Thursday 12 May 2011

How I Write . . . Rejectomancy

In response to your short story submission, you'll get an acceptance, a re-write request or a rejection. A rejection can either be a form rejection or a personal rejection.

Rejectomancy is the dark art of studying your rejections and trying to decipher their hidden meaning. Some say that it's pointless, but I think you've got to get your fun where you can, especially in this game.
I've been inspired by Sam, who's been posting some interesting stattage, to look at my own figures.

For the last 50 submissions to professional short story markets (all of them Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror) I've had 1 acceptance (tough old business, isn't it)? and 8 personal rejections. That's quite encouraging, I hadn't realised I'd had so many.

Form Rejections

This is a standard response that can be sent out to everyone. You've got to be careful. Some form rejections appear personal, they might say things like: I enjoyed reading your story or this is a good story, try it on another market

The only real way to tell is when you've had more than one response from a market, or if they say something specific that wouldn't be applicable to everyone.

Not All Form Rejections are Equal.

This is fun and something that I didn't realise for a long time. Many of the markets have more than one form, so you'll get a basic not right for us letter, then if your story merits it a more encouraging letters saying something nice.  They're still forms, but they can appear personal.

Different Types of Personal Rejections

I know writers who generate detailed, encouraging personal rejections from editors. Mine tend to be the close but no cigar types,

What does it all mean? I've no idea. I feel encouraged that I've had more than I thought. How's your rejectomancy, readers? Do you indulge, or do you think that it's a fool's game? Any good tips?


  1. Well, I've had one rejection so far, but I expect to have many many more to report on once I actually get busy with querying :D

  2. Oh I've had my share of rejections - in all different shapes and sizes! There's no denying tht they're no fun. The personal rejections (the real ones) are tough to take, like you mentioned above, close but no cigar.

    Many agents have commented on my strong prose, but just haven't connected with the story idea. What can you do but move on, hey? Their loss! :o)

  3. Any time I've dabbled in rejectomancy, I've ended up with ghosts of stories past throwing dishes against walls, and the dog barking at apparently empty corners of the house. It's a dangerous game!

    Seriously, I know I could drive myself crazy with excessive analysis of rejections. I read them, try to note any advice if it isn't a form, and try to move on.

  4. I know I left a comment on here pre-Blogapocalypse, but I can't remember what I said and I'm not inspired enough to think of it all over again :P

  5. When I worked for a literary magazine we had tiers of form rejections. They all said some form of "thanks but no" -- the special ones invited writers to submit future work. So now I always look for that invitation. If it's there, I know I'm getting closer.

  6. I don't know, but this sounds like a constructive and even fun thing to do with rejection letters!

  7. Jay Lake once said that Realms of Fantasy indicated its rejection tiers by the color of the paper forms it sent (maybe still does). I believe he said the white forms were the "best" and there were also tiers of colored forms. But of course I'd thrown mine away by then.

  8. And then there is the rejection-that-is-a-rejection-but-you-have-nothing-to-prove-it. The ones where you never hear from the publisher again. :)

  9. I love this term - rejectomancy! Great word!

  10. Hello Trisha, looks like Blogger isn't going to find our missing posts, so I'm going to repost them, anyway.

    Eileen, a send more on a rejection is encouraging.

    Words Crafter -- rejections are fun. Or at least trying to get the hidden meanings.

  11. Hi Melissa, I've never had a coloured rejection. I do hear that there was one editor who used to send out encouraging rejections in green ink.

    JL, I feel sad that some venues don't reply. I mean,c'mon.

    Hi Lauri, hope you're honing your rejectomancy skills.

  12. Trisha: novel subbing is a bit different, I imagine. Still, querying is good. Maybe get a few offers under your belt, and let the bidding war commence.

    DU: close but no cigar, kinda of good hear, but frustrating. We'll get 'em.

    No rejectomancy for you, Elizabeth? Very wise. They're all rejections. Onwards, my friend.

  13. I've only ever got one personal rejection, and that was actually quite nice, because I was able to reply to the agent and ask her her opinion on something she said and she responded to me. I can't even say how grateful I was for that. As far as the standard "insert name here" rejections, it's hard to get bogged down by them, because they have no emotion to them. It's not personal. There's no advice. It's just "oh great, I'm talking to a computer again. Guess I can cross this agent off the list now."

    <3 Gina Blechman

  14. Thanks, Gina. It's great to hear about a good response from an agent. All we seem to hear all the bad stories.

  15. I've never gotten a rejection letter--but I definitely wouldn't say rejectomancy's a fool's game. It sounds like it could be useful.

  16. I loathe the "close but no cigar" variety when they don't give me any other feedback -- but I prefer them to form-letters, mos def.

  17. Rejectomancy! My favorite pastime! (thanks for the linkage, btw)

    Like you say, rejectomancy's a fun game as long as you don't obsess over it too much. And sometimes it's nice to break up the rejection cycle with a bit of analysis.

    As you know, up until recently i had a whole blog page devoted to listing out my responses for the year. I've now moved that to a shiny spreadsheet, which means i can do all kinds of things that involve formulas. I can even make graphs if i want to. Which i'm sure i will :D

    Currently i'm sitting at 35 responses for 2011. 3 sales (though none to pro markets, yet), 31 rejections (8 personal) and 1 rewrite request (rewritten and back out at the market awaiting a final verdict).

    I hafta say, when a pro mag includes something like 'I look forward to seeing your next story' in their rejection a little thrill dances across my shoulders. Then, when the next story gets the plain form i let out a little sigh and contemplate what might've been :D

    Thanks for posting your stats, Debs. I'd say 8 personal Rs in 50 from pro mags is right up there!

  18. Ah yes I remember a workshop tutor telling me I had received 'a better class of rejection letter'. LOL! :O)

  19. Golden Eagle, no rejections, eh? Good on ya.

    Madeleine, congratulations on your quality rejection.

  20. Milo,

    it's been my experience that the pro markets give out less personal rejections than the semi-pro markets(exceptions,note. Yes, I'm looking at you Beneath Ceaseless Skies).

    They do give them occasionally,just not to me. I like the close but no cigar, ones. They say, you nearly there, keep trying. I must admit that other types tend to confuse me.

  21. Hey Sam,

    I love stattage. Some of my favoruite authors have been so open. They think nothing of telling you of the ten years of long slog before they started selling.

    It's a tough old game, why hide the fact?