Lately I’ve read a lot of posts on the angst people feel when they submit work and get the infamous rejection letter. With my NTD magazine, I’ve been on both sides of the desk, so when I reject work, I try to be careful with how I word my reply. I might make suggestions on improving the story. If I really like the story, but not enough to use it for NTD, I’ll encourage the writer to send more work. Let’s say you’ve read and reread your story to your critique group, gone through the piece for typos with a fine tooth-comb, and you can’t break into a publication. Howcumzit?
Look at your cover letter. You’d be surprised how many submissions I get start with “dear editor.” When someone doesn’t take the time to learn my name, I have to wonder if they researched the magazine at all. I’ve heard this complaint from other publishers, too. Most editors frown on nicknames, too, but if someone called me “balloon lady,” at least I’d know the person sending was doing their homework. Lose the “you’ll love my story” approach, too. For short stories, keep it simple. A brief bio is great. Also anything that qualifies you to write the story. For example, I let people know I’m a respiratory therapist because my medical background gives technical detail to my stories.
Let’s say your cover letter is clean, and it’s time to read the submission. Well, for me, browsing through submissions like a trip down the party aisle at the supermarket. If a story or poem calls to me the same way a balloon does at the supermarket, that piece will go to print. So how do I select balloons? Glitter, unique shape, original design, and well inflated. How does this compare to submissions?
- Glitter: The story should glitter with conflict and action from page one. Better yet, the first paragraph in a short story. Your protagonist should protag and not be a spectator. If you’ve cluttered the first two or three pages with backstory, you’ve lost the reader.
- Unique shape: Butterfly balloons in particular catch my eye. With stories, I’m looking for unique takes on the vampire, zombie, and other conventional monsters.
- Original design: I’m looking for a story told in a fresh slant. Recently I’ve rejected work because I’d already published similar stories.
- Well inflated. I won’t buy a balloon that has soft spots because it may be leaking helium. So what qualifies as a “well inflated” story? The conflict and action keep me reading from start to finish. I’ve gotten some stories that started beautifully but fell flat at the end. Sometimes the ending stops me but I can’t say why.
Let’s say you jumped through those hoops and you still get a rejection. If an editor rejects your work with a personal critique, it means they cared enough about the story to make suggestions. Another editor may have a different, more positive perception. If the editor invites you to send more work, they mean it. So keep submitting!
Well stated. Many times a rejection has opened the door to something better.
So true, Joseph!
Excellent post, Barbara. This will inform and encourage many writers dealing with rejection. It’s so important not to take it personally, but to learn from it.
Thank you, Catherine. Sometimes it’s just a matter of an editor’s need at the moment for their magazine.
What many new writers don’t understand is that rejection isn’t always to do with the story or quality of writing. You’ve covered one such possibility above — you’ve published similar, maybe even recently. Sometimes acceptance has a lot to do with timing. What I often hear and have experience of myself is when a writer hears nothing. An automated submission received message saves a writer from wondering whether the story ever arrived at all and stops nail biting and unnecessary chasing. And even a one line rejection giving some indication of why the story wasn’t wanted (EG: not what we’re looking for at this time) at least releases the writer to try the work elsewhere. Not knowing whether you’re free to send a work on drives writers a little nuts. I’ve known writers relieved to receive a rejection because they’ve waited so long and felt trapped ‘waiting’. If a publisher doesn’t intend to send a formal rejection then at least, ‘if you don’t hear by this date your story has not been accepted’ frees up the work.
I agree, Sharon, timing has a lot to do with it. And I’ve sent work to people who didn’t bother to reply. Sometimes I run slow – terribly slow but I will try to reply. When someone doesn’t answer, that to me is the unkindest cut of all. I think it’s fair for publishers to have a “if you don’t hear from us by this date, your story hasn’t been accepted” policy.