“does not suit our present needs”

After a while, every writer becomes an expert at analyzing rejection. What does this rejection mean?

There are form rejections. There are helpful rejections. There are both good and bad rejections. Back in the days when I started, writers used to examine their rejection letters to see if they were signed by an actual human being, or merely photocopied with the signature already on.

I recently got a short story rejected with a bunch of comments from the editors at that magazine. The good: my story had been short-listed. The bad: based on the comments, I can draw two conclusions.

  1. They picked up the stories looking for reasons to reject.
  2. At least one editor simply didn’t read it.

I’m not going to complain because at least I have reasons why they didn’t like it. No story is perfect for every market, so I’ll weigh each comment and decide whether to make a change. But they were very picky, and in the case where the editor didn’t read it, I’m not saying that lightly. Imagine someone throwing down the first page of Moby Dick and saying, “We don’t even know the narrator’s  name!”

That kind of thing.

That put me in mind of grad school, when after our writing seminar, the creative writers hung out at a bar for a couple of hours. (That’s where I learned to drink beer, by the way. I could nurse one Killians for quite a while.) Fellow writer Todd told me about a story he’d submitted to a literary magazine and gotten rejected with the comment that if he’d just clarify the main character’s feelings, they’d reconsider it.

That, by the way, is an excellent rejection. He proceeded to make the protagonist’s feelings more clear, then resubmitted it.

It came back again with, “I really like this, but I still don’t get what she’s feeling.”

He went over it again, making it much, much more obvious that the main character was sad, to the point where he was afraid he was ruining the story. Still, if the editor wanted it, the editor wanted it.

Let not my audience grow impatient with me if I say this again. Yep, you guessed it: the editor rejected it, asking for Todd to clarify the main character’s feelings and resubmit it.

I remember saying, “Sad, sad, sad. Glinda was sad. Very sad. You would never believe how sad Glinda felt.”

He exclaimed, “That’s what it felt like! I would pull the story out and hand it to random people and say, ‘What is she feeling?’ and they’d say, ‘Well, I’m not a writer, but overall, I’d say she’s feeling sad.'”

Todd gave up on that market. I don’t know if the story ever got published. (I think I found his blog, though. It’s been 15 years, so I’m not sure. Todd, if you followed the link back here, let me know if it’s really you.)

My point is, like writers, editors are human beings with personal tastes, blind spots, and a persnickety streak. Rejection happens. Analyze your writing, learn from the good rejections, and then send it back out again to a better market.


  1. whiskers

    I feel your pain on a much lesser level. I write e-mails to people in the course of going to school and working on campus. My life would be a good 50% easier if they would take the time to READ the e-mail before responding with what they think I want them to say… *sigh*

  2. Ivy

    The funniest rejection I ever got was from an editor who lives in the midwest. I set my story in New York. At one point, I had the character moving with a mass of people across Broadway against the light. His reason for rejection–this was unreasonable, stereotypical, and ill-thought out, and people don’t act like this. He’s obviously never actually been here, but at least he read it.

    The corporate world is the worst for not reading. Once I was called to a user’s desk because she couldn’t get past an error message. It was maybe 10 words long, and rather than read it, she guessed what it said. When I pointed out that, had she read it, she wouldn’t have needed to call the help desk, she said, “I don’t have time to read.”

    I’m working on a story now where demons insert “forfeiture of soul” clauses into contracts and EULAs since people agree to those without reading them either. Some of the clauses the video game people put in are funny–“The Company takes no liability for any infestations of Vampires or other living-impaired beings that might or might not be attracted by the playing of this game, nor are the actions presented in this game meant to be seen as advice on dealing with the living-impaired. If you find yourself confronted with a living-impaired assailant, please notify the authorities in your area.” This on a vampire-based game of course.

    1. philangelus

      The TOS for DragonCave says something about if you break these rules, you may be pelted with moldy cheese. 🙂

      1. Blue

        This actually might work better than the original clauses. Some people believe that the company is not going to ever go after one little game player in court. Too much money and time.

        But it wouldn’t cost much for said game company to hire a temp with a good throwing arm and a bad fridge. 😀

  3. deb

    I’ve gotten some good ones. I recently got, “I’m sorry, but we don’t consider anything with a high-school aged heroine.” She’s eighteen, and the book isn’t anything resembling YA, but I was advised to seek out that market. sigh.