Not Right For Us


Rejection. We hates it, precious, yes we does.* From Mimi in the fourth grade who declared me no longer her friend because I wouldn’t give her my new Malibu Barbie to keep, to the boy in high school who, upon hearing that I liked him, made gagging sounds in front of all his friends, to the form email that pops up three days after sending my story out. Rejection hurts.

When I started writing short stories, the logical step was to send them out to magazines in the hope someone would recognize my extraordinary genius and pay me actual money. Back then, a self-addressed stamped envelope was required with your submission. Without it, you’d spend the rest of your life in limbo, wondering what had happened to your story, because the magazine would not respond on their own dime. The worst thing, back then, was to walk to the mailbox and find a thin business envelope with your own handwriting on the outside. If you were very lucky, the form letter inside might have a scribbled note on it from the editor, offering a vague reason as to your rejection or possibly a nebulous suggestion for making the story more publishable. The other day after we finished our taxes (speaking of things that are painful) I decided to give the file cabinet a good clean-out, and along the way discovered my old file of rejection letters.

Some were absolutely impersonal form letters, which occasionally verged on being insulting. My favorite was the one that said, “An all too common reason for rejection is the obvious lack of basic English compositional skills on the part of the author.” It made me laugh because anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m a grammar geek. Not to mention I was the Tri-County Spelling Champion in 1980. I even have a trophy which my mother proudly displays! I’m inclined to think my compositional skills weren’t the problem, but who knows? A little better was the form letter with a scribble on it. I received a rejection once from a fairly well-regarded small press magazine. It was a two-inch wide slip of paper with a one line rejection typed on it, but below that, in tiny cursive, were the words Send something else.
Best, though, was the actual handwritten rejection, with a mention of why the story didn’t make it. Talebones turned me down but Patrick wrote We kept it for a second reading, but in the end it was a little too bloody for our taste. Try us with something else. Wheeee! I did send another story, which they also rejected, but again they invited me to try again. To a struggling writer, those words are bliss. Then again, the handwritten rejection can be depressing. I submitted a story about global warming to a science fiction magazine back in the mid-90’s, and the rejection was half a page of finger-shaking over my ridiculous notions and clear misunderstanding of how planetary climates function. He ended with a jibe about me hoping Al Gore would one day be president, which told me he was trying to reject my politics (as he perceived them) rather than my creative work.
Some folks believe you shouldn’t look at your rejections more than once, but I rather enjoy rereading them. It’s a look back at how far I’ve come. Anyone else have some fun rejections to share?

*Yes, in my house we often resort to speaking as fantasy characters. Come by for dinner sometime – we’re very entertaining!


25 comments to Not Right For Us

  • Emily

    I think the worst rejection I got was one that was clearly not for the story I sent. That is, the editor got it confused with something else, or else didn’t actually read it. I send a piece to a well regarded semi-pro online magazine. The rejection offered me good luck with the novel idea or something similar. The piece I’d sent was a flash piece (literally fewer than 600 words). Novel? There was just something in the rejection that told me that they’d gotten me confused with someone else.

    Of course back in the day when it was all hard copy manuscripts, a friend of mine actually got a rejection, with the manuscript included for someone else entirely. He wondered what happened to his.

    The best rejection was from a prominent online mag that said “really close, please send more soon!” Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything else to send. But it still makes me happy to know that I got that far.

  • Man, I wish more people randomly spoke as fantasy characters. Then more people would understand my humor/pop culture references instead of just looking at me strangely & changing the subject.

    (No one understands me. Wah.)

  • Emily, I’ve heard of that happening before, but I’m glad to say it wasn’t to me. πŸ˜€

    Melissa, we understand you, dear. We might still look at you strangely, but at least we’ll get the reference. *grin*

  • I still have my rejection letters, but I’m not at that point when I can laugh about them yet! About that global warming rejection: since it was science fiction, isn’t it okay if you took some liberties? I just don’t understand that guy’s insulting response!

  • Laura, he was an absolute global warming denier, even way back then. I don’t think I’d have succeeded with him no matter what. πŸ˜€

  • I’d say it’s good that you got that rejection on the global warming story. It could have been worse, after all. He could have accepted it, then made you rewrite it to suit his politics for an insultingly low per-word fee.

  • I’ve gotten some nice rejections, including a page-long, single-spaced, typewritten note from Gordon Van Gelder. That one I almost framed….

    Does anyone remember the magazine (which I won’t name here) back a few years ago that sent out color coded form rejections. One color meant “Close, send us something else.” Another meant, “Sorry, no thanks.” And still a third meant, “Please don’t send us anything ever again.” All were polite and vague. But if you mentioned the rejection to someone who knew the code and you told them what color paper it was printed on, you could tell a lot from their reaction. An impressed nod…or a sympathetic grimace…

  • Tom Gallier

    My favorite: Marion Zimmer Bradley once rejected a short story from me with a dragon in it. She said in the rejection letter that Anne McCaffrey wrote the best dragons, no one can do them better, so she doesn’t buy stories with dragons. I finally sold her a story, a humorous piece where a knight saves a princess from a dragon. Oooookay. LOL

    Oh, she also rejected me on another story, telling me to use spellchecker because I spelled “succor” wrong. She said it was “Succour” Not according to my dictionary.

  • Misty,

    Great post, what’s funny (to me anyways) is that every time I seem to be having an issue with a particular writing subject, I post in on one of my writing homes and get fabulous advice, and the next day the subject here is about the same question I posed the day before!

    I am currently starting out on my subbing career, already racking up the rejections but so far, my favorite has been the personal rejection where the editor not only gave me a few ways to fix the story but also an invite to send it back, which I did (I’m still waiting to hear back. *crosses fingers*)

    I am sort of in between when to revise and when to leave it alone, but since I am a fairly new writer, I’m waiting a while before I decide what I’m going to do with my short story.

    congrats on the spelling bee trophy!

  • Het, good point! Way to look at the half-full glass!

    David, now I’m dying to know which magazine that was, ’cause there are a few rejections on colored paper in my folder…

    Tom, I agree, it’s spelled “succor”. I seem to remember it being spelled the other way in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, but that book tended to follow British spelling rules. If MZB was Catholic or Episcopalian, that might explain her insistence.

    Hinny, you caught us! We follow you around on the net and get ideas from your posts. *grin* Seriously, good luck with the revised story. We want to hear about it when it sells!

  • Here’s something for you — on more than one occasion, I’ve had written notes on a rejection asking me to send more. A bit of time passes and I have something to submit and . . . the magazine no longer exists. I’ve had this happen with several small magazines as well as big ones. In fact, my first rejection ever is included in this scenario — the magazine: STORY. As Maxwell Smart would say — missed it by that much!

  • After two years in a seminary in my native England I wrote a novel about my experiences. While in grad school in Boston I sent the book to an agent who rejected it based (apparently) on the fact that I had used school letterhead for my cover letter. It was clear, said the agent gleefully, that I knew nothing of either England or seminaries, and that the book was actually based on my time in a New England graduate school… Laugh or cry, folks. Laugh or cry.

  • Misty,
    I’m still new at rejections, having only started querying agents and editors a few months ago. Most of the handful that I’ve received have been the “not the right fit for our agency” variety.

    I did get one last week that made me smile (edited for anonymity): “…The fact that this work doesn’t fit my narrow criteria for representation does not mean it couldn’t find a home elsewhere. I urge you to submit your work to other agencies or management companies that may be more suited to this type of material. If you have other work you wish to submit, please feel free to query again.”

    I still have about 6 active queries out with agents, but I guess this means I should crank out a few more. Thanks for the reminder.


  • I’m still fairly new to the rejection game as well, only a couple under my belt and nothing remotely fascinating about them. In other words, no useful insights at all about how bad I must be! LOL It’s understandable though with the amount of submissions these agents and editors must receive.

    The only one I actually remember is the Writers of the Future Contest. All that one said was something like, “Dear Contestant, your story did not win.” But, I must say, it was actually signed and not just some signature stamp.

    I do love hearing rejection stories though, so thank you for sharing. I think A.J.’s may be the best though. Too funny.

  • Misty. I threw away about a hundred rejections for my first, not yet sold book, keeping only the *good* ones, that have comments or notations on them — a half inch thick stack. But I put them away recently and I now cannot remember where they are. A bit of psychology might suggest a hidden, deeply traumatic event in my past that caused me hide unpleasantness from myself, and it might be true. Or I might just be flighty and forgetful. I *am* blond now…

    But one I do remember said, “I commend your work, but we are not accepting submissions for the next 18 months…” It was not on colored paper.

  • I am starting to feel like an “old pro” at rejections, having racked up a considerable number (137 ouch!) in the past year. Still, I’ve also gotten 25 acceptances. While most have been form rejections, some have been personal with tidbits of helpful advice.

    My biggest lesson learned for the year is: “doesn’t quite fit” means “not a good match between your story and our magazine/issue/anthology/ezine” rather than “not a good story”. Once I learned that, the rejections were far easier to take, as they just mean an opportunity to either find a better fit, or figure out what about my story makes it less of a good fit.

  • I had a rejection that was form, but written on the bottom was “Oh, by the way, if that is you’re real name, perhaps you should change it.” This was from non just a major writer, but like one of the super writers who is now dead. I did not change it. It is my real name and I have 7 books out, one out in June, another out in December, not to mention some other projects taking shape.

    I also had a writing teacher in grad school tell me I would never be able to be a writer. I wanted to send her copies of all my novels.

  • Kim

    I threw all mine out two years ago, keeping only two, which are now on my wall.

    One is a form letter, the very first rejection I got (for a story I then sold years later after several major rewrites.) I keep it to remind me that the crushing emotions I felt when I first got it were only valid if I gave them power over me, and I didn’t.

    The other is from the same publisher, asking if that odd story about a witch, a vampire and a pixy ever got picked up. I keep that one to remind myself to take everyone’s work seriously, because you never know when the good stuff will cross your desk. They took too long, and it was already in production at another house. na na, na na, na-a-a-a na.

    Tenacity is sweet, and if you’re lucky, you can frame it and put it on your wall. -grin-

  • Wolf Lahti

    One major magazine sent form rejection letters printed on advertisements for their next issue, essentially saying, “We’re not going to buy your story, we’re not going to tell you why, and we want you to give us your money.” I realize it’s just business, but it seemed to me at the time rather insulting.

    I wonder whether they still do that.

  • Thanks Misty, (I’ve seen you lurking in my bushes… so I’m not surprised :P) I surly will let you know if I sell the story as well.

  • My first rejection was a detailed, two-page letter from a small press that I pinned my hopes on. And then I made what I *thought* were reasonable rewrites, only to receive that one-liner “Sorry, not right for us” a few months later.

    It worked out, though, because I was nowhere near ready β€” and since I’ve been working on *that* particular story since I was twelve, I want to do it justice (which means a few more years away from it while my subconscious sorts things out). By the time I received the rejection, I’d already figured that out on my own, so it wasn’t too painful. Plus, it inadvertently lead to my WIP, so I can’t really complain. πŸ™‚

  • Moira, you just said the part that makes rejection letters so hard – a small press that I pinned my hopes on. We send out our stories and then spend the next few weeks or months imagining how wonderful a sale will be. When the β€œSorry, not right for us” appears, it’s heartbreaking.

    I do the same thing when I buy a lottery ticket, and I really should know better! I just can’t help thinking of how much fun it’ll be to drive that shiny red Tesla… πŸ˜‰

  • Hah, I’m too practical. If I win the lottery, it goes like this: 1. House. 2. New car for DH. 3. Term deposit/GIC to generate ongoing income no matter what I do with the rest of it. 4. Go on a wish-granting spree for friends and family.

    So is it petty to feel just a twinge of vindication knowing that the small press in question was recently bought out? (I’m kidding. Mostly. No really, this was a valuable learning experience. *nods*)

  • It was so cheering to read these posts! And Kim, since I just read (and loved) Book 8 of that odd story about a witch, a vampire, and a pixy, I am chortling to think there is an editor out there somewhere who had a suspicion he or she had missed the boat even before it was published. It’s nice to know we writers aren’t the only ones afraid of making mistakes!

  • Adventures,

    But then, some stories are just not right for certain markets.