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Join guest columnist and author, Aeryn Rudel, every month right here at Dark Matter Magazine to get tips on writing, publishing, and the subtle art of rejection. Read more of Aeryn’s work over at his Rejectomancy blog.


Column by Aeryn Rudel

May 20, 2021

This month, we’re going to talk about what’s written on the tin. The column is called Rejectomancy, so let’s delve deep into the land of “not for us” and “we’re gonna pass,” and see what we can learn about the different types of rejection, what they mean, and what to do about them.

The Three Types of Rejection Letter

Rejection letters come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally fall into three broad categories: standard form rejections, higher-tier form rejections, and personal rejections. These three form a hierarchy of sorts that can represent how well your story was received and how close it came to publication. Let’s look at each one and see what they tell us.

The Standard Form Rejection

The most common type of rejection is the standard form rejection. It looks something like this.

We appreciate the opportunity to read “Yet Another Vampire Story”. Unfortunately, we have chosen to not accept this story for publication.

Simple, straightforward, and to the point. You may be tempted to read something into a letter like this, either negative or positive. Don’t. The letter states two things: they read the story, and they are not going to publish it. Beyond that, there’s nothing to see or learn from this letter. Move on and send the story somewhere else.

The Higher-Tier Form Rejection

The next type of rejection letter tells you a little more than the first, and it often means you’re story received a but more consideration. The higher-tier form rejection looks like this:

We appreciate the opportunity to read “Croak of the Werefrog”. We enjoyed the story, but it does not meet our needs at this time. Thank you for your interested in The Rejectomancy Review, and please keep us in mind for future submissions.

This letter has a lot of the same elements as the standard form, but what makes it different than the standard form rejection is the additional language that’s been added. Most importantly, “we enjoyed the story” and “keep us in mind for future submissions.” Not always, but often phrases like that indicate the story received more consideration from the editor. There’s not a lot to be learned here other than you’re probably moving up the rejection food chain.

The Personal Rejection

The last type of rejection includes some personal note about the story, usually what the editor liked about the piece and maybe why they ultimately chose to pass on it. Here’s an example:

Thanks for giving us the chance to read “In Space No One Can Hear You Dream”. We thought it was a clever premise with some fun moments but found the narrative developed too slowly. We wish you luck finding a home for this piece and hope you’ll try us with your next story.

Most of the time, a personal rejection will tell you something the editor liked about your story and something they didn’t. This is useful information both for potential revisions and for future submissions to the same market. You might find similar language to a higher-tier rejection, but it won’t sound like a form letter. For example, “try us again with your next story” vs. “keep us in mind for future submissions.” If you get a rejection like the one above, you should definitely send the publisher another story.

I should note that there are markets that never (or very rarely) send personal rejections and markets that always send a personal note of some kind. These markets kind of flip the whole rejection hierarchy on its head, but in my experience, they are the exception and not the rule.

Note: As I’m sure you guessed, the Rejectomancy Review is not a real publication, and, though I probably should title some of my stories “Yet Another Vampire Story,” none of these pieces actually exist . . . yet.

What Rejection Means (And What it Doesn’t)

Rejectomancy is a term that means trying to divine hidden meaning from rejections. The truth is, the meaning often isn’t all that hidden, and rejections aren’t as complicated as we writers would like them to be. When reading rejections, keep these three things in mind.

  1. They Usually Mean What They Say. Simplistic, I know, but for the most part, rejections are pretty honest. The form rejection only says they’re not going to publish your story. The higher-tier rejection means they want you to send more work. The personal rejection means they liked the story but had specific issues with it, and they really do want you to try them with your next story. It’s difficult, but don’t go looking any deeper than that, especially with form rejections. Obviously, personal feedback is open to interpretation, and if an editor’s comments resonate with you, make revisions. If they don’t, send that story out again as is. 
  2. They Do Not Mean Bad Story/Bad Writer. It may seem like a rejection is a commentary on your skill as a writer, but most of the time, it’s about a story being the wrong fit for a market or editor. Nearly every story I’ve sold was rejected at least once, and some were rejected ten times or more. If I always took the first rejection (or the fifth) to mean I’d written a clunker, I’d never sell a story. That’s not to say that rejection can’t mean your work needs work. If you’re getting nothing but form rejections or getting the same feedback in personal rejections over and over, it might be time to revise the story or refocus on your craft.
  3. They Mean You’re Trying. A rejection is proof positive you had the will and drive to finish a story and the guts to submit your work to be judged. That sounds elementary, but this is tough gig, and just putting yourself and your stories out there takes no small amount of bravery. Rejection means you’re on the right path, so just keep going.  

Dealing With Rejection

The hardest part of being a writer is processing rejection and coming to terms with it. Different writers use different methods to deal with the no’s and “not for us” responses, but here are some things that work for me.

  1. Normalize It. Rejection is part of the process. It happens to every writer, no matter how good, no matter who successful. It’s important to keep that in mind, and to see rejection as, well, inevitable and a chance to improve. All you need to do is look at the writing community on any social media platform to see that rejection is as common as dirt at every level of writing. In other words, it’s entirely normal to get rejected, and once you accept that, things get a little easier.
  2. Exorcise It. When you get a rejection, it can be tempting to dwell on it, or to rejectomance it. While some reflection is appropriate, too much can lead to over-analysis and drawing the wrong conclusions. What I like to do is read a rejection as soon as it comes in, then remove it from my inbox, and put it in a rejection folder. With form rejections, this happens almost immediately. I read it once, then file it away. For personal rejections, I might read it a couple of times to make sure I’ve absorbed the feedback. Then, like the others, it goes off to the rejection file. If I need to read it again, I know where it is. There’s something cathartic about this process, and it is kind of like exorcising the demons of self-doubt that invariably come calling with a rejection letter. Get thee behind me, rejection!
  3. Share It. If there’s one thing every writer has in common, it’s rejection. In the writing groups I’m part of, we often share rejections as a way to support each other. Other writers can help you shoulder the load, and you can do the same for them, which has a healing property all its own.

Final Word

Rejection is a reality every writer must face, but armed with a little knowledge and maybe a few writer friends to commiserate with, it doesn’t have to be a demotivating experience. Once you learn and accept what rejection means (and what it doesn’t), it gets easier to keep going and keep writing.

Check back next month for more advice on how and where to submit your work or head over to my blog Rejectomancy for oodles of overly analytical articles about the various and sundry parts of writing, submitting, and every author’s favorite subject, rejection.