As an author who regularly submits short stories to editors and presses, I can tell you that rejection will never leave any writer. Yep, even an agented author who is in the middle of a three book contract with a publisher, still gets rejected. And guess what? I understand and accept those rejections.
Let’s take a look at some of the different forms of rejections you may come across during your submission adventures.
It’s not you, it’s me. Maybe my stories don’t quite fit with the editor’s vision. I once had a very nice rejection (yes, rejections can be nice!) from an editor who explained that while my story was of a high quality, it didn’t fit in with what they were trying to accomplish with their anthology. The same editor went on to encourage me to submit more stories in the future. In this scenario, the editor liked my story but felt it wouldn’t fit in well with the theme of their anthology. Yay, me. I don’t totally suck as a writer and have to drown my sorrow in whiskey!
WTF am I reading? I once received a rejection letting forty five minutes after submitting a short story. The editor explained they weren’t sure what they had just read, but it wasn’t right for them. In essence, my story failed to connect with this particular editor. This scenario would be the exact opposite of the first. The editor basically said they found nothing to like about my story. I’ll never forget this rejection because it’s my fastest ever. This particular editor will usually reject a story in 2-3 days. I guess mine was particularly awful. Hey, it happens. No need to drown my sorrows in whiskey, right? Nope. I would submit another story to this person and get the standard three day rejection letter at a later date. This time I didn’t get the WTF am I reading response. Instead, I got the “This story isn’t right for me,” rejection. It’s all good. I’ll try again. I’m stubborn like that. Challenge accepted, editor! I will amaze you…eventually.
It’s not me, it’s you. This one means exactly what you’d think it does. The editor simply didn’t connect with your story on some level, or the writer failed with the asked for theme of their story. Basically, the writing was good but there was something holding the editor back from accepting your story. There are a multitude of reasons for this type of rejection. Hopefully the editor enlightens you as to why, specifically, they passed. If not, don’t sweat it. Editors are busy folks. Don’t send a follow up email asking them why they passed. You’ll probably either be ignored or looked at like a psycho. Like Frozen says, “Let it go!”
It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s a thing called subjectivity. Subjectivity. I bet some of you cringed after reading that word. Well, don’t. It’s a real thing, a thing you should understand if you submit anything to anyone. Editors have a vision for what they’re looking for when they place a call for submissions. They usually make themselves clear. However, us creative types like to think outside the box sometimes. Either that or there’s something in the way we presented our piece that the editor just can’t wrap their brain around. This is where you may see editors explain they had sixty submissions. Maybe they had fifteen submissions they liked, but only ten slots available in their book. They’ll go on to say that while they may have liked all fifteen, only ten could fit in the anthology and those extra five simply wouldn’t fit. What held those extra five back? Only the editor knows for sure. Maybe they didn’t quite connect with the characters as much as those other ten acceptances, maybe they were looking for a more literary bent, or the list goes on. This scenario is very similar to the first, but not quite the same. I spent six months as a literary agent’s assistant. I would open my inbox to find a submission that another assistant loved, only to scratch my head and wonder what they loved about it. It’s the nature of the business folks. As the saying goes…One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. There is absolutely nothing you can do about this type of rejection other than move on. Try submitting that same story somewhere else and see what happens elsewhere.
The silent treatment. On rare occasions, you’ll submit something and never hear back from the editor. Perhaps your submission was eaten by the spam monster and never reached the editor. Maybe that call for submissions was redacted and the editor failed to rely that information. Whatever the case may be, you should politely nudge the editor and inform them of who you are and when you submitted to them. If they still don’t get back to you, never submit to them again. No exceptions. If they can’t take the time to act in a professional manner, you don’t need to waste your time on them.
As submitting writers, and authors, we must remember to always act in a professional manner. Many of these editors and presses are meeting us for the first time through our submission correspondences. Presentation matters. You only get one shot at making a good first impression. Always take your time and read over every submission guideline BEFORE writing a single word. Some editors don’t want you tabbing at the beginning of a paragraph, others want only Times New Roman font. Make sure you read each and every word of each and every submission guideline. You’ll save yourself a headache or two in the long run if you do. We should also be understanding. Most editors are busy people. Sometimes they get a ton more submissions than they anticipated, resulting in longer response times. As long as they keep you in the know, don’t sweat it. My editor for the first SNAFU anthology received over one thousand submissions for the nine open spots in his anthology. He let everyone know that due to the overwhelming amount of submissions, his response times would be longer. Again, this goes back to professionalism. As long as the editor acts in a professional manner, and we understand that sometimes things happen, we should be okay with waiting a little longer. A little understanding can go a long way.
Always research the press, and/or editor before submitting. Not every press has your best intentions in mind. Always trust your instincts. If you think a press is shady, they probably are. On the other hand, if you’re well treated by a press, make a note of it. Those are the people you want to work with. I once subbed to a newer press who claimed they would publish the best submitted short stories in an anthology. One of my friend’s stories, and one of mine were noted for being two of the best. Imagine my surprise when they announced the list of accepted authors and it was filled mostly with writers who were either in the process of signing, or have since signed with them. I’m talking multiple stories by the same authors in the same anthology, some even by writers who now work for that same press. They used that call for submissions to look for unagented writers to sign to their press with no intention of using the best stories for their anthology. I wouldn’t have had a problem with that if they would have been upfront about their intentions. It was dishonest, highly unprofessional, and, in my opinion, unethical. On top of that, the same press wanted to publish the stories they liked, but wouldn’t publish, on their website, for free. Meaning the author would give up their first publication rights for a limited amount of exposure on that press’ website. No, just no. I’ll never submit to them again and I advise everyone I know to steer clear of them too. Be careful where you send your work and always stand up for yourself. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you.
While rejection is never what any writer wants to experience, the truth of the matter is each of us has, and will, get to know it fairly well. How each of us looks at rejection speaks volumes. We can either hide under the covers dreading our impending rejection, or we can understand that rejection is a part of the submission process. It’s all in how we look at it. And, besides, without knowing the sting of rejection we’d never be able to appreciate how good those acceptances feel, right?