This post was originally released on Bella Harte’s blog over the Halloween weekend. But I’ve noticed several friends receiving rejections letters (emails) lately and I thought it was a good idea to repost it here:
We’ve all been there. Getting a rejection from a publisher. I’m not sure which is worse: waiting or receiving a rejection. I’ve experienced both and have learned to deal with them.
For the first time, however, I’ve had to send out rejections. As submissions editor for a small press, I now have an additional viewpoint on the rejection process and there are two types of reasons your story may get rejected.
Those you can control and those you can’t.
The ones you can control are what you read about in almost every how-to writing guide out there. Easy things that all writers should do:
-Check for your work for spelling and grammar issues before you submit.
-Send in work that is in the genre that the publisher publishes.
-Format your manuscript the way the publisher asks.
-Send your submission or query with a professional, yet personable cover letter/email.
I’ve spoken with editors that will reject your work solely for not doing the above. It seems harsh, but there are a lot of people that do follow the presented guidelines and publishers tend to take following their rules as a sign that you’ll be easy to work with. (Who doesn’t want that?)
Other things you can control that are not so easy:
-Craft a fresh, interesting, well-paced story with engaging characters.
-Ruthlessly self-edit to make your dialogue snap and your plot “un-put-downable”
-Find the time to read (in and out of your genre) to improve your exposure to styles and literary devices used in fiction.
There are reasons your story will get rejected that you have zero control over. And once you’ve assessed the above, your rejection may be because of one of the following:
-Your story is too similar to one the company has already accepted for publication.
-Your story doesn’t have the tone the publisher prefers. (Publishers are looking for an intangible element that is impossible to put into words. It’s a “I’ll know it when I see it” sort of thing.)
-Your story doesn’t “fit” with the others they’ve already chosen for an anthology.
-Editors don’t like to read some things. They’re human. It may be a particular point of view or tense or a certain period in history. Most times, a call for submissions will state absolute no-no’s for the publication like no profanity or no child endangerment.
But there’s more. There are editors and slush readers that prefer not to read phonetic spellings or don’t want to see another shape-shifting macaw. Again, these are impossible for you to control unless you are told what the editors don’t want to see.
One such list you may have seen before is from the submissions page of Strange Horizons’ website. Strange Horizons is a well-regarded online speculative fiction magazine and their list of “Stories We’ve Seen Too Often” has been referenced and reprinted by many publishers of speculative fiction. http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml
It isn’t all-inclusive and it doesn’t hold true for all publications, but I’m using it as an example that there are storylines that won’t appeal to certain publishers, even though your story is otherwise well put together.
So take heart when you get a rejection. It isn’t always you.
Receiving a rejection does mean you’re finishing and submitting your work and that’s something to celebrate.