Archive of Articles about Writing

Why they Rejected your Perfectly Good Submission

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell. ” A publisher’s rejection letter to Stephen King

Rejection is an unavoidable part of the publishing world. If you want other people to publish your work, you are going to have to accept rejection and criticism.

Some of the reasons writers get rejected are entirely the writer’s fault. These reasons should be obvious, but some people just don’t seem to understand. You will probably be rejected if you do any of the following:

  • Send an inappropriate submission or query, such as an article about guitars to a magazine about drums.
  • Send a poorly written or unprofessional sounding submission or query.
  • Address your submission or query to the wrong person or department.
  • Fail to follow a publisher’s submission guidelines.
  • Fail to study the publication well enough to be clear about what they want and use.

Those are major errors that will almost certainly get you rejected without a second thought. Lets assume for the moment though, that your submission or query is appropriate, well-written, properly addressed and follows the publisher’s submission guidelines. There are still a number of legitimate reasons that it might be rejected, which do not reflect poorly on you. For the sake of brevity, assume that “editor” means anyone who is deciding whether or not to publish your work.

Because of tastes or requirements

Every publication’s editor has tastes that may not be reflected in the submissions guidelines. They may prefer a specific approach to the subject matter that they publish. They may prefer that their writers have a certain background that you do not have. They may not like your sources or your use of commas. None of these things mean that you did something wrong, it just means that the editor wants something different from what they are seeing.

Because the editor prefers certain writers

Just because a publication says that it is open to new writers, doesn’t mean that they are specifically seeking new writers. The editor may already be comfortable with the freelancers her or she is working with, and not be willing to break in someone new. Some writers are especially good at building relationships with editors, and those relationships pay off down the line with additional assignments. If you are a new writer to this editor, and don’t have a reputation that matters to them, then you may lose out on that basis alone.

Because your submission was not unique

Your idea may be similar to a submission that the editor has already received or published. Some publishers have long lead times between submission and publication. The idea you had may have already been pitched by another writer, or it may have appeared in their publication a year or two earlier and you just didn’t catch it. These things happen.

Because they are saturated with submissions

Some publications receive more submissions than others. This is especially true of major magazines, web sites, and book publishers. If an editor has one slot and twenty worthwhile submissions, then you might get pushed out by the sheer numbers. It doesn’t mean that your submission was bad. It just means that someone else’s work met their needs in a way that yours did not.

Look for positive signs and helpful feedback

In many cases, you won’t receive any feedback with your rejection. Some editors are just too busy to give feedback to every writer that approaches them. If you do receive feedback though, and it isn’t overwhelmingly negative, then the editor is trying to give you some hope or advice for the future. Listen to what they have to say. If they tell you to submit again, do so. If they tell you specifically why they rejected you, look for ways that you can overcome that obstacle in the future. Also, remember that a rejection by one publisher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try another publisher. If you like your idea, find an editor who does as well.