are you reading too much into a rejection letter?

On the back of yesterday’s post, I participated in #zinechat on Twitter today. This is a regular scheduled chat organised by Jaym Gates, and which usually includes at least one prominent magazine editor. Topics relate to anything to do with short stories and the magazines that publish them.

The subject of rejection comes up frequently. Why stories are rejected, how to improve your odds, etc.

One of the things that strikes me is that when a writer gets a rejection, he/she automatically assumes that there must be something wrong with the story. If a story gets rejected quickly, that’s probably correct. Any comments you get from an editor at this stage are golden. Things like ‘didn’t like the main character’ or ‘the end fizzled’.

When, however, a magazine informs you that they’re holding your story for further consideration, it means that obvious hurdles do no longer apply. It also means that any comments you get if the story is rejected don’t mean all that much more than the editor scrounging for a reason to reject your story. In this case, the story is no longer at fault. I could be that the editor (usually someone different from the slush reader who passed your story) didn’t like it as much as another story, or the magazine is simply full, or the editor is looking for a different type of subject matter or style to complete an issue. Or a magazine has accepted a similar story recently.

So I feel you need to be a bit careful with rejections like that and not read too much into them. That’s why I prefer simple and short rejections, without embellishment or fake empathy. All a rejection means is ‘we won’t be publishing this’. Nothing more, nothing less.

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17 comments on “are you reading too much into a rejection letter?

    • LOL. It could, but in that case, a magazine would have rejected it straight away, not after hanging onto it for months (and telling you they wre doing so).

  1. No, your story could still suck. Some real goofballs read slush and they might pass a story on that they think is good and the editor then looks at it and laughs his arse off.

    Just cos a slush reader didn’t immediately reject a story doesn’t automatically mean it’s good.

      • Well, no. The goofballs think you are a genius cos they’re lowly slush readers. Then a few months later the editor (who knows what he’s talking about) finally gets around to reading it and says, “What the hell is this rubbish doing in my maybe pile?!”

  2. “One of the things that strikes me is that when a writer gets a rejection, he/she automatically assumes that there must be something wrong with the story. If a story gets rejected quickly, that’s probably correct. ”

    Not necessarily. Sometimes the story just isn’t a good fit for that magazine.

    I agree with you that simple, short rejections are the best. “No thank you” is all the editor needs to say.

    • unless – and only in those situations – where the editor really has an important point to make, anything that’s not ‘I couldn’t quite sympathise with the character’ or anything equally personal that’s just going to drive the writer into a frenzy where there may not necessarily be a reason.

      • Aye. I don’t mind things like “it didn’t grab me”, because that just says it didn’t appeal to that person, which is fine. I’m iffy on “not quite what we’re looking for” and “please submit again” because I never know if that’s a stock-standard response, or if they really mean it.

      • I never know if that’s a stock-standard response, or if they really mean it.

        This is so true. You really need a couple of rejections from that magazine to know if they’re for real. I’m not fan of ‘it didn’t grab me’. That kind of sounds like kicking in open doors. If it did grab them, then they would have bought the story, wouldn’t they?

  3. Me neither. I always think that’s shorthand for “I’m not experienced enough as an editor to identify what is wrong with this story, so I’ll just say something dismissive and hope that they’ll go away.”

  4. An editor owes a writer nothing more than a polite “No thanks”. Anything beyond that is doing the writer a favour. Editors are swamped with submissions and anything like “Not right for us”, “Didn’t resonate with me”, etc. are just polite variations of no thanks. In my experience, the better I get as a writer, the more feedback I get from editors.

    • Exactly

      But sometimes it’s hard to determine if you’ve received a standard rejection or a personal reply, when the letter contains such phrases as ‘please consider us again’. You really need to get a few rejections from that venue to know whether or not it’s part of their standard letter.

  5. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction uses a form rejection letter that varies depending on how much of the story the slush reader actually got through before deciding to reject it.

    “Didn’t grab me” means he/she got through the first couple of sentences/paragraphs.

    “Didn’t hold me” means he/she got through the first page or two.

    “Didn’t work for me” means he/she read the whole story.

    When a story gets past the slush reader and onto the desk of Gordon van Gelder, he seems to have a similar three-level rejection letter.

    I can’t tell you anything about the acceptance letters from F&SF, though. All I’ve collected is every single variation on their rejections. 😦

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