The First Rejection

Between Facebook and Twitter, I’m fairly certain all of my regular readers have heard this news already. However, I’m going to take a moment to repeat it here, because this blog is supposedly a place to chronicle my writing journey and this is an important milestone in it.

I got my first rejection.

And lest you fret, gentle reader, imagining my reaction to such a thing, I hasten to assure you: I’m actually pretty excited.

Am I disappointed that my story wasn’t accepted? Sure. I mean, the whole goal of this process is to end up with something in print. And I wouldn’t have submitted the story to the magazine unless I wanted it to be published there. But it’s a little piece of confirmation that yes, I am actually doing this author thing — even if the result isn’t ideal.

So now that we’re on the subject, let’s talk a little bit about rejections.

Anatomy of a Rejection Letter

I say “letter”, but these days almost everyone uses email and/or online submission portals. These days, papering your apartment walls with rejection slips necessitates the extra step of actually printing them out. (Which I did. I didn’t hang it on my wall – tape ruins the paint, and thumbtacks leave holes – but I did put it in a binder.)

In any case, let’s take a closer look at my rejection letter. Some of the information has been redacted.

Dear Faith,

Thank you for sending “[STORY TITLE]” to [Magazine]! This piece isn’t quite right for us, but we hope you’ll try us again. You can also submit to [a poetry/art contest which is also part of the magazine].

Thanks again for your interest in [Magazine], Faith! I hope we hear from you again soon.

[Editor’s Name]
Associate Editor

From my knowledge of this particular magazine’s submissions process/procedures, the turn around time on my submission (18 days) as compared to their stated response times, the language of the letter (“isn’t quite right for us”) and lack of individualized feedback, and the position of the person writing (Associate Editor), I’m certain that this is a form rejection by the assigned first reader.

But what does that mean?

There Is Nothing Personal About Rejection

It’s tempting to close-read your rejection letter with the eye of a literary critic, and try to squeeze every ounce of meaning from a few friendly (and often vague) sentences. But it’s a fruitless exercise.

The truth is, “isn’t quite right for us” could mean any number of things:

  • The editor just didn’t like your piece that much (personal taste is real and varied!)
    • Related: the editor has a limited budget and their are other pieces they liked better
  • The magazine has other submissions (or purchased stories) similar in theme, style, plot, setting, etc. etc. and they’re looking for something different
  • They are currently looking for something longer/shorter than your submission (Ex. if your piece falls toward the edges of their acceptable range)
  • The style/voice of your submission isn’t a good match for their magazine (You should do some research first and read a couple issues to try to avoid this, but it’s a possible scenario)
  • Your story was not strong enough
    • (Honestly, this may be the case. Which is why it’s important to have good(read:honest and knowledgable) beta readers, do your research, and develop a realistic understanding of your level of ability before you start submitting work. On the bright side, this is something that you can improve with practice!)
  • Any number of other possible reasons – I can’t list them all.

Note that in all of these hypothetical scenarios, the editor has some issue with your submission. Not you. It’s true that my writing is a reflection of me, but it isn’t all of me. I am not being rejected. There is, in fact, nothing personal about rejection.

The Takeaway Message

The only thing a rejection letter means is that you submitted a manuscript (short story, novel, whatever) to someone (agent, publisher, magazine) and they elected not to buy it.

That’s it.

A story that receives a form rejection from one magazine can be accepted by the next — there’s no accounting for taste. Unless there is specific feedback on your submission, it’s useless to try to construct meaning from what is really a polite “Thanks, but no thanks”.

Instead, I will collect my rejections in my binder, and be proud of them. They are proof of my passage; they are evidence of the time I have invested and will continue to invest in improving my writing. They are stepping stones in the path to publication. They are proof that I am (for some inexplicable reason) actually serious about this crazy “get stuff published” idea.

War Stories

Those of you among my readers who have accumulated rejections of their own — and they don’t have to be writing-related, the rejection family tree is large and varied — share your stories!

What did you do with your rejection letters? Any advice to share regarding your approach to them? Other tales from the trenches?

Edited to Add:

Author Kameron Hurley had some very timely tweets on this subject today. The full exchange (which I was part of) is Storified here.

2 thoughts on “The First Rejection

  1. I don’t follow you on Facebook or Twitter, so this was news to me.


    ….Waitaminute, that didn’t sound quite right… >>”


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