Let’s Talk About Rejection

*Written January 26th, 2018

Over the last year and a half I’ve received a decent number of rejection letters from agents and magazine editors. The one thing they had in common? Personalization. Information, comments on the story and its characters, especially from editors. There was a consistency in rejection that hadn’t been there before, and it served to indicate my improvement as a writer. Which brings me to the topic at hand…

As a writer you’re going to see and hear ‘no’ more times than you can count, and in different ways. I view the types of rejection letters as an incline of progression: the no-reply; the form letter; the “personalized”; and the actually personalized letter of encouragement. For those of you just starting out, please believe me when I say I know how much those letters (or lack thereof) suck. I’ve been there; even among seasoned writers disappointment is inevitable. But if you want to make a career out of writing then it’s important to understand that ‘no’ is par for the course, that it isn’t necessarily a comment on your writing, as publishing is highly subjective.
When I first started querying agents I either received no response or a form letter rejection (and a lot of them too):
September 2012
Thank you so much for querying us with your project. Unfortunately, we did not feel it was the right fit for our agency. Thanks for thinking of The Knight Agency and we wish you nothing but the best in your writing career.
Submitting short stories was more or less the same:
Apex Magazine (September, 2012)
Dear Luke,
Thank you for submitting “The Ugly” to Apex Magazine for consideration. Unfortunately, it does not meet our needs at this time.
That initial rejection can be frustrating, but it’s important to recognize them for what they are in the context of your journey: a step, the start of that incline. In order to ascend you need to commit yourself to honing your craft. This includes reading widely to understand the elements of a story as well as the different forms of fiction (short story, novelette, novella, novel). It means researching the markets you are submitting short stories to and the agents that you are querying. It means sitting down in front of your computer or pulling out your pen and notepad and writing. It doesn’t have to be the story itself; maybe you’re outlining. Commitment to the craft leads to improvement.
In August 2014, about three hours after querying a top agent, I received this:
Please do send the manuscript my way.
All the best,
I never heard back after submitting the full manuscript, but like I said: ‘no’ comes in different ways at different times.
November 2016
Dear ​Luke,
Thank you so much for sharing THE FORGER with me. I found your story to be very strong, and it drew me in right away. You have talent, but unfortunately, I didn’t fall completely in love with it in the way that I need to in order to request more. I do want you to know that it was very hard for me to pass on this project, and I’m certain it will find the right home soon. I wish you the best of luck on your writing journey.
Short story rejection letters from professional/semi-pro magazines circa 2016-18:
Fantasy & Science Fiction (August, 2016)
Dear Luke,
Thank you for giving me a chance to read “The Walker and the Doe.” I liked the way this started by putting us right in the present moment of the narrative, and I thought there was an interesting story with good worldbuilding and details in here, but it also had structural and pacing problems for me, and overall it didn’t win me over. I’m going to pass on this one for F&SF, but I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it and hope that you’ll try us again in the future.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies (May, 2016)
Thanks very much for sending this story to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us.  While I loved the foreboding atmosphere of Ouran’an, I found myself wanting to know more about the impetus for Ronomar and Raelza’s mission, to understand the stakes.
We appreciate your interest in our magazine.  Please feel free to submit other work in the future.
Deep Magic (June, 2016)
Dear Luke Tarzian
Thank you for your recent submission to Deep Magic. We know it can be stressful waiting for a response and we strive to be as prompt as we can. We are going to pass on your submission “What the in Between May Bring” although we do appreciate you considering us. Writing is very subjective and just because we didn’t select this piece doesn’t mean others won’t. It just wasn’t the right fit for us.
Most publishers don’t provide feedback, but we try to. Some comments from our first readers include the following: “I enjoyed getting to know the characters but I wish there were more. It felt a little fragmented because of the brevity.”
Thank you again for submitting your work to Deep Magic. You are always more than welcome to submit something else in the future so long as it meets our guidelines.
Grimdark Magazine (January, 2018)
Hi Luke,
Thank you for your patience while I reviewed your short story.
I agree with Cheresse in that you’ve presented a lot of meat to get stuck into in just 1400 words. The main character is certainly right up our alley, though I wanted more from the antagonist. More that would make him more human and not just a simple monster that’s easier to hate than a murderer because he’s a child molester.
There’s plenty to like about it, but in the end it’s not for me. I sincerely hope I get to see more of your work very soon.
It’s important to understand that even though no two writers share the same path to publication, we are all intimately familiar with rejection. It’s absolutely okay—expected, really—to be disappointed, but I encourage you to look at rejection (no reply, form letter, and various types of personalized) as a step to climb, to use it as motivation, as a way to chart your growth as a writer.

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