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Why did I get rejected?

January 23, 2011

or “Reasons Why your Submissions didn’t get Published.”

You  slaved over your submission piece, be it an essay, poem, short story or longer manuscript and sent it off into the submission machine. You waited anxiously for an answer and then get the one liner which crushes your confidence.

Its the end  of the world……..You decide to ditch your dream of being a writer… but wait!


The feedback you receive, be it a rejection letter or a longer piece of advice has nothing to do with you as a person or your ability as a whole as a writer. The feedback is about the specific piece you submitted with regards to the specific competition, anthology or opportunity the publisher was running.

You are not being rejected.  The piece of work you submitted is.

Every writer gets rejection letters. The question is, how to interpret them and what to do next.  Its very often the case that the story has not been rejected because of the quality of the writing, but for a simple, easily avoided reason.

Top reasons a story or manuscript will be rejected

1. You failed to follow the submission guidelines. They are very particular about fonts, setting out of paragraphs, word count and cover letters.  Be particularly careful about putting identification on your work as most places request that there is no identifying names attached to the piece.

2. Its obvious that you didn’t proofread it as there were spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or similar structural issues.

3. You failed to read the submission outline regarding the theme, prompt, audience or publication restrictions. Ensure your story has the appropriate tone and languaging suitable for the publication. If the publishers are looking for fantasy, don’t send in steampunk. If the publication has asked for stories themed around rebirth, don’t send in your depressing emo – everyone – dies – apocalyptic tale.  It might be a fantastic story – but if it doesn’t suit the target audience or the style of publication, it won’t be included.

4. Your Cover letter –  was either non existent, bland or a work of fiction. Your cover letter is just as important as the manuscript and needs editing, tightening and proofreading to showcase you as a writer in a short space.

5. Word Count – Although this is covered in ‘read the guidelines’ it bears highlighting again. No doubt your 3000 word story is brimming with outstanding prose and you could not bear cutting a single word down. Great. Send it to an appropriate competition. However, don’t send it to a flash fiction competition for stories under 1000 words. Editors will reject it without reading the first line.

6. Submission Process – Perhaps you failed to read that the publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts or submissions?  In this case you need to be represented by an agent in order for the editors to look at your piece.

7. Bad Timing. They had just accepted a piece which was very similar to yours.

8. Identification. Again – this is covered in “READ THE GUIDELINES!!”  For most competitions and submissions, the editors will specifically ask that writes do not put their name or contact details on the actual piece.  Not only does this protect the integrity of the selection process, but it ensures that known writers are judged alongside emerging authors in an unbiased manner.  If identification is found on the submission, editors may either abstain from passing a judgement or reject it.

It could of course be a fundamental flaw in the piece –

  • The quality wasn’t there. Ensure you have had your story beta read by a variety of readers and act upon their advice before submitting. Having a passive voice describing flat 2 dimensional characters wandering around a boring setting with nothing to do or say, will not get you published.
  • Its boring or unoriginal. There is no plot or development, no conflict and no characterisation.  Worse still, its a re-write of a popular television show or recent film.
  • The opening failed to grab. Depending on the length of the manuscript, if your story hasn’t made the reader care about something quickly, then it will get rejected before they have read your witty or double twisted ending. The opening needs a hook. Every word you include is an excuse for the editor to stop reading.

Editors normal folk and might have rejected your story for a myriad of reasons. When they read your submission:

  • They’d not had their 5 cups of coffee yet.
  • The story was over preachy in a specific area – be it environmental, social justice or religious – and the editor just plain didn’t like what it had to say.
  • Their slush pile was huge and everything from the last week got the same rejection letter.
  • They had a thing about giant octopus/swarms of spiders/ dirty old man stories ( or any other pet peeve story) and thats what you had just sent them

And just think, if your story has been rejected, you are in good company. George Orwell, D H Lawrence, and Leo Tolstoy were all knocked back by publishers before they had success. The script for M.A.S.H was rejected 21 times before a producer took it on. J K Rowling was rejected by five publishers, Gone With The Wind suffered 18 rejections and Dr Seuss was rejected 23 times.  Imagine if one of those writers decided after the first rejection that they were not cut out to be a writer?  What a poorer place our world would be.

Getting published is not always the best measure of success or if you are a good writer or not. Besides, there are many rewards as a writer without being in print.  What do you think?

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Annie Evett can’t believe a new year of school is about to start – and a new year of submissions to competitions unfolds..Follow Annie here on Twitter and catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here
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  1. January 23, 2011 8:03 am

    Some great advice here Annie!

    Although hard, it’s necessary to keep things in perspective and not take rejections personally. Besides – it’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all!(or somesuch)

    And pay extra attention to guidelines, sub details, spell checks and the like – it’s silly to fall down on things like that!

    I can’t remember who it was right now but there was an author who said they received a rejection letter everyday but for Christmas day – then they got two!

  2. January 23, 2011 8:06 am

    thanks Susan! and wow – thats harsh – 2 on Christmas Day..

  3. January 23, 2011 12:59 pm

    Literary agent Jodie Rhodes says, “Every day thousands of writers blow their chance because they don’t understand how to write a compelling query letter.” One of the main things that goes wrong is failure to follow the agency’s submissions guidelines. Agent Linda Mead says, “Each agency specifies how it wishes to receive submissions. Don’t deviate from these requests. It could work against you.” A remarkable number of writers eliminate themselves from consideration because they didn’t read or believe the agency’s instructions. Literary agent Krista Goering says that six of ten submissions she receives are not in the proper form.

  4. January 23, 2011 4:37 pm

    Excellent post. I have just completed reading a whole swag of entries for the Stringybark Stories Short Stories competition and I have rejected a bunch of stories for exactly the reasons listed above. I do not reject the stories because of the author but because of the flaws. While a typo or two is unlikely to lead to a rejection, I am still astounded that I receive 3000 word stories for a 1400 word competition or that I receive detective fiction set in NY when the theme is “Australia and Australians.” Maybe I should call our submission guidelines, ”submission rules.”

    Thanks again for this post. I’ll link to it from my website.



  5. January 23, 2011 6:46 pm

    cheers David thanks so much for linking.. it a frustrating process isn’t it? Good luck on the Stringybark submissions!

  6. January 23, 2011 9:16 pm

    Good points all. One of the problems with having your story read by a beta reader is that it is very hard to tell someone you know, possibly love, that their story doesn’t quite work. If you get actual usable feedback like, “this doesn’t quite work for me because…” then you’ve got a good one. Cherish them like the precious treasure they are.

    Good post Annie.

  7. January 23, 2011 9:18 pm

    Maybe it’s a New York detective who fantasizes about moving to Australia… 😉

  8. January 24, 2011 12:42 pm

    They hadn’t had their 5 cups of coffee yet…LOL. Thanks for the breakdown of common submission pitfalls. This was very helpful.
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  9. January 24, 2011 12:51 pm

    I think the message is clear here:

    Read the submission guidelines, study the books they are currently representing and make sure you are a fit, follow their guidelines, read the guidelines again, then once more, before checking off everything they have asked for, then checking it again and crossing your fingers/holding your breath!

    Great post!

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