Rejection is a thing that happens to writers who seek publication. Getting a story rejected is a sad thing. It hurts. Rejection is universal, but that fact does not make the feeling suck any less. Because you have already been rejected or will be rejected at some point in the future, here are a few things to keep in mind regarding the word “no.”
There are different ways to react to rejections, just as there are different kinds rejections. People that submit to literary magazines and publishing houses often categorize rejections as either “personal” or “form,” which gives us a starting point.
Thank you for sending us ‘Name of Story’. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us. Thanks again. Best of luck placing this piece elsewhere.
A form rejection gives you no information at all. You do not know what “unfortunately, this piece is not for us” means (more on this infamous phrase below). Form rejections exist, of course, because the good people that run publishing houses, agencies, and literary magazines don’t have the time to write everyone a personal rejection. They’d much rather make books, or whatever it is that they do. The best way to handle a form rejection is not to brood over it as a rejection, but instead jump down to the bottom of this article and consider reasons why your piece was rejected.
Thank you for sending us ‘Name of Story.’ While we thought the voice was interesting and the piece rather funny as a whole, we did not get the sense that any of the characters felt real enough for us to publish. Please try us again.
There are a couple of ways to react to the personal rejection. For your convenience, a list:
Groovy. Now that we’ve had fun with both personal and form rejections, let’s talk about why your story was rejected, or, what “Unfortunately, this piece is not for us” really means.
Duotrope is a fantastic resource that catalogs thousands of publishers and what material they take (although most of their content is only available to paid subscribers). Remember: publishers are trying to make books and magazines, which are often unified structures tailored to certain audiences. If your story is not for their audience, they will not include it. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction probably isn’t publishing a traditional Western any time soon, even if Cormac McCarthy wrote it. So make sure you send things to the right people.When editors say ‘this piece is not for us’- please don’t take it badly. I’ve read loads of brilliant pieces and they’ve had to be rejected and it’s not because of the quality. Editors often have a specific idea about the type of content they want…Even if there isn’t a specific theme, the tone and the general style often needs to be somewhat fitting with the rest of the magazine. You really do need to have a look, even briefly, at what other things they have accepted.
Understanding publishers in terms of tiers, as in which publishers only publish super-duper-amazing-good-golly-you-must-be-Junot-Díaz-type stories, and which ones are somewhat less prestigious. If you’ve been shot down by Glimmer Train, Tin House, and Harper’s, it might be time to look less prestigious publishing options.Some pieces really do show promise- I will love it until one small thing lets me down a bit and it’s enough to make me think twice.
Now, there is no way to know why you received a form rejection. Of course, you can always take a closer look at the magazine and see if your story doesn’t fit in terms of style or content, but you can also end up at a loss for an explanation. In this case, there are a few things to do.
If you think you can make the story better, do it. That’s what editing is about, and rejection inspires one to edit more liberally. However, rejection comes with emotion, even hostility, towards the original draft. It might be best to put some buffer time between the rejection and the edit so that you don’t go macheteing through the manuscript with reckless abandon because a rejection got you down.Sometimes, all it may need is another draft. Everything is already there, you have the ideas and the thoughts, but it may need one more look at to be outstanding.
The long and short of it is that no matter how you look at it, rejection is a thing that writers wish did not happen to them. The truth is, though, that it will, so developing a few strategies to deal with rejection or understanding why stories get rejected may help you rationalize rejections and use them productively. You do not get rejected, your work gets rejected. In this case, no rejection is personal.