6 Things Not to Do When Your Story Is Rejected

I picked up a new rejection in my inbox this week.

Lego Dragon, Not Like Mine
Note: This dragon does not appear in my story…
[Image credit: teejayhanton Flickr]

The story is quirky, so I know it will be difficult to place. Should someone force me to classify it, I might call it Terry Pratchett meets David Lynch

In any case, the editor, who is known for being tough, blunt, and fair, did not disappoint. The rejection notice outlined the basic faults of the story and clearly explained why it wouldn’t work with the publication. I really couldn’t ask for more.

Before you ask… No, I won’t name the editor. No, I won’t name the publication. That’s kinda silly. They rejected the story, not me.

I read a lot of posts by struggling writers who get themselves worked up into a terrible fit about their rejections. Having been there myself, I realize it’s hard not to take these things personally. So, with a fresh example in hand, I thought I’d take a moment to share a few thoughts on rejection.

6 Things Not to Do When Your Story Is Rejected

1. DO NOT: Write back

A friendly bit of advice from an editor is not an invitation to send a thank you. It is certainly not an opportunity to argue the case for your story.

Editors are busy. Do not waste their time.

If you decide to argue with an editor, you’re not only asking to be blacklisted from their publication but also from other publications. Editors talk. You do not want to be the subject of conversations like this.

I’ve heard stories about writers who have written back and badgered editors into taking their stories. I suppose that this approach might work in some few instances, but I just fail to see the point in it. If the editor wants you to write back, they’ll tell you. Plain and simple.

2. DO NOT: Throw Away Your Story

I sent the story to this particular publication because I thought that they would like it. I was wrong. However, this doesn’t mean the story is bad or ought to be burned in the street before a cheering mob.

As I said above, the editor rejected my story not me. This is one editor, working for one publication. I will likely submit to this publication again in the future because I like it and would like to see my work with other writers I respect. For the moment though, I’ll be moving on.

3. DO NOT: Cancel Your Subscription

Now, why on earth did you subscribe to this publication in the first place?

Hopefully, you subscribed to the publication because you liked the material. Later, you decided to submit to the publication because you wanted to see your work there with other authors you admire who are producing works similar to your own.

Do you believe that editors check the membership rolls before accepting stories?

I have no idea if they do, but it seems like that would be a fairly ridiculous thing to do… Read the next issue. Get inspired. Try again.

4. DO NOT: Blast The Editor and/or The Publication

This is an extension of #1.

It’s natural to feel disappointed when you are rejected, especially when the subject line of the email says REJECTION in all caps. 🙂

20 years ago it wasn’t very easy to get the word out that you’d been rejected by publication X. Today, the Internet makes it possible to make a fool of yourself immediately in front of rather large groups of people.

Don’t take it personally. Have a little pity party for yourself. Cry on the shoulders of your friends for a minute or two and then dust yourself off and get some more stamps.

5. DO NOT: Pester Your Friends and Readers for Good Words About Other Stories

Crying on the shoulders of friends is one thing, but badgering them for opinions after a rejection is taking advantage of their friendship. It’s also unfair to the work you’ve placed in their hands for careful consideration.

I can’t claim to be a saint on this one.

In fact, on same day I received the rejection notice, I rushed off a message to someone who is reading a new story. It wasn’t fair and I apologized (and here I apologize again). This is part of the reason I wrote this article.

6. DO NOT: Tell Yourself That You’ll Never Be Published

You will be published. It may not be in the biggest publication. You may not get paid. However, I guarantee that someone, somewhere will publish your work if you keep sending it out.

Yes, even you crazy people too.

There are loonies in publishing just waiting for the next manifesto. Not many, but they’re out there.

Please don’t hurt anyone though, quite unnecessary.

The only way you will fail to be published is by failing to send out submissions. I know because when I stopped sending out stories I stopped showing up in print. Shocking, I know, but editors are not coming to visit me at the cafe to see when I might have some new story for them to hurry to their readers.

The Good News Is Just Around the Corner… If You Keep Going

Even though my story was rejected this week, I turned around and sold a non-fiction article. Just got the email yesterday!

This is the first time I have ever been paid for my writing. Those stories I mentioned earlier paid in contributor copies. So, I’m pretty excited about this modest little start. I suspect that this would have happened much, much sooner if I’d kept going way back in the day, but I’m not dwelling on it.

I’m off to the post office to by more stamps.

As an aside, if you’re interested in self-doubting Barbarians, wise-cracking wizards, and pornography-loving dragons (without depictions of actual pornography), email me and I’ll send you the story.

The story contains fewer hyphens than suggested by the previous sentence… if that’s any enticement. Like I said, it’s a bit quirky. They can’t all be Alice Munro meets William Gibson.

21 thoughts on “6 Things Not to Do When Your Story Is Rejected

  1. Hey, just out of curiosity, why not send a thank you? I always appreciate honest feedback and that they took theit time to give it to me…

    Just curious…

  2. @Chris Just so many things going on in an editor’s day. I hope a few might pop in here and let me know if I’m right or wrong. The editors I work with tended to agree with this statement.

    That said, hanging onto the idea of the thank you would be a good thing for opening up that next query letter or submission you send in… 🙂

  3. I have to admit to being particularly bad about number five, and I can add, it’s even worse when the person you’re pestering is your significant other/spouse. Though the urge does begin to diminish after the first couple hundred rejections. 😉

    The bit about pornography loving dragons induced a spit take. Now I’ve coffee to clean off my computer screen and keyboard.

    A. B. England @ Tekaran Lady’s last blog post..Thoughts on World Building: Getting Started

  4. @Colleen You’re in good company. I know there are many writer who do this. Never have myself. Too much of a pack rat. I still have the hard written manuscript of my first novel. It’s at the bottom of a clear, plastic bin and glowers at me from time to time. I think it secretly wishes that I had thrown it away.

    @AB I keep thinking I should put up a disclaimer on the site… 🙂

    CAUTION: Before reading this post, remember that your coffee is very hot.

  5. While I don’t throw rejected stories out, I do tend to tinker. My current work in the submission queue has been rejected five times and I’ve got ideas for a major rewrite percolating, even though there are a couple more pro markets I had on my list for consideration.

    Kameron’s last blog post..Religion in fantasy fiction

  6. @Kameron The story that just got rejected went through so many rewrites I lost track… literally.

    I forgot I had the story until two years later when I decided to submit to Clarion West. Took it out and rewrote it from top to bottom.

    It’s not going in the drawer this time though. I’m already hot on the trail of the next market.

  7. @Meryl Yes, as long as you are sure to record it with a webcam and share it on YouTube (see example below):

    “I find your letter most unsuitable for me at the present moment, as I’ve just spent the whole weekend writing the novel you have summarily rejected…”

  8. This is the year that I plan to start racking up rejection letters so I will bookmark this post and read it when they come rolling in. I tend to do things backwards (like running a marathon before ever running a short distance race) so I got paid for writing before I ever wanted to publish in my own name. Now I’m anxious to test the waters and get rejected. I learned from my years in sales that every no brings you closer to a yes. Congrats on your article! I would love to read your story. 🙂

    Karen Swim’s last blog post..3 Proven Methods to Drive Away Your Customers

  9. @Meryl Steve is hilarious! Thanks for sharing that link. The rejection letter there reminds me of some of the producer monologues from Barton Fink. (love that movie)

    Anyone else have some appropriately anonymized rejection letters?

    @Karen Thanks!!! I’ll send you the story by email tonight. Anyone else want a peek? The offer still stands. 🙂

    By the way, you not only have the right attitude but the perfect metaphor. Writing, all writing, is about selling.

    In fiction, you’re selling characters and plots to readers. Yet, there is another level. There’s also the role of helping an editor sell the next issue of their magazine… Before submitting, how many writers ask themselves, “Will this story help my editor sell the next issue of their magazine and/or a subscription?”

  10. This is a great list. As someone who has recently started to accumulate rejections, I can definitely apply this stuff!

  11. @Laura No doubt. I violated number 5 again today. I even knew I was doing it. Some old habits die hard. 🙂

    @Lindsey Thanks for stopping in! Glad my list could help. By the way, I just visited your site. Such a great start at MindScribing!

  12. Brilliant post!

    I can totally relate! but what i hate most is when the editors just never respond. Plain ignoring, so you, the door-mat contentedly assume they don’t want you. And mope around. I’ve had a fair share of that!

    Mehmudah’s last blog post..Problem-Os

  13. Shukran, Mehmudah, and welcome!

    I also hate the cold shoulder when it happens. It’s hard to know what to do. My advice is that if you are well beyond the date of an expected reply that you send a courteous note to see if they did indeed receive your manuscript.

    Make sure you don’t push it too early though. Look to the writer’s guidelines before querying.

  14. thanks, yeah… it so happens the courteous note actually got me published a coupla times.. but with the eds you ca never be sure.

    Mehmudah’s last blog post..Problem-Os

  15. I am certainly encouraged by everyone’s experience and Jamie’s wonderful advice. I just sent my first manuscript to the publisher. It is called, “Abilene’s Child/Tormented Hope”. Before a publisher had even opened the file, he told me that he received no bites. Now, all I wanted to know from him, was how can you pitch without a ball. I am learning. My entire five books will evolve around rejection and abuse, so maybe I should jump on the phone, (I will move my coffee first) and contact my therapist for a meeting. I try not to listen to all the talk that says, “I spent 10 years trying to publish my story”. I have spent 39 years coming to a place where I could piece all of my painful and sordid incidences of abuse, into one picture. I have done that and it feels wonderful. The second book, “Abilene’s Child/A Desire For Justice” is just spilling out. I am not suprised as I have presented my story publicly through speaking engagments and that really helped me to organize and get it together. I appreciate all the help and I thank you for all the honesty. I will remember, they are not rejecting me, they are rejecting my story. I guess I better get on the phone, because it is a something I need to learn to distinguish. Thank God for outside aid and support. csuh2windstream.net

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *