3 Keys to Avoid the Rejection Pile

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After spending years of your life writing a story, you don’t want it to be rejected in the first sixty seconds by an editor. Using pink paper for your novel manuscript submission or dressing like a chicken for your audition on America’s Got Talent both might get you attention, but it is not the attention you want.

How do you avoid the rejection pile and get your writing published?

3 Keys to Avoid the Rejection Pile

Let the quality of your written work, and the richness of your singing voice, be what the editors and judges remember. Keep the pink paper for an art project and the chicken costume for a dress up party.

How to Keep Your Writing Out of The Rejection Pile

Rejection happens. Every writer gets rejected. The only way to stay out of the rejection pile completely is to never share your writing (and you should definitely share your writing).

But there are three things that matter if you want to avoid rejection (recognizing you will never escape it completely).

1. Presentation Matters

Follow the rules and guidelines: Research the publication or contest you want to submit to. Like, really research them.Find out what other books the agent has represented, and submit to the agent who represents similar work. Be specific. Your letter is not a mass mailing. You are talking to a person, a specific person.

Stick to the word count. If the publication asks for 750 words, give them 750 words. If they want twelve-point type, double spaced, in Times New Roman, write in twelve-point type, double spaced, Times New Roman.

Format your manuscript to industry standards: indent paragraphs, no line breaks between paragraphs, proper punctuation for dialogue, white paper, and black ink.

Do not send a stained, dog-eared manuscript that was rejected by a different publication. The editor receiving the document may be inclined to think of your submission in a negative way, as in, “No-one else wanted this.”

Noah Lukeman, a literary agent, gives a detailed list of writing errors that will keep an editor from reading your manuscript, in his book, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. The list includes; a weak opening, too many adjectives, and adverbs, telling and not showing, weak characterization, and lifeless settings.

The best way to improve your writing is to write and read. Read books in the genre you want to write in. Read books on best-seller lists. An agent represented them, a publisher bought the book and published it. Read more than one book, read and read and read. Then write and write and write. And read.

The best way to avoid the rejection pile is to read The Write Practice and practice. (smile, right Joe?)

2. Content Matters

When I was a child I watched my cousin Laura iron each individual paper for her writing term paper on the ironing board, she said, “It will give the paper more volume.” She never told me about how to write a strong essay, or what her paper was about. She was concerned about the presentation.

Please don’t iron your manuscripts.

If you are submitting your article online in a digital format, make sure to use the proper file format, and to write in the subject line of the text as instructed by the editor. If they ask you to say, “Hodges_Essay_2017,” then type, “Hodges_Essay_2017”

Make sure you have no spelling errors or grammar mistakes in your cover letter, and in your manuscript. I know that might seem obvious. Of course, you are going to proof your piece. I use the free software, Grammarly, it helps me catch typing errors or missed punctuation. Read your piece out-loud, and your cover letter out-loud. Does it say what you want to say? Does it sound like you? Have a friend read it.
Take time and do not hurry.

There is no such thing as a great writer; there are only great re-writers.
— Noah Lukeman, The First Five Page.

Edit your story for content and for word choice. Editing your work like a New York Times Publisher will help you write precisely and hopefully get your piece out of the rejection pile. 

3. Being Brave Matters

It is important to submit your writing. If you are entering a contest, the deadline will help you finish your piece. Every time you finish a story, you are a winner, because you are getting better as a writer with each story you write and finish.

Submitting the story is winning, because you faced rejection and still shared your story.

Right now I am taking a Master memoir class with Marion Roach Smith, we meet once a month for six months. Each of the seven students reads their 750-word piece, and then we offer comments on each other’s work. At the end of the six months, I will have a finished manuscript. I made a commitment to write three to five pages a day five days a week.

Make a plan, follow the plan, and finish an imperfect first draft. Then edit to avoid the rejection pile.

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. — Margaret Atwood

Have you ever been brave and submitted a piece and had it rejected? Let me know in the comments section.


Do you have a first-draft of a story? Please work on a 250 word section of it, about one double spaced, typed page, in twelve-point Times New Roman, with one inch margins. Share your writing here in the comments an excerpt of your story.

For today's practice. Either edit a piece of writing you have already written, or write for fifteen minutes a section of a work in progress, or a write a story from an event in your life, like a most embarrassing moment, or the first time you met your best friend.

P.S. I am starting a weekly ART blog on October 18th, 2017, sharing tips on art and creativity. If you would like to learn how to draw, please follow along at pamelahodges.com. I would love to help you create like you.


Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at pamelahodges.com.

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  1. Christine

    I was actually thinking of reworking a story I’d written. Now your article gives me the nudge I needed to get at it. I decided to retell this embarrassing incident from the officer’s viewpoint.

    Multitasking Motorist

    Chan noticed a car ahead weaving erratically and crowding the cars in either lane. Turning on his flashers he came up behind and saw the driver writhing in her seat. A moment of panic hit him. “Heart attack? Seizure?”
    But when he pulled alongside the other car, the woman gave him an embarrassed smile. He sighed and signaled her to pull over. One of those multi-tasking drivers again.
    Standing by her car, Chan eyed her critically. “Are you okay, lady? I thought you were having a seizure. What exactly were you doing?”
    “This is so embarrassing! You see, I snagged my panti-hose leaving the house and now I’ve a huge hole. I can’t show up at the office like that, so I was trying to take them off.”
    “While driving?” Chan rolled his eyes. “May I see your driver’s license and registration, ma’am.”
    He spent a few minutes on his radio and returned, ticket in hand. “So you had another driving infraction last month?”
    “Quite a minor offense, really.”
    “Blowing up balloons while driving ten kilometers over the speed limit on a main street is minor? Now that’s funny.”
    “They were for my granddaughter’s birthday party and I was running late.”
    Chan used his sternest cop face as he handed her the ticket. “From now on, lady, when you’re driving forget about multi-tasking. We don’t want to see you in the morgue.”
    “Yes, officer.”
    Chan climbed into his cruiser and grinned, remembering the reactions when Vennie told them about the balloon-blowing grannie. Wait ‘til the guys heard this one.

    • Priscilla King

      Do great (?) minds think alike? Is this how your character ends up spending six months in a wheelchair and losing four inches in height, after so proudly keeping her back straight up to age 82? (Mine was in the car the careless motorist slammed into…)

      • Christine

        I read on day about all the things people try to do when they’re commuting to work. And a friend told me about her mom, “the city’s worst driver.” A policeman followed her mom all across town one day — without her realizing — and finally stopped her, saying, “I don’t know where to start!”
        Great minds must think alike because I have a black cat that looks just like yours in your gravatar.

        • Priscilla King

          Purr! Purr! (This cat image came from Morguefile but was chosen for its resemblance to a long-ago cat.)

          I hope your friend’s Mom takes the warning in time!

  2. EndlessExposition

    Formatting is always my least favorite part of editing, particularly when it comes to writing dialogue. I love writing dialogue and in terms of the content I’m good at it, but I’m always getting told I don’t break up my paragraphs correctly. Hopefully I did a decent job here. Reviews are always appreciated!

    “The toxicology set-up is through here.” Emmet put his hand on the doorknob and paused. He looked at me over his (beautifully sculpted) shoulder. “Brace yourself.”

    Before I could ask why, he opened the door. Violent heavy metal music screamed out. The noise was so loud it physically knocked me backwards. I clapped my hands over my ears. Emmet didn’t. He just walked in. A stereo system was set up on the counter. Emmet pushed a button and the music stopped. A female voice said, “What the hell Em, I was listening to that!” Cautiously I stepped into the room.

    The facility was impressive. Smaller than what was in Boston, but well equipped. Toxicology isn’t my specialty, but I knew enough to recognize that the mass spectrometer sitting next to the stereo was the latest model on the market. Someone at HQ loved us.

    A woman sat on a stool at the counter. She had on black lipstick, leather pants, and knee high boots swathed in straps and buckles. Her T-shirt was emblazoned with a pentagram and the words “Bitch Craft”. Guess I didn’t need to worry about what to wear.

    She looked me up and down. Her eyes narrowed in thought. “Hm…Aries?”

    “Uh – Pisces, actually.”

    “What’s your birthday?”

    “February twenty-fifth.”

    “Time of birth?”

    “Eight in the morning.”

    She nodded like that explained everything. “Aries ascending. I was close.”

    Emmet nudged her with his elbow. “You wanna introduce yourself, weirdo?”

    “I was getting to it!” She raised her hand in greeting. “Soo-Jin Moon. Senior toxicologist. Hey.”

    • Rose Green

      Wow! What an introduction. We get a real sense of all three characters in just a few words.

      Thanks for sharing.

  3. Felisa Daskeo

    Thanks for the tips. I have a novel that is still a work in progress and hope to be able to finish it and publish. I suffered some rejections during my first try in the writing world but I didn’t give up until all my short stories were finally accepted by magazines that published them.

    Here’s part of my novel and thanks.
    She found herself loving the hospitable family and thanking them when they readily offered their house for her to stay while in Santa Barbara. They were all kind and humble. It was a fine breakfast. Xyrine drank her coffee slowly while enjoying the fried rice, dried fish and stir fried string beans in salted black beans and only when they finished their breakfast did Mrs. Pagtakhan, plucked her away from the other members and brought her to the garden so that they could talk.
    Under a big narra tree was a round marble table with intricately carved wooden chairs around. There was a long stone bench on one side and some exotically designed wicker chairs crowding the area. This place according to Mrs. Pagtakhan is a special place to entertain guests. It is a cozy place and the perfect place to talk while relaxing. It was not surprising because Mr. Pagtakhan is a public servant.
    Xyrine looked around the place and smiled. “It’s a lovely place. I love it.” When she sat down, she chose the big solid chair made of fine wood and caressed the hard surface.
    “That chair was especially designed for my husband. It was made from the roots of a narra tree, “Mrs. Pagtakhan said as she sat on a smaller chair similarly designed like the chair Xyrine sat on. “We bought that in Baguio City from a friend.” Mrs. Pagtakhan continued looking at Xyrine who was silently admiring the carvings on the chair.
    “It’s beautiful,” Xyrine finally exclaimed. “I could imagine how big the tree was. Perhaps a hundred years or more for this kind of root it has grown to. Pity, it has to be butchered to give way to this beautiful lifeless thing here.”

    • Rose Green

      I’m interested in the relationship between Xyrine and her hostess and would have liked to see more of that than your description of the furniture (as vivid as that was!). Who are they in relation to each other? How did Xyrine end up there? What is the conversation they are about to have that we don’t have time for because she’s stroking the chair?

      My suggestion would be to pick the most interesting section of your work, where something happens, rather than just any 250 words.

      Happy writing!

      • Felisa Daskeo

        Thanks Rose for the feedback. Now I know what to improve in my work.

  4. Julie Mayerson Brown

    Many submissions – many rejections – a few great wins! It gets easier, and skin gets thicker 🙂

  5. Judy Peterman Blackburn

    I have so many rejections I feel like a writer. 🙂 I’ve been back and forth with writing. I quit, give up then something calls me back. The last time it called to me I’ve kept up with it, doing a lot of studying, sending stories out, short stories at this time. I am not giving up this time. Thank you for an informative post and encouragement. 🙂

    • Rose Green

      I’ve stacked up a few rejections – some of the actual ‘thanks but no thanks’ type but far more have been deafening silence.

  6. TerriblyTerrific

    I self-publish. But, at times I cringe when someone lets me know if they find some grammar errors, or some other error in my writing. It still feels like rejection. Thank you.

  7. Rose Green

    Confrontation between McNeal and Fletcher

    A/N: This scene may not make it into novel but I want to write it anyway. Both McNeal and Fletcher have been hired to protect a priceless jewel that is the basis of a peace treaty, the former by the owner and the latter by a separate government but without anyone else’s knowledge. Despite both their efforts, the jewel is stolen. This is the confrontation that ensues.

    McNeal glared at the other man. “And who the hell are you?”

    “My name’s Fletcher. I am an operative for the Galactic Council.”

    Now it was the Prince’s turn to scowl. “The Galactic Council?! What right do they have to interfere in this matter? The peace treaty is between our governments,” he indicated the Princess, who bowed, “not with the Galactic Council. Whether or not either of our planets applies for membership is a matter for future discussion.”

    Fletcher nodded. “I know, sir, but you must understand that this peace treaty affects the whole galaxy, which has been affected by the long war that your planets have been engaged in. After all, you chose this tiny moon for the location of the exchange as an acknowledgement of that fact.”

    “What you say is true… The destruction caused by the war to planets that had no direct part in it has been a matter of concern… nay, more than concern; of grief.”

    The sound of McNeal’s fist slamming against the table made them all jump. “I’m still not happy about this!”

    “You do surprise me,” commented the Princess.

    “Basically,” he continued, ignoring her, “the Galactic Council doesn’t believe I’m up to the job!”

    “Well, the jewel is missing,” the Princess observed, a barely concealed smile playing on her lips.

    “Yes, madam, it is missing. And he stole it!” He jabbed a finger at Fletcher, impotent rage flashing in his eyes.

    The Galactic Council’s operative flinched. “Well, you have me there, McNeal. Yes, I helped Rico to switch the jewel with the fake by posing as a customs officer. But I advised him to lay low, to wait for the dust to settle before trying to move it off the Trading Post. My plan was to arrest him quietly and return the jewel to it’s new owner.”

    The Princess gave another small nod of acknowledgement but could not resist saying, “It seems that your plan went more than a little awry, Mr Fletcher.”

    McNeal gave a snort of wrathful laughter but Fletcher was genuinely amused, if rather embarrassed. “Indeed, madam. The question now is, how to stop Rico before he goes off-world and disappears into the vastness of the galaxy.”

    At that moment, the door opened and Langley walked in. She went straight to the Prince and Princess, seeming to not notice either McNeal or Fletcher. “Your Highness, we have the jewel!”

  8. Lyn Blair

    Such inspiring advice, Pam. You helped me move forward with my story. No more waiting for perfection. What a quote! I love that!

    Here are 250 words of the beginning of a short story I’m writing (Feedback is very appreciated.) :

    The IV dripped, dripped, dripped, on and on. Nurses kept jabbing needles to find veins. The constant thirst, nausea and light-headed spinning surged with every breath. But the real clincher was how my body transformed. It became a toxic waste dumper, channeling poison to ooze from pores, shooting acid slush out my rear end, and worst of all, hurling the toxic goop out my mouth. My life revolved around finding a nearby toilet or wastebasket and it was all so physically tiring. And ultimately, there was just the tiredness of being tired.

    At long last the nurse said, “You’ve completed the treatments,” and the doctor said, “I’m sorry Jan. There’s nothing more we can do for you. You probably have three months to live. We’re going to send you home.” There — they finally said it.

    The clinic doors swung open wide. Finally. Freedom.. Just a few months left. What would you do?

    I made a list of my heart’s desires. How many could I jam pack into this short time?

    My broker sold my 401K and dumped funds into my checking account. With a purse stuffed full of cash, credit cards and what was left of my heart, I planned a road trip. Off to Tennessee’s Athens Regional Park for a once-in-a-lifetime event, entering the path of the total solar eclipse.

    Not sounding so glamorous? Oh, but it was. On August 21, 2017 at 2:30 EST, the Athens sky would render two minutes and 35 seconds of absolute eclipse.

    • Priscilla King

      So, did the character get to see it? Did you? (I was supposedly in the path, but the sky hardly even darkened…)

      • Lyn Blair

        Oh yes, I traveled to the total path and did see the total eclipse. The sky darkened the way it does at twilight. The character gets to see the eclipse too. The eclipse was phenomenal, but the idea that day becomes night is a myth. It doesn’t happen like that.

  9. Jamil Velji

    Quite solid tips, the same stuff applies directly to any writing though, not just publishing books or more traditional content mediums. The thing I hate the most is getting unorganized drafts or outlines for blog content. It’s the equivalent of dropping off a stack of pages to a publisher with everything out of order.

  10. Vickie Phelps

    I’ve had many rejections in my twenty-five years of writing and publishing. One thing that taught me perseverance in light of all the rejection was a story I submitted 26 times before it was accepted. A freelance editor had told me it was ready to go and I believed her. She was right, but I had to find the right market in need of my story. It taught me to never give up and never take a rejection personally.

  11. Priscilla King

    (First-time reader steered here from Twitter in the middle of plotting a story for a futuristic fiction contest whose theme is “Blue Sky”…)

    “Bill,” Matt hollered, “only two people live up there and I’d bet neither of them’s even at home.”

    “Looks like great footage,” Bill said, turning the campaignmobile onto the back road.

    “If you damage this car…” Matt let his voice trail off as a wheel ground up over a stone, but the bottom didn’t scrape, as he’d expected. Further ahead he saw another small pile of flat pebbles directly below another big rock. The dirt-and-gravel road had washed badly after the last heavy rain, but at least somebody had been working to minimize the damage. Maybe, if they’d expected a campaign stop, they would even have paid for a few bags of cement, he thought.

    The sight of his Great-Aunt Briana was a bit of a shock. Not that she looked bad for her age, considering…but Matt remembered her as a tall woman. The woman who carefully straightened up from where she’d been bending over the road, carefully arranging small flat pebbles below yet another jagged stone, had lost three or four inches, mostly from the shoulders and neck.

    “Matthew Farnham,” she said, “what’s the idea of driving that thing on this road?”

    “Told you,” Matt said, nudging Bill.

    “I see you know the Emerald Party candidate for Governor,” Bill shouted, aiming the camera. “Could we take that as an indication of your vote?”

    “Bill, you…!” Matt waved his hand to block the camera.

    “You could,” his great-aunt relieved his discomfort, “even though I usually vote Viridian. Now…”

    (It can be up to 8000 words but it feels more like 5000. The first scene will probably be shorter when it goes live.)

  12. George McNeese

    Being brave is the hardest part of the writing process for me. I have this fear that all the editing I do will not mean anything if it gets rejected. I need thicker skin to be a writer, I know. And that can only come from submitting more.

  13. Jenny Mae Talaver

    Thanks for the advice!

    Here is a 250-word excerpt of a YA romance WIP that I am planning to finish this NaNoWriMo:

    “Why?” I willed my eyes to meet the intensity of his.

    “I don’t quite know it myself, but I know that I need to stay.” Allen held my shoulders tighter, never letting my eyes wander away from him.

    I gaped at him for a moment, mulling the purpose behind his words. Then I remembered that he could also be cutting in his speech. “So you needed to stay… After all, you’ve found a new thing to entertain you better in this sullen morning, huh?” I sneered at him for the first time.

    “Hey! Is that the only way you think of yourself?” Allen asked me angrily.

    The hurt I saw in his eyes was devastatingly familiar that I finally relented to him. “No, Allen,” I then said to him, drawing a deep breath at the effort. “It’s just that most people would avoid a laughingstock so as to avoid being one…”

    Allen released my shoulders (to my great relief!) but held my right hand instead. “I’m like those people. Don’t judge me and my actions like you do theirs.”

    I looked differently at our hands – Allen threaded his hand with mine – and I fought back the tears welling up in my eyes. “That’s actually what I’m most afraid of. You could be so different from everyone,” I shuddered as I felt the chill of the truth in my words.

    “Sure, I’m different from other people – even from you – because they weren’t raised the way I was,” Allen said matter-of-factly.



  1. Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 09-28-2017 | The Author Chronicles - […] Langley-Hawthorne discusses how to craft a saleable premise, Pamela Hodges has 3 keys to avoid the rejection pile, and…

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