Suggestions From an Editor - Regarding Rejections

Post by Andrea Dawn

Well, here we are: the ultimate question that seems to plague all of us as writers, authors, and even publishers and editors. It isn't always something that people want to discuss, but from time to time I do get asked about it. I also see questions about it online, and people are constantly offering up their own advice.

I figured it might help to write a post about rejections. I need to start this post by saying there might be a bit of harshness to it. Believe me, I am not out to criticize any writer as a person. We just need to analyze our own work, and sometimes that can mean setting aside emotions and being critical of our own work and ourselves. So without further ado...


It’s a valid question, and I have done my best when responding to submissions to let folks know why. I've gotten stories that did not fit the submissions, such as too many words, or that they don't fit the genre. Sometimes, though… well, it’s just flat out bad writing, and it’s hard to tell someone that.

We editors don’t want to discourage people from writing at all. So it’s hard to know for sure how we should be responding to writers. Even a simple “hope your story finds a home somewhere” can incur the wrath of a frustrated writer whose story was rejected for the umpteenth time. And I really can’t blame them if they get mad. It does mean, though, that if your story has been rejected many times, there might be something wrong with the story itself. So it's time to take a serious look at what you're producing as a writer.


If you want your work to be sold, you need to craft it so it’s sellable. The first thing you need to do is know the basics of writing, and that is correct spelling, grammar, and syntax. It doesn’t seem important in this day of the computer age, but it truly is. There is a reason there is a structure to all languages: you cannot get your message across if everyone doesn’t see the writing in the same known format. Take grammar classes at your local community college if you have to, but correct grammar is key.

If you are submitting to a publication that is not in your native language, don't rely on online translators to translate your story for you. Unfortunately, abstract ideas and concepts don't always translate well from one language to another so easily that an electronic translator can handle it. See if you can find someone who speaks both your language and the language you want to publish in. You can pay them to make sure your translation is correct. A great place to look for these types of folks is at your local college or university, and even ask foreign language professors if they can help.

Plus, many editors and publishers do not want to spend time correcting your poor grammar to make your work publishable. I have unfortunately refused stories for that reason alone. Mistakes here and there are always okay. However, you will always eliminate that type of rejection if you know your story is as grammatically correct as possible.


If you are a new writer, I highly recommend finding beta readers. You need someone who is not your mom or BFF to truly critique your writing. A stranger will help you with that. There are lots of online groups and forums that can help you, and sometimes people will do it for free or in exchange for reading some of their own work. You can also ask coworkers or perhaps neighbors.

What will be most beneficial to you is to be open to critique, even if it’s not positive. You may think you’ve written the next Carrie, but that doesn’t mean a publisher will think the same thing. Beta readers can be invaluable in that aspect. Remember: a beta reader is trying to help you, not to hurt you. Let any harsh comments slide off your back and focus on what the reader is trying to help you with. See it as constructive criticism, where you learn the good along with the bad.


Now some writers have it spot on: their story simply didn’t fit what the editors were looking for. That’s a hard truth to deal with, and it comes down to one basic fact: none of us are mind readers. How can a writer truly know what an editor wants?

Well, you can make a good guess. The best way to do this is to read some of that publisher’s previous anthologies. One of the oldest adages in business is you gotta spend money to make money. This is true for writers too. Of course, lots of us don’t have a lot of money to go buying everyone’s books. However, you will find that reading books from publishers you want to submit to will actually benefit you and betters your chances of being published with them. Plus with efiles being inexpensive, it can be easy to set aside a few dollars to gain knowledge. You will learn what kind of writing styles they like, what kinds of stories they like, what themes and emotions they elicit. Then you can find a story that fits what they publish or re-craft one you’ve already written to match it.


ALWAYS follow the submission guidelines. I have flat out refused stories because they didn’t follow the guidelines, I don’t care how good the story was. The reason we ask for a specific format, a specific word count, or a specific way of submitting is so we can quickly organize our files and easily add your story into the anthology when the time comes. For Tell-Tale Press, we have bandwidth limits according to our web provider, so we have to keep that in mind. So check, double check, and triple check that you have followed them. Some publishers will be okay if you don’t use exactly the font they ask for, but some truly are not, especially those who are more well-known and will get hundreds, even thousands of subs.

Also, don’t submit anything that is not in the submissions requirements. That means if they don’t mention that they want speculative fiction, political satire, erotica, or any other kind of subgenre that isn’t always welcome, don’t send it. Of course you could ask, and they may be nice and say yes. But most publishers and editors when working on an anthology don’t have time to thoroughly read something they didn’t ask for. Your story might not be given the kind of thought the types of stories they did ask for will be given.


If your story gets rejected, the best you can do is walk away and try again next time. Editors and publishers usually don’t have time to answer a bunch of questions about why your story wasn’t accepted. And to be honest, too frequent or unrelated messages usually go right into the circular file, and your name might get put on a blacklist. You definitely don’t want that.

It's also important to remember that editors and publishers usually don't have time to hear about what you might be doing someday. I have received messages via email and Facebook that tell me things like they're going to submit to me someday, or they're going to hire me as their editor someday. I truly do not want to be rude to people, but that honestly means nothing to me when I never see the work. I'm happy to consult with you on your work for a small fee if you need help in that area. Talking about writing and actually writing are two separate things, and publishers and editors are out to produce stories that are already written, not hear about ones that might someday get written.


If your story gets accepted, help out the publisher: share their information far and wide, especially when your story is available for reading. We as independent publishers are just as strapped for cash as anyone else, so our marketing doesn’t reach as far as say Tor or Viking. When you share, believe me, we notice. You are not only helping advertise yourself, you’re helping us and being a good client. This is a win-win for everyone.

We independent publishers truly do care about you as a writer. We want to see you succeed. So I hope these suggestions can help set you up to do so. Good luck, and keep writing!


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