Everybody Hurts (But Mostly Me When You Reject My Submission): A Rejection Survival Guide
Ashely here again with another piece for our submission guide. By this point, you’ve figured out where to submit, gathered all your material together, and penned a killer cover letter. You’ve sent off your piece, waiting and waiting with anticipation until you get that notification in your email. However, when you open up the response, you find your piece has been rejected.
This, unfortunately, is an extremely common result for submissions. Any writer who has been submitting for some time will tell you of the mountains of rejections they’ve accumulated. Here are my personal rejections.
Even so, it’s not unusual to find yourself asking: Why did this piece get rejected? As an editor/reader at a few publications, here are some of the main reasons a piece might get rejected.
Editor Preference: This is a common reason and perhaps the most frustrating one as a writer, as it’s one you can’t really do anything to rectify. Your piece could be perfect, but maybe it just didn’t click with the editor. Keep in mind that if the journal has a big team, it may not be a universal rejection. I’ve sat in on some heated debates over a piece that ultimately got passed on because there wasn’t a majority for publishing it even though it had some defenders. It could be argued that this is really the umbrella reason things get rejected, but we’ll follow up with some of the more “concrete” reasons a piece could be rejected.
Technical Issues: Another reason a piece may have been rejected is because there were flaws in the writing itself. Again, this can be very subjective, but if the editor struggles to get through the piece because of narrative issues, pacing, organization, or syntax errors, it will probably be passed on.
Did Not Meet Guidelines: Sometimes a piece may get rejected because it did not follow the rules for publication. Perhaps the issue or journal had a certain theme the writing didn’t meet. (This happened a lot when I was an editor for Saw Palm, a journal focused on Florida writing.) Perhaps it was over the word-limit. Some places (and especially contests) ask for blind submissions with no identifying information, but maybe the name was left in. Is it too early to remind everyone to read the guidelines?
Similar Content to Previous Publications: This reason isn't as common, but it pops up often enough that it’s worth mentioning. You have an excellent poem about bees that a journal would normally be happy to accept. However, this journal has already published two bee poems in the last 6 months. For this reason, they may pass on the piece so as not to be completely saturated in bee poems.
Offensive or Harmful Content: I suspect this is a rare reason for rejection, but it's worth addressing. No one is saying a piece shouldn’t deal with traumatic events or oppression in the world, but your the writing actively seeks to harm marginalized identities or glorify abuse and violence, then it will likely be rejected and you may even be blacklisted by the publication.
So, these are some of the reasons your piece may have been rejected. What can you do about it?
Keep Submitting: Remember that whole editor preference thing? Like I said, this is probably the most likely reason you’ve been rejected. The fact of the matter is most pieces will get rejected multiple times before acceptance.
Revisit and Edit The Piece: There’s no easy rule that says “get X number or rejections before considering revising,” but at some point, this maybe something to consider. One thing that you can use to guide potential revisions is personal rejections. For most literary journals, rejections are either considered form rejections (general language used in most rejections) or personal rejections (rejection with specific feedback to the writer). Sometimes, personal rejection may brush upon issues with the piece. In addition, make sure your writing is free of technical errors as much as possible.
Strong First Page: For longer works, many editors will stop reading and reject if they are not grabbed by the first page, especially at places that get a lot of submissions. Obviously, that doesn’t mean you can slack on the rest of the piece, but remember that a first page can make or break a piece.
Don’t Be a Jerk: This should go without saying, but if you get a rejection, don’t fight with the editors about it. This won’t change their mind, but it will probably get you banned from submitting in the future and give you a bad reputation with other publications. (The editing world is surprisingly small).
Feel Sad if You Want: Even with this knowledge, you may find yourself feeling sad about a rejection. Sometimes you can jump right into submitting. Other times, you may want to sit out for a bit and work on something else. Give yourself the space you need, but try to remember rejection does not mean failure as a writer.
We hope this list gives you a little insight into why your writing may have been rejected. If all else fails, we’ve heard looking at baby vultures takes the sting out of rejection.
Do you have questions for our Q&A? Contact us via email or tweet us @LammergeierMag