Kinds Of Rejections (And What To Do About Them)

Since I have been concentrating on short fiction I have been submitting more stories and I have to say that, in general, I like being published in someone else’s project way more than self-publishing.

In addition to the writing itself, I am enjoying the business end of short fiction sales as much as one can enjoy the business end of anything. I like working with publishers and seeing a group project come together. It’s always a lot of fun to read other author’s interpretation of a particular theme.

I’ve been sending work out to more new markets and while my acceptance rate is gratifyingly high, I do get rejections. In fact, I’ve had enough of them over time to construct a tentative taxonomy of rejections.

The Ghost Rejection: You submit a story and it vanishes into the void. No reply. Sometimes you get a “we received your submission” email, but then nothing after that.

The problem with these, of course, is knowing when a delay in response becomes a de facto rejection. Personally I tend to err on the side of patience (or inertia) and usually don’t send a followup to ask about the status of a submission until a couple of weeks after the estimated response time has passed.  I also like to check the market’s media presence prior to sending a followup query–sometimes you’ll find a notice on the publisher’s website or blog along the lines of “Due to an unexpected volume of submissions, we are taking longer than expected to reply.”

But sometimes there’s nothing. And so I’ll nudge a bit. I do try to keep in mind that it’s possible–even likely–that the reason for the delay in response is a personal crisis of some kind, loss of a job, major illness, death of a family member. I keep my emails succinct and professional and give all the salient details (on this date I submitted this story to that project–I can’t expect someone to recognize my name and know what I am talking about.) I also keep in mind that the problem could be on my end, I do check my spam filter regularly, but I could have missed an email, or the internet might have eaten it.

And then I see if I get a reply.  If nothing comes back in two weeks, I’ll send a “I am withdrawing my story from consideration” email and put the story from my “Out” folder back into my “Unsold” folder. Even if I’m fairly sure that the market in question has dried up and blown away (no media activity on accounts, website gone dark) I like to make sure that I’ve sent a withdrawal notice before I shop the story elsewhere.

The No Info Rejection: “We regret to inform you…” and that’s it. This is what I consider the default rejection. It says everything that the publisher needs to tell me. I’d like more, sure, but I don’t deserve more. I send a quick note to acknowledge, just so the publisher knows I got the notification and won’t be bugging her or him about the submission. I consider these positive, it’s a sign that the publisher is running a professional shop, and I’ll keep them on the possible market list.

The Inappropriate Criticism Rejection: Rare, but it happens. I’ve had a few markets get back to me with rants about my work, me as a person, all sorts of nonprofessional comments along the lines of “You suck and your mother is ugly.” (This is only slightly an exaggeration.) I respond to those as if they had been a No Info rejection, a short acknowledgement, and then I put that market on my mental Avoid list.

I don’t say anything about them publicly, because in the first place I figure natural selection will take care of them, and in the second place I don’t want them showing up at my house with a chainsaw. Occasionally they cross the line into The Transmission From Planet Fruitcake Rejection. (Seriously, I once got a couple hundred word rant about how pagans control the movie industry and I would be blackballed because I disrespected Stonehenge in reply to a story that had nothing to do with Stonehenge.)

The You Screwed Up Rejection: I really hate these, and I try to avoid getting them. This is where a publisher points out that I didn’t follow the submission guidelines. Sometimes it’s formatting or word count–things that I have no excuse for. I just misread the guidelines. Other times it’s a matter of interpretation–the market asked for “Science Fiction stories” and was really looking for far future Space Opera while I sent in a near future Cyberpunk. In any event I reply with an acknowledgement + apology. “Thank you for your reply, and I’m sorry I didn’t follow the guidelines.”

What I don’t do is argue with them. It may be that their guidelines are unclear (on some publisher’s websites the information is spread across several pages, wordcount is mentioned in one place while manuscript format is discussed in another part of the site.) No matter. Even if my feeling is that someone who is looking for Space Opera should say “We only accept Space Opera” rather than a call for SF in general, I am in the selling stories business, not the critiquing publishing houses business.

If I see that it was my mistake I’ll probably submit to them again, making damned sure I follow the rules next time. If it’s a matter of the publisher’s site really not having the needed information for submissions laid out in a readable format, then that’s a red flag. What else are they disorganized about?

The We’ll Consider It With Changes Rejection: These take serious thought. I am definately open to rewriting a story for a particular market, but there are some practical considerations. Is the suggested rewrite a minor issue, like changing the ending, or something that would take rewriting the whole story, like replacing SF elements with Fantasy elements? Do I think that the story will still work with the suggested changes? Is there a time limit for the rewrite, and am I sure I can do a decent job in that timeframe? Am I clear on exactly what is being requested? Will the new version be something that I’ll be proud to have my name on?

If I don’t think that I can give the market the product requested, I’ll say that, and I’ll say it without getting defensive. A simple, “At the moment I don’t have time to devote to that” is all I need to say. If I think I can do it (and am willing to) I’ll send an email telling them to expect a new version and approximately when. Then I’ll do it.

The Buy My Writing Course Rejection:  Yeah, these go straight into my Never Again file. Not that it stops them from continuing to contact me. I am still getting spam from a “publisher” that I queried years ago. I submitted a short story to what I thought was an anthology and turned out to be a way of collecting a sucker list for a vanity press/famous writers course scam. For what it’s worth I’ve gotten better at spotting these.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Kinds Of Rejections (And What To Do About Them)

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    I haven’t encountered a long-con call, but the others seem familiar.

    Have you avoided getting “Here’s what we liked but unfortunately we had enough stories we liked more” rejections or did you exclude them from this list because “it was good enough that we would publish it if we had space” is conceptually different from “we don’t want to publish it”.

    As an aside on the subject of things one would be proud to put one’s name on, where do you stand on a publisher requesting the old pulp trick of publishing a story under a pseudonym so it looks like their magazine has a broader number of contributors? I’m divided: I can see readers who like an author not being significantly more likely to buy if there’s more than one story by that author in a particular issue, but if the pseudonymous story isn’t deliberately written to have a difference from the author’s usual works, it feels a bit of a bait-and-switch.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I tried to focus on the more problematic ones. Encouraging rejections are second only to acceptances. (Although they can be Buy My Writing Course in disguise.)

      I don’t have a problem with using a pseudonym to conceal the fact that I have multiple stories in one project, in fact I recently volunteered to submit a second story under another name for a project that was short on material. (As it happened, they got a number of quality submissions at the last minute and that wasn’t necessary.)

  2. James Pyles says:

    Most of my rejections have been polite, and even a few have been complementary (your story was well received, but…). No one’s tried to sell me anything, fortunately.

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