Make Your Rejections Work For You

Last time on the blog, Elise had a wonderful post about rejection dissection and what those pet phrases slush readers use actually mean. It was a great post and I was happy to see that some people commented about their different rejection experiences. (In a related post, Silvia Moreno-Garcia talked about how not to deal with rejection.) I want to talk about something that’s related, too: the personal rejection.

Realistically, there are very good reasons why a rejection may not be personal. The sheer volume of stories a publication receives makes it impossible to give every rejection that personal touch. We all love the warm fuzzy, but need to remember that the focus of the editors at any magazine is to put out the magazine, not train writers.

I think every rejection should be personal. Not only because it’s nice for the writer to receive, but because I’ve found that writing a personal rejection hones my own writing and editorial skills. A little bit of personalization helps everyone.

Personal rejections are helpful and insightful, and they make you feel good. Probably not as good as you would feel if your story was accepted and the acceptance letter had lipstick kisses all over the page, but it’s nice to know that a real person took the time to share their thoughts about your story.

Even if you already know that personal rejections can come in handy, you might be surprised to find out that there are a handful of categories of personal rejections. Personal doesn’t always mean unique, and that’s also helpful. It means you can identify telling characteristics and determine what best to do with your newly acquired rejection letter.

I generally categorize rejections into one of three categories:

Market Research

Let’s face it, even if all the magazines in the world could keep their submission guidelines up to date all the time, there are bound to be little quirks of the editors’ that don’t make it into the guidelines. This doesn’t mean you should panic or second-guess the guidelines. A lot of the time, it comes down to a problem of semantics.

I submitted a story that I described as “quirky fantasy.” To me, quirky meant something with an unusual storyline that focused on the absurdity of the situations that my characters found themselves in. When I submitted that piece, I found that when a certain editor said they wanted “quirky,” they really wanted quirky characters, not storylines. When I received that rejection, I made a note of that preference and moved on. In the future, if I happen to write something with quirky characters, I’ll try that magazine again.

Revision-focused Rejection

This editor liked X but didn’t like Y. She wants to see more tension in the first part of the story, and thinks the middle sagged. Hmmm…this sounds eerily familiar. Maybe it’s because this is what my beta readers were saying! If I get a rejection like this, I try to incorporate any criticism the editor has into future revisions of the story. Of course, most rejections won’t be very detailed. There’s a fine line between addressing problems in a story and hitting the author over the head with them. Most editors try to stay far away from the latter.


Even if the editor doesn’t have anything to say about your story that you find particularly helpful, a personal rejection can give you a little zap of encouragement where a form rejection would not.

I have some of my favorite rejections in a folder that I keep in my desk. The best ones tell me to please keep writing and submitting. These are my favorites because I know that someone other than my writing partners or my sister saw potential in my work–enough potential that they felt they should encourage me to continue writing. The support of a stranger is an incredibly powerful thing for a writer to receive.

Your Turn

What about you, readers? How do you feel about personalized rejections? Do you find them useful or encouraging? Let us know in the comments!


One thought on “Make Your Rejections Work For You”

  1. I hear even fairly established authors have trouble landing an unsolicited story, so I submit knowing publication is a longshot. Getting a personal rejection then (also a rare enough thing), always feels like a victory.

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