Annie On Writing

May 8, 2011

Why did I get rejected?

or Reasons why your submissions didn’t get published.

This article first appeared over at Write Anything

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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