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I wrote a few short stories over the past few years, and I have shared a few of these with beta readers and asked for feedback. I have one that I decided was ready to go find a home, so I found a journal that I thought was a good match and submitted it. It was rejected.

I don't take the rejection personally. I know there are a lot of reasons to reject a piece, but that's the rub -- I can't tell if it was rejected because it's crap or for some other reason. I also can't tell if the rejection was a form letter or not. It was via email and the editor invited me to join their writing group. That could be a nice "hey, get to know us better" or it could just be stock. I can't tell.

I want to invest my time wisely. I know that even good stories get rejected and that it takes time to find a place to publish. I wasn't expecting to get work accepted on the first try, but I also wasn't expecting that I would suddenly falter in my feeling that this story was ready for publication.

How do I decide if I should spend my time re-writing this story, or if I should look for another place to submit it and spend my time writing more stories instead?

  • Can you ask the journal for a reason that your work was rejected? Have you inquired about what they are looking for in a piece? (I mean "they" referring to those reviewing submissions, as I try hard not to use "they" as referring to a singular person or entity.) – Kai Maxfield Mar 15 '16 at 22:50
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    Depending on the journal, asking why your work was rejected is generally frowned on and may get you put on the naughty-annoying-complainers list - a place you really don't want to be. Most journals will tell you exactly what they want, and exactly how they want it sent to them and if they really thought your work was good they might give you a personal rejection telling you why they rejected you. Asking them to take the time and go back and figure out why they rejected one particular story out of the hundreds / thousands of stories they have to read will just annoy them. – DoWhileNot Mar 16 '16 at 4:15
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    You've gotten great answers, but let me just say - one rejection is nothing. Heck, 10 rejections aren't cause for a rewrite. Assume that magazines reject by default; accept only in rare wonderful cases, which are different for each one. As long as you don't have any specific reason to want to rewrite, keep sending it out as long as you have worthwhile venues. Meanwhile, work on your next pieces :) – Standback Mar 16 '16 at 15:48
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Editors often reject stories for reasons that have nothing to do with the “quality” of the story (whatever that might mean).

A few weeks ago I watched seven editors select stories for anthologies. Each editor was buying stories for their own anthology. There were about 250 stories submitted by 40 writers. Every editor talked about every story, and said whether they would buy it if they were editing the anthology.

I haven’t tallied up the reasons for rejection, but it seems to me that approximately half were for reasons like:

  • Personal taste. Just not the editor’s kind of story. This happened a lot. I would say that a quarter of the rejections were for this reason.
  • Balance of stories. The editor already had two humorous stories, or too many stories in the same genre, or too many in a very similar setting, or …
  • Fit with the anthology theme or requirements. The editor couldn’t see how the story was clearly connected to the theme of the anthology. An editor rejected one of my stories because it was a cozy mystery, and she had explicitly asked us not to submit cozies. I goofed. “You, sir, have committed cozy!”

Note that the 40 writers were all invited to submit stories. They were all known to the editors to be generally good writers. So these were not typical slush pile stories. Overall, about a third of the stories were selected.

I like to apply Heinlein’s third rule: You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order. And by “editorial order” he means the order of an editor who could buy your story (not an editor that you might hire to make suggestions).

So I don’t rewrite stories unless someone who wants to buy it asks me to. And even then I apply Ellison’s Addendum to Heinlein’s third rule: … and then only if you agree.

My recommendation is to send it out again. And again. And again. And maybe package it into an ebook (and maybe a paperback) and put it up for sale.

Move on. Write something else.

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    I like this answer. The first part is a nice anecdote to remind me that being an editor is hard. The second half is the answer I needed to hear -- don't rewrite unless someone who wants to buy it asks me to (after I've gotten it to the point that I feel it is ready for publication). – Kit Z. Fox Mar 16 '16 at 13:01
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Just because it was rejected by one journal doesn't mean that it isn't ready for publication. All it means is that the person reading the slush that day thought that your story didn't fit with what they were looking for that day.

Maybe, possibly, they thought your story was junk, but if your beta readers thought it was good and they weren't just lying to you because you're their friend, then most likely your story just didn't resonate for whatever reason.

Many publications reject great stories because they just can't currently use the story and they don't have the budget to buy a story that they're just going to file away for a couple months.

Try submitting it to a couple more places before you give up completely, and don't let it get you down. Move forward onto new stories.

Also, if the journal that you submitted to didn't give you a personal rejection, but a form letter rejection, you might try submitting to journals next that are known for giving out personal rejections where they tell you exactly why they didn't accept your story. There are web services, like the Submissions Grinder that will tell you information like that.

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William Edward Hickson put it perfectly; If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. If you truly think your beta readers have put forth the effort to really give you their true opinion on your work and you have edited it a few times, read it through a couple more to make sure it flows well, try many, many places before you just throw it away.

You stated that you want to use your time effectively and wisely, and sometimes, waiting for the right publisher is the right thing to do. Sometimes, especially if it is a longer work that took much more time to write and edit, it is worth those few more days spent looking for someone else to publish it.

If the publisher is willing to give you criticism and a little bit of insight on as to why they turned it away, listen carefully. Learn from your mistakes and your writing will improve drastically. Listen to what people have to say, because it is they that are on the receiving end of your work. If they are unwilling to tell you a reason, do not give up hope. Try, try again.

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You can certainly look at it from the market perspective. What one editor rejects another may accept. What 100 editors reject, the 101st editor may accept.

But you can also look at it from the perspective of your own ability to make it better. The passage of time allows us to see work in a new light. Reading it over after a rejection, you may find:

  1. That it still seems fine to you
  2. That you can see problems with it but don't immediately see how to fix them
  3. That it has problems and you can immediately see how to fix them

In the first case, send it out again. In the third case, revise and send it out again. The second case is the tricky one. You can send it out, get a critique to see if it helps you come up with a fix, stick it in a drawer and pull it out in six months, or sit down and rework it until you figure out what the problem is and how to fix it.

Personally, my rule is, if I can't see a flaw, send it out. If I can, don't send it out till I figure out how to fix it.

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It would have been a miracle if the one journal you sent your story to accepted it. Even the best writers collect tons of rejection letters.

Here's what you do: Send it to 10 journals at once. Most allow simultaneous submissions, provided you let them know if your story's been accepted somewhere else. And when you get 10 rejections, send it to 10 more. That's what we do.

Some journals give feedback, and others don't. As others have said, you can ask for feedback, though you might not get any.

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