Dear Author:

I’m sorry, but we’ve decided not to publish your submission.  Thank you for giving us a chance to review it.

Sincerely, Editor

If you’ve submitted a poem, short story, essay, or just about anything else to a publication, you’ve probably read a letter like this before. In fact, if you’ve entered one of our contests or submitted a piece to be considered for our magazine, it’s possible that I’ve sent you an email very much like the one above.

I know it’s infuriating not to know why your piece was rejected. I know that when you aren’t sure what’s “wrong” with your writing, it’s hard to learn and grow as an author. I know all this because I’m a writer too – and despite the fact that I have had quite a bit of work published, I have received at least a hundred such rejections over the years. Even worse than the flat-out rejections? I’ve had plenty of editors simply fail to acknowledge my pitches or queries. Being a pro writer doesn’t make you immune to the frustration – but it does make it sting a little less over time.

Anyway, to anyone who’s submitted something to The Renegade Word and received a form rejection, I’m sorry that I was unable to give detailed feedback. Because I’m often asked if I can provide more detailed responses, I wanted to quickly outline the 6 major reasons for rejection, why I don’t give personal feedback for them, and what authors need to know to improve their work:

 

rough draft photo

Good writing takes work – and years of practice.

 

6. Your writing isn’t polished enough yet.

The Reason For Rejection:

Let’s just get this one out of the way right now. Because this is a site aimed at aspiring writers, I do get quite a few submissions that need a lot of work before they’re publishable. The amount of work it would take to help a writer improve their writing is generally more than I’m able to spend on running this site. (Yes, I do have a day job!)  I am generally looking for well-written submissions which require a minimum of editing for content, structure, style, spelling, and grammar. And that’s going to be the case for any publication out there.

The reason I send form letters when I receive submissions of low quality is simple: one bad story doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be a bad writer. Writing, like anything else worth doing, takes practice. I don’t want to discourage authors I know are simply at the beginning of their writing journey by detailing everything they’re doing wrong. I look back at my own work just a few years ago and cringe – submitting terrible work to editors is part of the learning process any published writer has to go through. Embrace it, and keep writing!

To Overcome Rejection:

I know it’s easier said than done, but the only thing you can really do is put a conscious effort into improving your writing. You can do this in a few ways: read up on writing mechanics, hire a proofreader or editor, or sign up for a writer’s workshop.

We provide help in all of these areas on the site, but we’re not the only resource out there! Most cities will have at least one writing group you can attend – check out sites like Meetup to find other locals who want to workshop, or see if a group of your friends is interested in setting something up. Sign up for a creative writing course at your local community college if you want a more structured approach. You have a lot of free or low-cost options available to help you get the detailed feedback you need to improve.

There are also a lot of really great books out there designed to help beginning writers identify and fix the flaws in their work. You can start by reading some of Lauren’s reviews – so you have an idea of what to expect before you buy.

Oh, and keep writing. I promise that every new story you write will be better than the last. After you’ve worked on a few new pieces, feel free to submit again. I promise I don’t keep a blacklist of “bad” authors in my files.

 

boredom photo

Not every reader is going to find your work captivating. Sorry.

 

5. Your submission didn’t capture my interest.

The Reason For Rejection:

Sometimes I get a technically-competent submission that just isn’t my cup of tea. Maybe it’s on a subject we’ve already addressed on the site, and it fails to cover new ground or take a fresh approach. Maybe it’s a really good essay that’s on a topic I just don’t find that interesting.  (Take note: if you write an article using sports metaphors to explain anything, there is a good possibility your submission will end up in this category!)

We had a lot of overlap during our 2014 Creative Nonfiction Contest. Most of the entries covered the same topics over and over again: the loss of a grandparent, the feeling of not fitting in, etc. Our contest only had three main prizes and a few runners up – at a certain point, we just had to start rejecting pieces that were repetitive or didn’t stand out. We did end up featuring some essays on these recurring topics, but only the ones which tackled the subject matter in a new and interesting way ended up making the cut to the final round of judging.

To Overcome Rejection:

If I don’t include a personal response to these, it’s because there’s not really any need. The piece is fine. It probably stands a good chance of being published somewhere else if the author continues to shop it around. Not every piece is going to work for every audience, and editors are not an exception to that rule. Really, don’t worry about it.

The solution is simple: if you have a piece you know is great, or that you feel very strongly about, keep submitting it to different publications. Read what they’ve published previously to get a good idea of what the editor’s tastes are like. Make sure your piece isn’t too similar to anything they’ve published recently. Sooner or later, if your writing is really good, someone will publish it. I know it’s frustrating, but it will be worth the wait in the end.

 

wrong way photo

Seriously, don’t do this. It’s a really bad idea.

 

4. You submitted a genre or type of writing that our site doesn’t publish.

The Reason For Rejection:

Believe it or not, we had short story entries in our creative nonfiction contest, even though we clearly outlined in the rules that we were only looking for nonfiction. Those entries were rejected immediately. If you can’t bother to read and follow our guidelines, you’re wasting everyone’s time. I know it’s harsh to put it that way, but it’s absolutely true.

Don’t assume that your work is so special and unique that it will completely change the direction of a publication – if you’re trying to pitch paranormal romance to an academic literary journal, they’re not going to take the time to explain why you’ve been rejected. You can figure the reason out for yourself.

Most often, this happens with article submissions. I’ll get pitches for articles that have nothing to do with creative writing or making a living as a writer – I was once approached by someone who wanted to submit a guest post about buying real estate. This happens to me all the time.

The reason I don’t give personalized rejections to these is simple: I don’t have patience for people who don’t take my time or this publication seriously.

To Overcome Rejection:

Research, research, research! Actually read a website or publication before you try to send them something. Make sure your work is in line with the genre, style, and content they typically publish. If you really love the site but you know your work isn’t a great match, that’s okay. There are plenty of other markets out there! I really recommend picking up a copy of The Writer’s Market if you’re not sure where to find publishers who might be interested in your work.

Once you’ve identified a publisher, check to see if they have guidelines for submissions, and read them several times to make sure you completely understand them. Then follow them to the letter. It’s a little bit of work, but it’s completely worth it – you’re likely to get a better response to your work, and fewer rejection letters. Who wouldn’t want that?

 

confusion photo

Sometimes the pieces just don’t fit together.

 

3. I can’t figure out what you’re writing about.

The Reason For Rejection:

Sometimes, I’ll get a submission that I have no idea what to do with. It could be an article that’s poorly-structured, that has no introduction, and meanders without the author ever coming out and making their point. During our contest, we had some very well-written creative nonfiction submissions that were obviously very personal to the writer – but we just couldn’t figure out what they were trying to say. With fiction, this most often manifests in characters whose actions don’t have clear motivations, or with plots that don’t have a clear relationship between cause and effect.

It’s hard to know what to do with a submission like this. Sometimes, if I’m pretty sure I understood what an article was trying to say, I’ll work with the author to tighten up the structure a little bit. Other times, it’s so unclear I give up. Often, the problem is that the writer is inexperienced and needs more guidance than I can give them. As with reason #1 above, I often make the rejection letter short because I don’t want a writer to leave the encounter feeling like they should give up on the craft.

To Overcome Rejection:

The solution here is pretty simple: get a friend, family member, or a workshop partner to read over your piece before you send it anywhere. Ideally it will be a person who hasn’t been a part of your creative process, or just doesn’t know much about the subject you’re covering.

If they’re completely lost, ask them which parts and confusing and what they need to know to understand the piece. Then, correct it and run it by them again before you submit it anywhere. I think this is something that every writer, regardless of experience level, should try to do. It’s really easy to be blind to confusing passages in your own writing – after all, it made sense in your own head while you were writing it! Even experienced writers can run up against this issue. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

 

error photo

Miles Davis is lying to you. There are definitely mistakes.

2. Your submission is full of errors.

The Reason For Rejection:

I would never reject a great submission over a few typos. (In fact, some of my favorite people are dyslexic writers – I’m pretty used to dealing with weird word usage mistakes and unexpected typos!) No matter how carefully you proofread, one or two are bound to slip through.

That being said, if your manuscript is riddled with spelling or grammar mistakes, it shows me that you don’t care about taking the time to polish your writing. Sure, those are mistakes that are usually pretty easy for me to fix before publishing, but if you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to correct them, why should I put in the extra effort for you?

I don’t send personal rejections for these kinds of submissions for two reasons. 1) If you don’t bother to run spellcheck on your story, you should know what you did wrong already. 2) I don’t want to send a rude, unprofessional, profanity-laced response. And you probably don’t want to read it.

To Overcome Rejection:

This one is easy. Just read over your own work before you send it anywhere, slowly and carefully, to see if there are any mistakes. Run it through spellcheck at the very least. If you have a learning disability (or you’re just a really bad proofreader – a lot of people are, and that’s fine), have someone else look it over for mistakes. If you don’t know anyone with a sharp eye for typos, you can always hire someone to proofread it for you.

(This is one of the few situations in which I do not recommend a workshopping as a fix. The people in your writing group don’t want to slog through a manuscript riddled with mistakes either. For the love of god, just spellcheck!)

And finally, the #1 reason I don’t give feedback when responding to submissions… 

time photo

Where does it all go? If someone figures it out, let me know.

1. I just don’t have time to respond. 

The Reason For Rejection:

The truth of the matter is, most editors are busy people. If you’re submitting to a well-known or popular magazine, they just don’t have time to critique every individual story. At the end of our last writing contest, we had nearly 120 entries. Once we picked out our favorites and put them to a vote, it was almost impossible to even remember every entry we’d looked at. There was literally no possible way to offer personal feedback to anyone. Often we couldn’t remember the specific details or a piece, or the reasons why we’d rejected it. (And with that many entries, to be honest, the reason was mostly “we can’t give a prize to everyone.” There were a ton of really great entries we were simply unable to showcase!)

So to the 100+ people who were not winners of the contest and have been wondering why they weren’t chosen: I’m sorry. I read so many entries over the course of several weeks that I couldn’t even tell you why anymore. It may have been any of the factors listed above, or a combination of them. It may have been that your submission was really good, but just not quite as good as the next one I read. Writing is a competitive business, and sometimes rejection has nothing to do with you.

To Overcome Rejection:

Don’t read too much into the fact that editors aren’t giving you reasons when they reject your work. If you really need feedback on what you can improve, get someone else to read it. Swap manuscripts with another writer and offer each other feedback. Hire a writing coach. Join a workshop. There are so many resources out there that can help you identify weaknesses in your writing, and usually they can offer you far better advice than a harried, overwhelmed, or frustrated editor.

And above all… Keep writing! Keep submitting! Don’t let one rejection (or even a lot of rejections) get to you. Editors all have their own personal reasons for rejecting submissions, and the only thing you can do about it is move on and keep learning.

Photos by Aaron Jacobse-magicJulie EdgleySean DavisCarbonNYCplindberg, and becosky