[WARNING: Although this post contains no animated GIFs, it does contain a healthy sprinkling of something called humor.]

Thirty-seven minus thirty-three, that is.

My talented writer pal Aeryn Rudel is far better than I at keeping pace in the blogosphere. Frankly, I don’t know how he does it and still has time to crank out story after story after story, but I digress…

I love following Aeryn’s journey toward acceptance, peppered (natch) with the inevitable thirty-seven flavors of rejection, sometimes because the vicarious feeling of pain soothes me. There is no schadenfreude here, only a comfort that comes from reminding myself I’m not the only writer in the world whose work gets the big fat thumbs-down. I swear publishers and editors and agents are polypollical beings. All of them.

Today, friends and readers, I’d like to share not thirty-seven, but four, rejection flavors that almost always make me want to pull a Mel-Gibson-in-Lethal-Weapon-(the first one), grab the first multi-thumbed person I can find, and leap off a building with him. Or her. Or her thumbs.

As always, I mean that in the nicest of ways.

My four featured flavors, in order of insanity-producing intensity, taste like this:

The Non-rejection

The WTF Rejection

The Are We Talking about the Same Story? Rejection

The Über-subjective Rejection

Ready? Let’s do some sampling.

The Non-rejection

Otherwise known as the passive rejection, the dead-letter, the no-response, this doesn’t really bother me much, except for when Unnamed Market goes ahead and publishes its anthology / quarterly / winners’ list / line-up for a themed call, and I see it in the Twitterverse or on their website or wherever the fuck–without my name attached.

I don’t like to come off as a hurt puppy, but folks, this just ain’t nice, particularly if the name of your online litmag doesn’t rhyme with The Atlantic or The New Yorker (sorry, New Yorker folks, wrong order again). We authors take the time to format according to your specifications, send you a pretty little cover letter when you ask for it, and tick all those other boxes. Is it that difficult to write a form rejection before you go to publication?

The only thing worse than the sting of the Non-rejection is the sting of the Non-rejection that hits your my inbox two months after the themed mag goes live.

I like to respond to these with a snappy “Thanks so much for letting me know. I figured it all out for my little self when I saw you announce the winners on Times Square eight weeks ago.”

The WTF Rejection

This one leaves me more befuddled than angry, and for good reason. Here you are sitting on a completed and polished story. Let’s say it contains quirky hospital humor. You head on over to Duotrope, search for “quirky hospital humor,” and find the perfect market for your piece. Due diligence takes you to their website and — bingo! — there it is, “send us your quirky hospital humor” in twelve-point Times New Roman.


A few days after Submishmash processes the entry, you get this:

“Thanks, but quirky hospital humor really doesn’t tickle our tootsies.”

When you’re finished banging your head on your keyboard, let me know what I’m supposed to make of this one.

The Are We Talking about the Same Story? Rejection

I appreciate that lit mags are inundated with submissions, have unpaid readers (most of whom have better things to do than read slush, but do it anyway out of masochism love), and can’t get all the things right all of the time. Still, sometimes the personal rejection can be as uninformative as the form rejection–or moreso.

Here’s a made-up example based on actual events:

“I enjoyed the story, but found the fact that the mother leaves her husband and family for another man a tad on the trite side.”

Hm. That’s interesting. Since the piece I submitted was about a mother leaving her husband and family for another WO-man (a plot element which is effing integral to the story).

What to do with this one? Not much. But you can bet I’ll take a closer look at any slush that comes my way for fear of making the same mistake.

The Über-subjective Rejection

I offer you a publishing industry secret:

EVERYTHING is subjective. What one editor loves, another will say “meh” to. What’s crap to The Atlantic might be pearls to The New Yorker (probably not, on second thought). None of this, of course, is much of a secret.

But publishing is a business, and–like all businesses–depends and thrives on that weird and wonderful construct known as The Market. The Market is what reads, subscribes, purchases, blogs about, and refers to friends.

Now I don’t think every editor out there should be entirely market-focused–if they were, we’d likely find far more copies of Fifty Shades of Consensual BDSM and Alcoholic on a Train on bookstore shelves than most of us care to think about (not that there’s anything wrong with kinky sexual relationships or train-riding, voyeuristic alcoholics, but the world only needs so many of them). Subjectivity in choice of aesthetic gives us the gift of variety, and I think that’s the way things should work.


We’re talking about über-subjectivity in this section. The kind that gets you rejected because a reader or an editor or an agent or [insert-gatekeeper-title-here] has some particular and (this is key) idiosyncratic to him/her hang-up that makes your story as anathematic to said gatekeeper as bacon is to a practicing Muslim.

Whatever demon that story you submitted awakens in such a mind is so utterly awful and evil and despicable to that (again, this is key) one person that he cannot imagine anyone deriving pleasure from reading your work.


“Although I found much to love in this story, the depiction of a half-eaten Twizzler hit far too close for me to feel comfortable reading further.”

Okay, someone has PTSD relating to half-eaten Twizzlers. Fair enough (I guess). But an automatic shut-out based on personal experience strikes me as over-projecting.

Just a bit.

So there we have them, our flavors of the month here in Rejection Land. Although each of the above is based on an actual happening, all examples are, of course, highly exaggerated for purposes of humor and to give Aeryn something to comment on.