Ever since I published Let’s Write a Short Story a few years ago, I’ve been talking to a lot of writers about writing, publishing, and rejection.
One writer emailed told me after submitting something to a writing contest:
I’ve never submitted anything. And after I hit submit, I wanted to hide under my blankets. I still do.
Does that feeling sound familiar?
All Writers Deal With Rejected
Every writer faces the possibility, nay the probability, of rejection. So what can you do about it?
How can you avoid having your stories rejected by a publisher, a literary magazine, or writing contest?
Here are four tips to avoid having your story rejected.
1. Write the Best Story You Can
At a writing conference a few years ago, I asked the editor of a literary magazine what would improve a writer’s chances of being accepted.
“Write the best story you can,” he told me.
This is the most annoyingly worthless kind of advice. “Oh really? I was thinking about writing a mediocre story. Or even the worst story I could.”
What is a good story? How do you define a good story? How does your definition differ from mine?
Perhaps a way to get at this answer another way is the question people most often ask me, “How do I know if my short story is good enough? or even finished?”
If you want to know whether your story is finished, the best thing I can recommend is to get feedback. Write and rewrite your story until it’s just about as good as you can make it, and then show it to a group of readers. Show it to as many people as are willing to read it.
If your reading group likes your story, submit 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 publisher, literary magazine, or writing contest will want to publish it.
However, editors and publishers often say they read hundreds of interesting, well-written stories which they have to reject because it wasn’t the right fit for their publication.
If you want to avoid rejection, do your research. Read (or skim) ten books and stories by the publisher you’re considering submitting to. For literary magazines, 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-six literary magazines to start with.
3. Follow Standard Formatting
Most publishers like to have things formatted a certain way.
Literary magazine editors, for example, 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 (you can get a free short story formatting checklist here), 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 us quit writing when we were young because an adult criticized us. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of horror stories.
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. It took me about a decade to get over it. 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 horror stories, that someone would give up on writing because of something I said.
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?
Have you ever had a story that was rejected? I’d love to hear your story. Let me know in the comments.
Get rejected. Today.
Take a risk and embrace your fear. It’s the only way you can improve.
That’s all. Happy Monday.