Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans


Wednesday Writing Therapy: What Rejections Mean

In short, rejections mean this: "We didn't [blank] your story enough to accept it."

cupid.jpgWhat changes for each journal, each editor, each journal's submissions reader is what word fills that blank. For me, at SmokeLong Quarterly, where I serve as part of the editorial staff, that word is love, but it's not the word for every journal I imagine. My minimalist nature envisions that [blank] as a single word for each, though surely it might be a phrase, as in "We didn't [think our readers would love] your story," and that's fine. I do think that love, or at least like, mostly fills in that blank. At least, that's what I choose to believe, and the world is, it has been said, what we choose to believe it to be.


Each rejection says to me, "We didn't love your story enough."
The danger for writers is replacing the [your story] with [you], so that each rejection says, "We didn't love you enough." That has never been the case for me as part of an editorial staff.


I wonder a lot about the essential desire to love stories
, wonder what it would mean to accept the stories I kinda-liked, liked okay, liked a lot, and so on. Or it have nothing to do with like or love, but with craft, risk, the surprise of language, my respect of the overwhelming talent, and so on. Of course, all that might be part of why I love or don't love a story, so I'm pretty sure it's all there in some measure. I am often troubled about what it means to ask writers to write stories that I love, rather than what I imagine others might love, or rather than some other overriding quality of the story. That of course is why SLQ has a staff of readers, each one's strong opinion with the power to say "yes" to a story no matter what the others might feel. But still it's an unsettling thing.


As an editor/submissions reader, I sometimes feel a kind of overwhelming desire to say sorry to the stories I didn't love.
I wanted to love them. That I didn't and someone else did is always cool, because (and I wonder often if I am wrong about this) as a writer, I wouldn't want my stories in place where they weren't loved, and that leads me to wonder if an editorial staff's love means more to me than readers' love. I would hate to think it does. The journal feels like home, the readers visitors to this home, and I believe (or at least tell myself) that it's great for the story to be in a home where it is loved and visited (now and then) by loved ones. I know that it won't always find love with visitors, but what in the world does? And strong dislike is a strong feeling, and why would I want only to evoke love from readers? (Because I've got issues, that's why!)


We didn't love it, the rejections say, and some of them hint at the possibility of this story finding that love elsewhere. So many of these notes seem to want love for the story, for it to find its place in the world. The rejection isn't something anyone needs to apologize for I realize. Who can say (in an any exact way) why love arises or doesn't arise within us? I Of all things rejections are and aren't, I am most certain about this: if someone loved it, it would be in that journal. Maybe the "right person" needs to love it, and that confuses things. And maybe someone who doesn't like me (& I'm certain they are out there) won't be able to find love for something I've written, and that too confuses things. But whether the love wasn't in the right place or was incapable of being produced no matter what I'd written, I believe love plays a vital role in that decision to accept or reject.


I notice I always write back after being accepted with "I'm so glad you liked it." It's true, and I'm too scared and afraid of appearing presumptuous to say, "So glad you loved it." It's a wondrous thing--isn't it?--when we can think of our story as evoking such a thing in a stranger, and that evoked feeling matters so much more and feels so much more meaningful and real than all the times it doesn't evoke this feeling or sense.


So here's the message to you from the Wednesday Therapy Session: We all, I'm certain, read your story hoping it will matter to us, wanting to love it. And yes, of course, we are likely to transfer that love of story to love of writer to love of you. That, too, confuses things, the way acceptances often lead to our loving you (and your story), while rejections mean our not loving your story (but have nothing to do with our love of you).


Oh, how clear I wanted to make this post. I often wonder how crazy I am for thinking such things. What, pray tell, do rejections mean to you?

Note: These thoughts in no way represent the opinions of Smokelong Quarterly, its publisher or staff.


very inter­est­ing.

I always think rejec­tions mean I didn’t do a good enough job of nur­tur­ing the sto­ry: e.g., as the cre­ator (par­ent) of the sto­ry I sent it out too soon, before it was ready to stand on its own–never mind fly!–when it was still crawl­ing or maybe slump­ing in it’s infant seat, lolling its head.

now some sto­ries will nev­er grow up. they were born defec­tive, alas, even per­haps repug­nant to some, and though I as a par­ent will always love those sto­ries uncon­di­tion­al­ly, well, they just can’t make it in the world.

but most sto­ries can, I think, at the right time. they may not get into the ivy league (the new york­er?) but cer­tain­ly there are some local uni­ver­si­ties out there who will wel­come them.

am I tak­ing this con­ceit too far?

case in point:

I sent that com­ment before proof­read­ing.

Rejec­tion is part of it. It’s like learn­ing to talk to women. They are not all going to love you, and by you I mean me. Deal with it and keep look­ing for the one that thinks you’re the shit.

this would all be well & good if so many jour­nals weren’t all lov­ing the same blond haired blue eyed per­fect smile tiny waist great tits same same same­ness sto­ries.

From ddv

rob, you’re the shit.
just know that.
pro­ceed as planned.

From Tara

I actu­al­ly don’t my per­son­al rejec­tions quite as much because at least it feels like a per­son actu­al­ly read my sto­ry. But form rejec­tions take a lit­tle piece of my soul away. Espe­cial­ly when accom­pa­nied by a form to sub­scribe to the jour­nal. 🙁

I work in Media Rela­tions, where my press releas­es and pitch­es get reject­ed all the time, too. (I live in a world of rejec­tions.) And I’ve heard peo­ple say that there’s always one per­fect place for a sto­ry. It may not be the NY Times, but some­where some­one will think the sto­ry is worth writ­ing about and you just have to find it. So I guess I think that about my fic­tion, too. When I get a rejec­tion, I usu­al­ly try to send some­thing out that day to keep the cycle going.…

From Heather

When I was an asso­ciate edi­tor I some­times real­ly liked a sto­ry, thought the writer was tal­ent­ed, but the sto­ry just didn’t “click” so I vot­ed no. Then there were times I couldn’t find any­thing pos­i­tive about a sto­ry so I sent a form. As I writer I always hope for the nice kind of rejec­tion, the one with a lit­tle hand­writ­ten “Almost!” on the slip. I do feel a twinge of dis­ap­point­ed over form let­ters or terse emails (unless they are from a big­gie where forms are expect­ed). In the end rejec­tions just mean that one per­son at one venue didn’t like/love/click with that one par­tic­u­lar sto­ry. Then I decide if the sto­ry needs revi­sion or just belongs some­where else.

I relate to Heather’s con­clu­sion about using rejec­tions to either rethink venue, revise or (I would add) shelf. When I first began sub­mit­ting, I took rejec­tions very per­son­al­ly. Giv­en time and my recent expe­ri­ence as an edi­tor, I real­ize that fit for the jour­nal and for the issue is very impor­tant and that sub­jec­tiv­i­ty with regard to “love” of a sto­ry is a great induce­ment to keep sub­mit­ting if you believe the sto­ry is wor­thy of love. 

I real­ized I had matured a lot as a writer when I con­tin­ued to sub­mit a sto­ry that was reject­ed eight times. I loved it and was grat­i­fied when it was accept­ed and even express­ly and pub­licly loved on the ninth try. 

I’ll admit I still feel per­son­al­ly val­i­dat­ed with accep­tances and some­what per­son­al­ly deflat­ed with rejec­tions. It’s dif­fi­cult not to: Writ­ing is a very per­son­al pur­suit. But I find myself bet­ter at assess­ing my own work and more gra­cious­ly accept­ing, appre­ci­at­ing and uti­liz­ing any feed­back that accom­pa­nies rejec­tions.

I enjoyed this post a lot! Thanks for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­ment.

From Julie

Yes­ter­day I received one of those rejec­tions where the edi­tor said she enjoyed my arti­cle and hoped I’d sub­mit again. It tru­ly made my day! Such is the writ­ing life…

Rejec­tion can come in both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive out­come. But major­i­ty of the peo­ple take it in a neg­a­tive way. Rejec­tion can break a writer’s heart. Espe­cial­ly if it is well thought then it turns out that the read­er didn’t like or love the craft.But for those who are opti­mistic, they take the rejec­tion a good judg­ment. A key for improve­ment. Which is I think a good thing to do when rejec­tion occurs. This post is very inter­est­ing and true. Good job.

From Randall Brown

Hey, Maryanne. I like the uncon­ceit­ed nature of the con­ceit. What’s hard for me is know­ing which sto­ries need anoth­er year of prep school and exact­ly which “uni­ver­si­ty” to send each one to.

From Randall Brown

Hmmm. In my world, fart­noise is a sign of deep sat­is­fac­tion, but my guess is that it means some­thing dif­fer­ent here.

From Randall Brown

Hey Robb, I think we have a sim­i­lar idea here about sto­ries even­tu­al­ly find­ing love in all the right places, although you’ve pre­sent­ed that idea far more col­or­ful­ly than I.

From Randall Brown

Hey, lori­anne. I’ve not noticed that same­ness of sto­ries myself. Have you found any places that seem more like­ly to veer from this “same­ness” in their accep­tances?

From Randall Brown

Tara, well that must be hard if form rejec­tions “take a lit­tle pice of [your] soul away.” How do you find the heart (and soul) to keep send­ing pieces out? That idea that a per­son­al reply con­firms that “a per­son actu­al­ly read [your] sto­ry” is very inter­est­ing. Because SLQ respond so quick­ly to sub­mis­sions, I do think there is a sense, some­times, that we may not be giv­ing each piece the kind of read­ing it deserves. We do (give each piece a com­plete, care­ful read­ing), and I think a per­son­al reply can help ensure writ­ers that we are tak­ing their work seri­ous­ly and giv­ing each piece our full atten­tion (which we are).

From Randall Brown


That sense of “click­ing” is impor­tant, and your point about “terse email” rejec­tions is well-tak­en. That deci­sion about what to make of a rejection—whether a sto­ry should be sent out again or revised—is very hard to make. How do you decide? Is it after a set num­ber of rejec­tions?

From Randall Brown

Lau­ren. Wel­come Back! 

That sub­jec­tiv­i­ty about a piece is def­i­nite­ly some­thing I had to learn, and learned as you did, by being on the edi­to­r­i­al side. I also think that, when deter­min­ing a story’s “worth” by eval­u­at­ing the num­ber of rejec­tions it has got­ten, one has to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the places it’s being sent and their accep­tance rates. A sto­ry could get reject­ed fifty, a hun­dred times if it’s being sent to those jour­nals with a 2%, 1%, or even low­er accep­tance rate.

From Randall Brown


I do so love those notes of encour­age­ment.

From Randall Brown

I’ve seen a kind of check­list for form rejec­tions with a num­ber of choic­es avail­able. The ques­tion for me, as a writer, is what I should make of any kind of rejection/feedback, whether it come from work­shops, writ­ing groups, edi­tors, and so on. In oth­er words, even if an edi­tor says that “it was close but for the end­ing that fell kind of flat,” I’m not sure what that means for me, if it means that end­ing works or doesn’t work. One can’t even be quite sure of a con­sen­sus from read­ers, espe­cial­ly if the work has an ele­ment of risk to it. All quite tricky.

From Randall Brown

That’s a good point, Ben, one I hadn’t thought of, that get­ting “a bet­ter idea of what the editor’s pref­er­ences might be.” 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *