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How To Get a Story Rejected

6

February 15, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower

So, you’ve written a story. What now? Well, must be time to submit it for publication, right? Before you do, here’s some general advice on how to get that story rejected.

What makes me an expert? Well, I’ve written around 300 stories in the past 5 years. Over 200 have been published, but I’ve also received around 700 rejection notes. I’ve also had the painful duty of rejecting thousands of stories.

Here are some things I’ve learned about rejection (as both an editor and a writer)

Note: The following list reflects some actual reasons I’ve had stories rejected as well as reasons I’ve rejected stories. Other reasons are completely fabricated, but still possibly true. Astute readers will recognize that some of these things are trivial reasons for rejection. 

 

1. Submit a first draft

2. Write about vampires. Especially sexy teen vampires.

3. Submit a story you never even proofread

4. Submit to a publisher without reading anything about that publisher

5. Submit something that goes way over the publisher’s word limit

6. Submit in some unappealing format, like a really big typeset or maybe one of those cursive fonts

7. Submit via mass email to a lot of publishers. Don’t bother blind copying the publishers. Let everyone know who you are submitting this story to.

8. Offer a list of demands to a publisher

9. Flagrantly write something the publisher doesn’t want to see and mention that you know the publisher doesn’t want to see it but that it’s really good

10. Write stories about child abuse that don’t have happy endings

11. Write stories about child abuse

12. Use nothing but clichés

13. Address your cover letter to a different magazine

14. Talk about how bad your story is in the cover letter

15. Talk about how great your story is in the cover letter

16. Resubmit a story when the publisher clearly doesn’t want to see it again

17. After being told to wait a week to submit another piece, submit another piece an hour later

18. Send previously published work to places that don’t accept previously published work. Be sure to mention that it was previously published

19. Send plagiarized work

20. Send your story in the wrong format, with the wrong margins, the wrong headings, etc.

21. Send the wrong story

22. Put contact info on your story when the publisher requests no contact info

23. Don’t put contact info on your story when the publisher requests contact info

24. Say in your cover letter that this story is better than stories the publisher released in the last issue

25. Write stories in which nothing happens

26. Write stories with lots of POV shifts

27. Submit a blank piece of paper and claim it is experimental

28. Submit an attachment to a publisher who doesn’t want attachments

29. Put “best story ever” in the subject line

30. Don’t put anything in the subject line

31. Admit that you’ve never read the magazine in the cover letter

32. Don’t include a cover letter

33. Include too much in a cover letter

34. Fill the story with pointless profanity (and don’t forget to follow up the rejection email with a profanity-filled email of your own)

35. Criticize the publisher’s taste after a rejection and then submit another story

36. Use margins that are too big

37. Use margins that are too small

38. Triple space

39. Double space

40. Single space

41. Add an extra space between periods

42. Don’t add any space between periods

43. Mention in your cover letter that the publisher will need to make some edits

44. Submit a story where everyone dies in the end

45. Ask for money from a non-paying publisher

46. Ask for more money from a paying publisher

47. Submit to The New Yorker

48. Use page numbers

49. Don’t use page numbers

50. Be too experimental

51. Don’t be experimental enough

52. Be too weird

53. Don’t be weird enough

54. Accuse the editor of being sexist

55. Submit a story about the exact same thing that was just published in the magazine

56. Submit multiple stories to a publisher who doesn’t want multiple submissions

57. Submit an unfinished story and say you’ll finish it if the editor likes the beginning

58. Submit when a publisher isn’t open to submissions

59. Submit an unagented submission to a place that only accepts agented subs.

60. Submit anything at all. To anywhere. Chances are, it’ll get rejected.

 

Disclaimer: Following all of these guidelines will not necessarily guarantee acceptance or rejection. Results may vary. Consult your agent.

6 thoughts on “How To Get a Story Rejected

  1. Found this both informative and funny. Another one is ‘get the editor’s name right’. One’s name is the most important two words to anyone.

    I’m not an editor however in general correspondence I get annoyed at anything addressed to “Mr Stuart”. Since I don’t know him, the e-mail/letter is unlikely to get any response from me.

    • I know just how you feel, David. I’ve seen a lot of submissions addressed to Mr. Towers. I always respond though. Honestly, I try not to let little things affect my decision as an editor. If I like a story enough to publish it, the cover letter isn’t likely to change my mind. I typically don’t even look at a cover letter until I’m about to respond to the submission. Sometimes I never look at it. The most important thing to me is the quality of the story. But things like that can certainly never help.

      • Great post. It’s comforting to see an editor who doesn’t base their entire opinion on the cover letter, but I’d be interested to know what you think would make a “good” cover letter? Apologies if you’ve already covered this.

      • Catherine, thanks for commenting. I think cover letters are an interesting thing in the writing business. Obviously, the story should do the talking, but I don’t think that means cover letters are useless. If we’re talking about a publisher who receives thousands of submissions a day, a cover letter might be a necessity in the selection process. But for me, and probably most smaller presses, the cover letter takes a backseat to the actual story. Can a good cover letter make a difference? I think it might make me more excited to read a subsequent submission from that same author. It also sometimes makes rejection tougher. But after reading a story, I’m not going to suddenly decide to accept it because of the cover letter. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good cover letter. I like seeing authors who really care about their work and the venue they are submitting to. No matter how much I like a submitter though, I have to like the story, and a cover letter isn’t going to make me like it.

  2. Tieryas says:

    What a hilariously great list, thanks for the insight Nate!

  3. Tieryas says:

    Loved these, ha ha
    50. Be too experimental

    51. Don’t be experimental enough

    52. Be too weird

    53. Don’t be weird enough

    60. Submit anything at all. To anywhere. Chances are, it’ll get rejected.

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