looking for in the [name of publication/anthology]. Thanks for submitting it to us, and best of luck with finding a good market for it.

[Name of Editor]

Dear James,

Thank you for sending us [Story Title]. We appreciate the chance to review it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us. Best of luck finding it a home elsewhere.

Things you might consider: The character is nice. The concept is familiar, but here there’s no real explanation of what happens. The backstory comes as something of an infodump.

[Name of Editor]

I’ve submitted eight short stories to various anthologies and periodicals during the month of April. The two quotes from above were emails I received from two separate sources rejecting…the same story.

That’s right. The same exact story was rejected twice within 24 hours.

To be fair, after I submitted it the first time, I waited weeks, and the response was actually very timely. I was waiting for a rejection of something. If you’re an author and you are sending in stories in response to an open submission, either it will be accepted or rejected. Rejection is inevitable.

So having been rejected, and also having received an email notification that the latest online issue of Authors Publish was available, I saw that it included an article titled 15 Literary Journals with Fast Response Times.

Timing is everything, right? With my story freshly returned to me from the rejection pile, it was now free to be submitted elsewhere, and who doesn’t like a fast turnaround time?

I submitted it for the second time in the morning, went to work, hung out with my grand kids at my son’s house later that evening, and by the time I got back home, the second rejection was in my inbox.


I’m not writing this to “bitch,” since after all, I’m a novice at rejection (and even more of a novice at acceptance, at least as far as fiction writing goes), so rather than nurturing the sting I feel from having my tail stepped on, what am I supposed to do about it?

What do other authors do about it, because, after all, even the best must have had their work rejected at one time or another?

That’s where Google comes in. There’s all sorts of stuff online about being rejected.

Writers Edit has a nifty article called “Why Your Writing Has Been Rejected And How To Cope” written both from the author’s and editor’s points of view.

The one section I thought was a little much was “How Do I Avoid Rejection?” The answer to that depends on why you were rejected in the first place. Let’s get rid of some of the obvious reasons right off the bat, such as you sent your story in past the deadline (which I didn’t), or you didn’t follow the submission guidelines (which I did to the best of my ability).

That leaves either that what you’ve written didn’t fit their particular needs, or your writing sucks.

Doesn’t fit: That is probably part of why it was rejected by the first source. I tried to “hit” their theme as best I could, but some stories sort of write themselves, and how I interpret the theme might not be really what they’re looking for. I’m okay with that, since it doesn’t mean I, or rather my writing, sucks. It just means I’ve got a calico cat trying to fit into a canary convention. Doesn’t work very well.

You suck: No one actually said this, but the feed back from the second source did say :

The concept is familiar, but here there’s no real explanation of what happens. The backstory comes as something of an infodump.

In the Foreword to his novel (reworked from the pilot script of a television show that was rejected) Phoenix Without Ashes, author Harlan Ellison praised the Canadian television writers he had been working with to create the aforementioned TV show. However, he also said they lacked the type of quirky personality necessary to write science fiction. They didn’t see things differently enough.

I remember reading an article quoting “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry talking about something similar. He was trying to “dress” a set with “alien” plants for an episode that was being filmed. Any number of designs were presented to him, but all of them still seemed too ordinary. Finally, out of frustration, he ripped one potted plant up by its roots, turned it upside down, and shoving it back into the pot, declared something like, “That’s an alien plant.”

My problem might be that I’m too ordinary. Also, science and speculative fiction has a rather lengthy history, so maybe all of the “twists” I come up with have already been used ad nauseam (probably not, but I can dream). Also, I’m older, a lot older than I imagine the typical beginning fiction author probably is. I was raised on “The Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits,” and “Star Trek” in the 1960s, and in my heart of hearts, that’s what SF/F is to me.

I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” book series, as well as E.E. Smith’s “Skylark” series, and slightly later, Robert J. Howard’s “Conan” short stories. They are very “old school,” and apparently, so am I.

The question I really want answered was at the tail end of the article: “I’ve Been Rejected – What Do I Do Now?”

There really are only a few options relative to a single story:

  1. Dine on ashes and curse the world for being unfair.
  2. Dine on ashes and curse yourself for being a sucky writer.
  3. Dine on ashes, then suck it up, buttercup, and resubmit.
  4. Dine on ashes, put the story aside for a while, then, when you’re ready, revisit it and see what you can do to make it better.
  5. Quit writing and go into the insurance business.

Let’s get rid of #5 right away.

Now that one is gone, what about the rest of the list?

Yes, the world is unfair, but having a story rejected doesn’t mean you (or I) have been treated unfairly. In fact, maybe it was a good thing, which I’ll explain in a bit.

Are you a sucky writer? Only honest feedback will answer that question. The response from both editors above suggested that resubmission to a different publication wasn’t out of the question, although those statements could be just professional politeness.

The second editor did make suggestions, and that’s where the hook is, at least from that one person’s point of view. Nice character, familiar topic, backstory is a “datadump.” In other words, these are points that could be improved upon, so maybe I don’t totally suck.

Number three is what I did and BAM!, rejected again, but there’s still hope.

Number four is the rational, reasonable thing to do, but as that point states, I’m going to wait until I can look at it more objectively again. I knew there was a risk my wee tale wasn’t provocative enough and that it lacked “action,” so the rejections weren’t completely out of left field.

Perspective time. This was one story. So far, I haven’t heard anything about the rest of my submissions, so there’s still hope. Maybe it’s just this one tale that has significant “issues” (not likely, but I’m being optimistic). Perhaps one or more of the others will fare better.

I keep my stories and emails in directories so I can organize them better, and now I need to create a new folder for “rejections.” Three sub-directories could be “Resubmit,” “Rework and resubmit,” and “Beyond hope.”

I’m writing this not only as a “public service” for other newbie fiction authors, but also to process my thoughts and emotions. Two rejections are a pretty marginal experience and may not mean horrible things. After all, I’m “upping my game” to enter the realm of professional SF/F writers (people who get paid for it).

Rejection is a learning experience which, ideally, can be used to improve your writing skills and your stories. Acceptance doesn’t mean you’re about to become the next J.K. Rowling, but it does mean you’ve crossed an important threshold. When an editor accepts your work and is paying you for it, that means, an outside and (again, ideally) objective source believes you’ve created something others will pay for, read, and enjoy.

Of course, there’s the next milestone of “I’ve had one story accepted, how come my next one was rejected?”

I’ll deal with that when I get there.

14 thoughts on “Rejection Newbie

  1. I have had similar responses and to be honest I would rather have rejection than receiving no word from the publisher. Never give up is my motto, if you throw enough mud some will stick eventually!


  2. It seems to me that I’ve heard/read that your experience is the most common one that absolutely all writers must experience. So don’t feel too badly. Most of the time the “problem” is simply that the editor of the publication has his or her own goals and expectations for what sort of story may fit a very specific niche at a very specific time. The same story at another time might be acceptable. The submission guidelines are of necessity too sketchy and general to truly guarantee that an author can hit the precise mark that the reviewing editor envisions. Thus the probabilities are always skewed heavily toward rejection. The only way to fight that statistic is with a lot of submissions to many publications. Even the comments from one editor about what he or she thinks will improve a submission are usually subjective and relative to his or her own expectations and not to some absolute standard. They may be useful in tweaking a story only to resubmit it to the same publication. Now if multiple editors respond with the same complaints, then it may be time to do some serious re-writing.


  3. Haha! Did you submit to Third Flatiron? Because I received literally the same rejection letter as your first example. Yes, rejection is a learning experience. I’ve been doing this for a while, and still find myself hit hard by the occasional rejection for a submission I thought had a good chance. Just got to shake it off and keep writing. On the flip side, eight submissions in a month is great. I would mark that as a success! 😀


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