4 Tips to Avoid Having Your Short Story Rejected by a Literary Magazine

Since the publication of Let’s Write a Short Story, I’ve been talking to a lot of writers about writing, publishing, and yes, rejection.

A writer emailed me the following passage from the book:

Another said, “I’ve never submitted anything. And after I hit submit, I wanted to hide under my blankets. I still do.”

Submitting is hard.

“That’s exactly how I feel!” he told me.

Every writer faces the possibility, nay the probability, of rejection. So what can you do about it? How can you avoid having your short stories rejected by a literary magazine?

Here are four tips:


Photo by Chris Griffith

1. Write the Best Story You Can

At AWP last year, the editor of a literary magazine told me to, “Write the best story you can,” after I asked what would improve my chances of being accepted. This is the most annoyingly worthless kind of advice. “Ok, well, what is a good story? How do you define a good story? How does your definition differ from mine?” Useless.

However, the question people most often ask me is, “How do I know if my short story is good enough or even finished?”

The best thing I can recommend is to show your short story to a group of trusted readers. If your trusted reading group likes it, send it. If they mostly like it but have a few issues (especially if the issue is with the ending), consider tweaking it. If they unanimously hate it, go cry in the bathroom and then write another story.

2.. Find the Right Fit

It’s common to think if you’re story is good enough, any literary magazine will accept it. However, editors say they read hundreds of interesting, well-written stories which they reject because it wasn’t the right fit for their magazine.

If you want to avoid rejection, do your research. Read two editions of twenty literary magazines and take notes. It’s a lot of work, but you’ll save yourself the pain of a lot of rejection.

Here’s a list of forty-four literary magazines to start with.

3. Follow Standard Formatting

Literary magazine editor’s work long hours and are severely underpaid. Standard formatting makes their life easier by ensuring that everything at least looks the same. You don’t want to turn an editor off before they even start reading because you used Comic Sans.

We go into depth on how to format your story according to standard manuscript formatting in Let’s Write a Short Story, but another option is to pick up a copy of Scrivener, which will do all the hard work for you.

4. Embrace Rejection

Some of you quit writing when you were young because an adult criticized you. While talking to other writers about the book, I’ve heard a few horror stories. For example, one new friend told me he quit writing fiction because a teacher had written, “Too conversational,” at the top of his story.

I’ve been there, too. When I was a junior in high school, a writing teacher scolded me in public over an article I wrote. I still don’t think I’ve gotten over it, and the experience turned me off of journalism, and writing for other people, for years.

My greatest fear as a teacher is that I’ll be the star of one of those stories, that someone would give up on writing because of something I said. It reminds me of something Jesus said, “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

However, if you’ve given up writing because of something a teacher said, it’s time to take ownership of your writing and embrace your fear. If you want to be a writer, you will be rejected. There’s just no avoiding it. Sorry. The question is not how to avoid rejection, but can you embrace yourself if you’ve been rejected?

Rejection will not change your identity. It doesn’t make you a bad writer. It doesn’t mean you won’t be published someday. But it might mean you have to work harder.

It’s up to you. Are you willing to do the work?

What do you think? How do you avoid rejection? Is it even possible?


Get rejected. Today.

Submit something to a literary magazine or writing contest that you’ve shelved away. Send something that you’re not sure about to a group of writing friends and ask them to give you honest feedback.

Take a risk and embrace your fear. It’s the only way you can improve.

That’s all. Happy Monday.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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