Join guest columnist and author, Aeryn Rudel, every other month right here at Dark Matter Magazine for his cursed Q&A with writers just like you. Read more of Aeryn’s work over at his Rejectomancy blog.


Welcome to the next volume of The Rejectonomicon. This month’s questions include: How do you know what to revise? How do you bolster flagging motivation? And just what the hell does a novel outline look like anyway? Let’s begin the ritual, draw the pentagram, and summon up some answers.

In the January Rejectonomicon, you mentioned that you might revise if you are just getting form rejections without receiving any feedback on the piece. So, if you’re not getting feedback, how do you know what to revise?
—Morgan

Excellent question, Morgan, but unfortunately there is no easy answer. That said, here are some things I do when faced with this situation.

  1. I reach out to my critique partners and beta readers and them to give the story a look to see if anything jumps out at them. Chances are a savvy reader might spot something editors are picking up on as well. Often times, this is a catalyst for revision.
  2.  I try and listen to that inner voice that’s telling me something is off with a story (turns out it’s not always impostor syndrome). For example, I recently sold a piece where I had shortened the story to meet a word count maximum for a submission call. In my gut, though, I knew the longer version was better (but I didn’t listen). The short version was rejected by the publisher. I cut it down, and it was rejected a few more times. Finally, I listened to my gut instinct and started sending the longer version around again. It sold shortly thereafter. So, listen to that inner voice. It’s not always right, but I’m finding more and more that it’s at least in the ballpark.
  3. Finally, and this is the hardest one, I occasionally have to admit to myself that a story might need to be trunked. I recently trunked half a dozen short stories that weren’t going anywhere, no matter what I did to them. It was kind of freeing, because I could focus my efforts on stories with more potential.

With so many rejections in my inbox, how do I stay motivated? when should i think about self-publishing or some other avenue?
—Emily

A two-parter, so let me tackle the first question. How do you keep up motivation when the rejections are piling up in your inbox? I won’t lie; it can be tough. Here’s a couple of things that get me through.

  1. The 10% rule. I heard somewhere that if you get one acceptance out of every ten submissions, you’re on the right track. That feels right. So when you’re on a real heater of a rejection streak—I had twenty-four straight recently—look back at your overall percentage. Is it at 10% or higher? Then you’re doing fine, and things will more than likely even out in the long run.
  2. Stars aligning. I try to remember when I’m getting a ton of rejections that an acceptance is three unlikely events coming together: the right story to the right editor at the right time. They’re like tumblers in a lock. If you don’t get all three, the lock won’t open, and you get a rejection. I recently sold a story after fifteen tries, and I could often tell I was turning one or two of those tumblers with some of the rejections. Then, on the sixteenth try, all three clicked, and I sold the piece.

Now, as to the second part of your question, I’ll admit I have very little experience here, as I’ve never self-published. But for me, I think I would start considering self-publishing if I were getting a lot of the “bad fit” types of personal rejections. Sometimes your work falls between genres, or is a little out of the ordinary, and you might have trouble selling it. I write a lot of supernatural thrillers, for example. They’re not quite horror, they’re not quite mystery, and generally neither type of publisher is particularly interested in them. I can and do sell them to broadly speculative markets, but there aren’t many of those, and I’ve oft considered self-publishing some of the longer pieces.

I’m definitely not the person to ask about where and how to self-publish—I just don’t have the experience—but there are tons of online resources, and I often find Writing Twitter resource fortopics like this. (There are a lot of successful independent authors out there willing to answer a few questions.)

What happens if you publish a story in a magazine that later goes out of business and stops publishing? If the magazine shuts down their website, and my story no longer exists online, is it considered unpublished?
—Anca

I have published at markets that later went out of business, and many of my first publications are lost to the ether because the publishers went under years and years ago. I’ve also had markets go out of business after they’ve accepted a story, but before they’ve published it (that’s a real bummer). Markets closing down is just an unfortunate element of publishing short fiction (and long fiction, too).

When a market shuts down, it’s common that the market’s website and story archives will remain available to the public. In that case, yes, another publisher will absolutely consider the story a reprint.

If the website shuts down completely and your story is no longer available online, most publishers will still consider the piece a reprint. Before you submit, there’s no harm in asking an editor if they consider a once-published story that has been scrubbed from the web a reprint. It’s a reasonable question to ask, in my opinion.

I’m looking to make the jump from short fiction to a novel, and I want to outline instead of pantsing it. What does an outline even look like?
—Anthony

Well, there are probably as many different types of outlines as there are authors, but I can tell you what my outlines look like.

I use a three-act structure, and I like to divide each act into ten chapters or story beats. I describe each of those with a paragraph or two that outlines the basics of what’s happening in the scene. Then, I’ll briefly summarize what I want to accomplish in the scene. That might be strengthening character motivation, or moving the plot along, or any number of things. So, what I end up with is a thirty-chapter outline that gives me a solid roadmap of where the novel should be going. I don’t get too fine with the details, though, as I like to discover those as I wrote the novel. That’s the pansting it part for me.

Now, as I said, there are tons of different ways you can go about an outline, and many books have been written on the subject. One I used to use when I was writing at Privateer Press is Save the Cat!, which is technically a screenwriting method developed by Blake Snyder. His method breaks a story into fifteen story beats with names that would be relatable to folks watching a movie. Stuff like Dark Night of the Soul, Fun and Games, and Bad Guys Close In. I prefer my current method, but there’s a lot to be said for Save the Cat! Ultimately, you might have to try out a few different methods, varying in the amount of detail, before you find one that works for you (that being the one that gets you a finished novel).


Got a burning question about rejections, submissions, or writing? Fire it off to questions@rejectomancy.com, and maybe I’ll answer it on the next volume of The Rejectonomicon. Submission guidelines:

  1. Put REJECTONOMICON in the subject line of the email.
  2. Write your question in the body of the email. Try to keep it relatively brief.
  3. Please let me know if you’d like your first name published along with your question or if you’d like to remain anonymous.
  4. Please restrict your questions to the subjects of writing, submissions, and rejections. Those are pretty broad categories, though, and I’d be happy to field questions about my past career as a TTRPG game designer/editor and media tie-in writer.