Tag Archives: form rejections

When A Publisher’s ‘No’ Should Be Understood As ‘Not Now’

When you submit a manuscript to a publisher, there are four common outcomes:

  1. Acceptance
  2. No response – Unfortunately, some publishers who decide to pass on manuscripts will never inform you that they have done so. A good rule of thumb that I use is that if I have not heard from a publication one month after the latest period of time in which they normally respond, I assume they have rejected the piece and disregard any simultaneous submissions restrictions.
  3. Form rejection – A polite way of informing you that your submission was not close to meeting the journal’s standards conveyed through a form cover letter. This is sent to most writers whose works are rejected by a publisher.
  4. Personal rejection – This is a personalized rejection from a publisher, often telling you what was good about your writing, but listing the reason/s why it was not chosen for publication.

If you receive a personal rejection, it is, counterintuitive as it may seem, a good sign. Publishers receive countless manuscripts, and the amount of time it would require to personally respond to all applicants would preclude the business of the publication from ever getting done. When a publisher takes time out of their busy schedule to send a personal rejection, it means that they view your writing as solid enough to comment on. They like your writing, but feel that something about it misses the mark.

Jack T. Marlowe was the publisher of Gutter Eloquence Magazine. Aside from my friend Russell’s journal O Sweet Flowery Roses, Gutter Eloquence was the first journal where I submitted my poetry. Mr. Marlowe commented that he liked the grit of my writing, but that it needed a bit of polishing. I started my literary career with 24 rejections in a row, yet his was the only one that was a personal rejection. Not coincidentally, his was the only journal that was an appropriate fit for my writing.

After I landed my first poetry publication in Michelle McDannold’s Citizens for Decent Literature, I decided to submit to Gutter Eloquence Magazine again. This time, having spent the extra effort in shaping my poetry up and choosing the most appropriate fit for the magazine, I had my poem accepted.

The takeaway is this, when you submit your writing to a publisher and receive a personal rejection, you should know the following:

  1. Your writing is perceived to be of excellent quality by the publisher.
  2. There is a specific issue with your writing that led the publisher to passing on it, but that the work as a whole is strong.
  3. You should consider submitting a different manuscript to this publication at a later date.
  4. You should not submit the same manuscript with revised changes there, unless the publisher specifically asks you to do so. 
  5. You should find other journals or publishers that are stylistic fits for this manuscript, and after considering the revisions the publisher suggested, submit your writing again to a new publication.
  6. You should never argue the rejection with the publisher.

So, in short, while any rejection for a writer hurts, a personal rejection is actually a good thing. It means you are quite close to the mark, and with a few tweaks, you can easily publish your writing in that publication, or in a variety of others.

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno

p.s. If you want to make the arduous task of publishing your writing easier, consider hiring me as your publishing consultant and/or editor.

Personal Rejections Are Good!

For most writers of short fiction or poetry, publishing your writing in top tier literary journals is the goal (Yes, we write because we love it, but we also write because we want our ideas, our thoughts, our worlds to be shared with others). Acceptances are great; however, don’t underestimate the value of personal rejections.

I don’t remember the exact quote, but I believe that Charles Bukowski, in a clip from Born Into This, explained what he read into his early literary rejections: “It’s not that you’re not good, son – it’s that you’re not good enough.”

If you are receiving personal rejections from competitive literary journals, you ought to be downright ecstatic. While of course, acceptances are the goal, personal rejections are hard to come by in the literary world. The criticisms you receive may cut to the bone. Still, for your own sanity, you should be aware what the editor is doing is performing a service. S/he took time out of their busy schedule to offer their thoughts. If your work wasn’t close to making it, an editor would have responded with a form rejection.

As writers, we have a misguided tendency to believe that our work is always without flaw. It never is. However, if you receive a personal rejection for a piece, know that you are VERY close. Know that you are knowledgeable enough to be submitting your work to appropriate markets. Know that you are skilled enough of a writer to warrant a response. You’re on the right path. Personal rejections are good. Let them spur you on to making the necessary changes, and finding a new journal to publish your work!

And please, whatever you do, don’t try to argue with the editor’s points. Just don’t.

How to Deal With Form Rejections

First things first, whatever you do, don’t write anything back after you receive a form rejection.

A form rejection hurts. All writers will receive them at some point in their career if they take their pursuit seriously enough to submit their work to competitive markets. Even if you’ve done the appropriate research and found an excellent match for your writing, you’ll still face form rejections. Even if you’ve polished your story, poems, or manuscript, you’ll still face form rejections. It’s the ugliest part of being in the literary game.

Whatever you do, don’t mirror that ugliness.

A form rejection doesn’t mean that you are a bad writer. Simplistic an argument as it is, know that if it did, there would not be any good writers because every writer has had to deal with form rejections at some point in their career (usually throughout). All a form rejection means is that for one reason or another, your work was not an appropriate match for the place that you submitted it to. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have talent. Read that again. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have talent. The publisher or editor is not trying to personally insult you. There are any number of considerations that go into whether a piece is accepted or passed on. The desire to insult a writer’s pride is not a consideration in any publisher, editor, or reader’s mind, so please don’t read a form rejection as such.

When the decision you’ve been waiting for from a literary magazine or publisher comes in, if it’s not to your liking, whatever you do, please don’t blast the publisher or editor. This can do serious harm to your literary reputation. At the very least, it’s the mark of a rank amateur.

Writing is like baseball. They both are slow. They both are pastoral. They both can be construed as largely solitary (compare baseball to other popular team sports…) And like baseball, if you are hitting .300, you’re doing awfully well. You’re a downright star. The point is that when you miss the mark, as you surely will, brush it off as best as you can. Once the pain of the rejection subsides, re-examine your piece. Is there anything about it that you can touch up? Are there other journals or publishers that would be a good match? Go right back out and give it your best shot. In the literary game, your degree of resiliency matters just as much as your innate talent…