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Becoming a Better Writer

Top Ten Reasons You Keep Getting Rejected

Rejection sucks. But no one ever said writing would be all fun and games.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably had your fair share of rejections. While we’re usually able to bounce back quickno-68481_640ly and submit again, sometimes it’s important to reflect on why we’re getting rejected. If you’re used to getting a big fat stack of “No” in your inbox, then it’s time to figure out the problem.

Here are the top ten reasons you keep getting rejected:

1. You aren’t reading the publications before submitting.

If you haven’t read at least one story or poem from a magazine, then you are wasting your time submitting. It’s important to read what they publish to get a feel. Besides, why do you want to be published in something you don’t want to read?

2. You aren’t reading enough current writers.

Yes, we all know you write exactly like William Faulkner, but how do you stack up with today’s current writers? It’s important to read what’s currently being published. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that all the best writing was done years ago by dead white guys.

3. You are saving your best work for The New Yorker.

Everything you send out should be your best work. If it’s not your best, then hold onto it until it is your best.

4. You aren’t revising enough.

How many revisions did you go through on the last piece you just submitted? If the answer is zero, one, or two, then you definitely aren’t putting enough time and energy into your writing. Your stories will never be the best on the first or second try.

5. You aren’t letting other people read your writing.

You don’t have to workshop everything you do, but if you never let anyone read your writing, then you aren’t going to gain much critical insight into what you could be doing better. There’s an old saying that we’re our own toughest critic. For most people in the writing world, this isn’t true at all. It’s often hard to figure out what’s wrong in your own writing. Find a writing friend who is ruthless and share your work.

6. Your writing isn’t unique.

Are you writing the same old plots in the same old style with the same old tropes? Stop. You need to write something that hasn’t been written before. With thousands of new pieces of fiction and poetry published every day, you have to do something to set your writing apart.

7. Your submission isn’t a good fit.

The number one reason why a story gets rejected isn’t because it isn’t good enough to be published. It’s because it’s not right for a specific publication. It may all go back to reading publications before submitting, but getting acceptances really does come down to finding a perfect fit.

8. You aren’t following guidelines.

Are you single spacing when they want you to double space? What about the time you went twenty words over the word limit? These things matter a lot to publishers. If you want to get on the fast track to rejection, then don’t listen to what they want you to do.

9. You are submitting too frequently.

The more you submit, the more you will get rejected. It’s a numbers game, but it’s also common sense. If you are submitting twenty times a day, then when are you finding time to write, read, edit, or research? Slow down your submissions and work on the more important things.

10. You are a writer.

We all get rejected. If you don’t want to be rejected, then either stop being a writer or go live in a cave. If you opt for the cave, chances are one day a big bear will come by and reject your work.

If you find yourself getting rejected at every turn, then it’s time to reevaluate what you are doing. By putting more time into your craft and making more sensible submission choices, you can improve your acceptance rate.

What are some other reasons why your stories are getting rejected? Share them in the comments below.

Nathaniel Tower

Nathaniel Tower is the founding and managing editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. Find out more about Nathaniel at nathanieltower.com.

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17 Comments

  1. What an excellent article. I’ll certainly share the link with my writer friends.

    I can’t think of another reason for rejections, though the crush of manuscripts forces editors to be choosy about which article sees the light of day in print. It must be hard being an editor. So many good stories come flooding in and there must be the wish in an editor’s heart to publish as many of them as possible. Badly-written or poorly-researched stories are easy to reject but I’m sure many submissions are excellent.

    For me, rejections have the consolation of proving that I’m trying to make a living as a writer. Canada Pension Plan wants me to be gainfully employed but writing is the only skill I have. I therefore save every letter and e-mail in case I’m audited. If CPP tries to cut me off, I have ample proof of my diligence. Rejection hurts but I still feel the incentive to keep on submitting and writing new material.

    • Bruce, thank you for sharing your experience. I never would have considered other reasons why rejection letters might be important to the submitter. I wonder if personal rejection letters would offer better proof of your diligence.

  2. Number 10 sums it all up! GEt used to it cause rejection is all part of the writing gig.

  3. Excellent post Nathaniel! Rejection is one of those things that we do not tend to dream about when considering a writing life. We should though, as this is what allows us to grow. Thank you for shedding some light on how to become a better writer through rejection.

  4. I really appreciate the brief, yet great advice in this article! I’ve shared similar submission tips on my poetry blog, but missed a few of these. I’ll be sharing this article for sure. I think this relates to all genres of writing. Thanks for posting it!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting (and most of all for sharing). We’re glad you found something useful here. Submitting your work is a real art form, and it can be tough facing rejection. But if you have the right strategy, you can find a lot of success.

  5. Good info all around, but the item I am most guilty of is not truly reading and considering the publication calling for submissions. Why is it we writers don’t “have time” to read? Thank you for this incentive to be a more diligent submitter.

  6. Good list, but perhaps I can add something.
    There are fashions out there – trends and tastes not immediately detectable in the particular mag you’re submitting to (therefore, reading a few issues might not help much). I suspect – but have no proof – that even well written work that doesn’t smack of MFA program styles will get a pass.
    (That is assuming that first reads by single readers are pretty quick and intuitive. Some mags have committees and some read through several times.)
    I also think of the sheer improbability of being accepted. It’s very low unless you stack the odds by being recognized (most submissions are NOT blind), knowing someone, etc. There are many, many magazines, and each gets inundated by submissions, thanks to the internet. (That’s its downside.) What are the odds that someone will be awake and attentive enough to read your work carefully – let alone find it’s a fit?
    Personally, although I have been writing for decades and have had many nice things said to encourage me, I am starting to give up. I published a poetry collection 15 years ago. Hardly any luck since then, despite lots of work in several genres. Things are very different from 20 years ago (prior to internet blitz) – and I don’t think my writing is worse! My publishing days seem behind me. 🙁
    Fashion and odds. That’s my take!

    • Lou, thank you for your insightful comments. There are definitely trends and tastes at play with all of this. Everything changes over time, the literary world included. Are all submissions read with the attention they deserve? We try our best at Bartleby Snopes. But I’m sure plenty of submissions at plenty of magazines get passed over because the first sentence or first paragraph wasn’t interesting enough to a tired reader.

      There’s really only one thing we can do: Keep writing! Good luck with your future publishing endeavors.

      • Thank you, Nathaniel!
        I might even submit something to Bartleby in the next while!
        I will keep writing, regardless, but submit more carefully. Only so many clear-headed hours in a day.

    • Hello Lou, thank you for your response to Nathaniel’s list. I can empathize with your situation, believe me. My only quibble with Nathaniel’s list is that No. 2 is not always good advice. The danger lies in getting caught up in the fashionable, which can seduce and at times entrap a writer, even an old fogey like me who has been able to publish 6 poetry collections over the years. Some of the best advice I ever received when I was struggling to get my first book published came from Maxine Kumin: “You have to be stubborn to make it as a poet.” I think that’s finally what you and Nathaniel are saying. I suppose I would also say to young writers, read as widely as you can, and fall in love with what really calls to you, instructs you, haunts you, regardless of when it was written.

  7. William Howard Pritchartt III

    January 3, 2016 at 1:37 am

    Boy this sure hits home with me. I go by my middle name so as not to be mistaken for William Faulkner (another Mississippi native) or William Shakespeare (another play writer) LOL!

    I attended the University of Mississippi back in the 1970’s. Few people realize Faulkner’s sentences ran on as long as four pages until in the hands of his editor. I am pretty bad in self editing but not as bad as Bill Faulkner a/k/a “Count de No Count” as referred to by the locals of Oxford, Mississippi when he began writing upon returning home after the first world war with no visible means of support or vocation.

  8. W. Howard Pritchartt III

    January 4, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    Having been in love with women who did not love me but adored my wallet I can say honestly that rejection is not a disappointment. It is an expectation.

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