Friday, 8 May 2009

Reasons for Rejection

Usually if you get a reason for a rejection you can see the sense behind it. But sometimes the reason for a rejection may seem very unfair.

I have a friend who used to write for women's magazines. He once wrote a story (for a magazine which no longer publishes fiction) and it was rejected on the grounds that swans don't swim in the sea. Otherwise the fiction editor loved the story, but she just couldn't publish something so - wrong!

Swans do swim in the sea! I've seen them - lots of times - and so has he. This happened many years ago, but it still makes my skin prickle with a sense of unfairness.

I had a particular story rejected - it came back within the week - with the reason that what I had written about would never have happened. It would resonate with the readers as completely unbelievable. People wouldn't have behaved like that and many of their readers were of an age to know. What I had written was an account of something that happened to my mother in the war. It had happened - I know because my mum told me and while she was a spinner of yarns, she didn't lie!


Others have been rejected because a character was just too nasty with no redeeming features. We all know there are people like that who are just thoroughly through and through evil and so do the readers, BUT those readers don't want to read about people like that and that is perfectly understandable.

But after that mini rant, it is nice to know why a story is being rejected. You can learn a great deal from it.

I used to keep all my rejection slips when I first started sending things in until they started demanding daily walks and their own supply of Maltesers. I still have a few rejection slips with a kindly encouraging comment written on the back by a fiction editor. Those comments and the letters that ended with a request for more stories were what kept me going.

The main thing to remember is that however good we think our story is when we send it in to a magazine the fiction editor knows her readers and what they like. It's no use getting all precious and het up about it. They might even have to reject a story because they've only just bought one like it. Or it might be that the story is simply no good and badly written - I know I look at some of my rejections and think "What the hell was I thinking sending that in . . .?"

Fiction Editors are Human Beings and they know what they are doing and why they are doing it! If you are given a reason for a rejection, then pay heed to it. And if you are not, then try to figure it out for yourself - you can only learn from the experience.

Anyone got any favourite rejection stories they'd like to share? Any that particularly stung?


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. As someone who has stories rejected on a regular basis (sometimes by return of post) it's incredibly helpful to learn that even a writer as popular and talented as you gets rejections.


  2. One of my rejections stated, quite sharply that 'we do not use stories mentioning defacation'. I was horrified. Surely they were talking about someone else's story and not mine? I had a read through and discovered I'd got a dog cocking his leg up against a bush. I deleted the offending cocked leg and sent it back. It was accepted.

  3. A friend was talking, on her blog,about a story which was set in a fairground and all the facts were wrong. She was really annoyed about it. I felt the same when I read about one set in Wales where water cress was being grown in poly-tunnels and the farmer got all the sheep into barns at night. Sometimes I wonder about those London editors. Like the government, do they know what goes on outside the circle of the M25?

  4. I get them by return too Suzanne! And I dread the sight of the postman coming past the window with his arms full of big brown envelopes (my shredder has been known to go on strike and stop working until I give it a break). And I thank you for the compliment - you've made me blush!

    And Lynne, you've made me laugh - and illustrated my point perfectly with your cocked leg and its subsequent removal!

  5. I recently had a story rejected on the grounds that the main character acted irrationally. Which, of course, is something none of us ever do in real life!

  6. Paula Williams8 May 2009 at 09:38

    One of the best rejections I ever got was from a magazine (better not say which one) saying it was "too young" for them, only to find the very same story printed in said magazine a couple of weeks later!

  7. I hardly ever seem to get a reason for rejection. I certainly get plenty of brown envelopes though and I have received so many rejections this year (I'm embarrassed to say how many) that I am now finding it totally impossible to write.
    Does this ever happen to you, Teresa? And if so, how on earth do you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and get writing again?
    Probably it never does happen to you because you sell so many stories as well, but I'd be very interested to know if you ever do suffer from writer's block, and if so, what you do about it.

  8. How long have you got? My 'favourite' rejection was for a story where a wife was suffering doubts about her husband working with an old girlfriend. I was told that 'Either you trust your husband or you don't. If you don't then you will never be happy.' There was something in the way it was worded that made me feel personally chastised.
    Another editor felt that one of my characters should be arrested!

    Overall, though, as you say, being given a reason for rejection is helpful both from the perspective of assessing your own work and also as guidance on what individual editors want. One man's meat etc. and many of the stories I've sold have been rejected by someone else first - occasionally even by the same editor a few years earlier.

  9. All of my rejections sting and I have been getting them for years! A particular one ws too depressing when I had just read a story in that magazine where a woman was considering visiting her father in hospital. He had abused her and her sister years ago and the sister had killed herself. That wsn't depressing? Anyway, nice to 'speak' to you, Teresa as I have long been an admirer of yours. I remember you in My Weekly years ago when I sold stories to them and now I write as Marian Latham for Woman's Weekly.

  10. Irrational is my middle name Helen!

    Paula, that kind of thing has happened to me too.

    Yes, Susan that does happen to me and it seems to get worse. It’s a vicious circle, once you’re down it’s hard to write. Maybe you could try writing something completely different – anything to get yourself started again. You’ve given me an idea for a blog anyway – one about writers block!

    Bernadette, it is often the way isn’t it, no matter how much we “study the market” and all the rest of it, we can still send a story to the wrong magazine which we only realise when someone else buys it. I’m intrigued about that character of yours that should have been arrested!

    Hello Marian – it’s good to meet you! That rejection must have rankled! Yours is another name I recognise – I do enjoy Marian Latham stories.

    I think all your comments just confirm that we can only do what we can do, send off our stories and hope for the best. Rejections are always going to hurt and I think a lot depends on your state of mind when they arrive as to how you deal with them. If you’re already feeling down about something else, they’re going to make you feel worse.

    But they’re a fact of writing life for most of us – apart from those exalted souls who reckon they wouldn’t know a rejection slip if it came up behind them and bit them on the bum! So we have to learn to live with them the best way we can.

  11. Elizabeth McKay8 May 2009 at 22:13

    Hello Teresa, I've just discovered your blog. That's all I need - another distraction to keep me from writing! I've also had the 'too unrealistic' rejections for stories which were based on actual events. One of my favourites though was a story about a little girl who was playing 'hunt the slipper' and unable to find a slipper hid a file her daddy needed for an important meeting. The story revolved around the parents' desperate attempts to get her to reveal the hiding place. The editor's comments were that in his opinion the parents were far too indulgent and the child (she was only 4) should have been severely disciplined (or words to that effect). Like Bernadette, I also felt that I was being personally chastised for producing such a spoilt little madam!

  12. Hello Elizabeth - I had a similar experience once where I was told the child in the story should have been smacked!

    For what it's worth, I think your story sounds lovely!

  13. My favourite rejection was the one I'd chased up and therefore received two rejections emails. One said the story would depress readers with its sadness, the other said it lacked emotional punch.


  14. My favourite rejection was one from My Weekly, where they told me the family in the story were 'simply too good to be true'. I read between the lines, and sent the story straight off to People's Friend, who bought it.

    At least a comment like this shows the story's been read. I've had several tick sheets from Woman's Weekly where it looks to me they've ticked a random box: 'Plot not strong enough' for my most plot-heavy story, for example.

  15. Glynis Scrivens10 May 2009 at 02:09

    I find that DCT rejections are usually more flattering than other people's acceptances. Jill Finlay and Sarah Proctor tell me how much they enjoy something then the next sentence starts with "But...
    Yesterday I got an acceptance from Ireland's Own, for 2 stories, which began "I quite liked your stories..."

  16. Too good to be true sounds just about right for People's Friend, Womag! It's what their readers love, bless them.

    I think the main problem with tick sheets is there aren't enough boxes to cover all the reasons a story might be rejected. I think Not Enough Plot is one of my oft ticked boxes - and in my case correct - plots are my biggest weakness.

    Glynis, My Weekly rejections are lovely - they can really take the sting out of it. I feel sometimes with People's Friend that I've over-stepped the mark and deserve a slap on the wrist - which I probably do!

  17. Forgot to mention the one (and several similar)where the MC was, 'unsympathetic with no redeeming features'. Clearly not a good idea to base my characters on myself!

  18. From what you've said here, Bernadette, I like the sound of your characters! It's a shame the old confession magazines died the death - you could be as real as you liked with characters in those. But once people were willing to tell their own stories, with photos and all the gory details, no one wanted to read confessions any more!

  19. Yes, a blog about writer's block sounds like a great idea, Teresa.
    Some people reckon it doesn't exist, but I can assure them it does.
    I'm even having trouble with shopping lists at the moment, but I'm going to try and think positive thoughts and get back into it this week, and try not to spend too much time reading blogs - however interesting they are!

  20. Good for you, Susan! I've heard writers say that writer's block doesn't exist, but when I'm blocked I can't even concentrate on reading.
    Good luck and may the muse be with you!