why your writing is rejected

Originally published in The Writing Cooperative.

As a writer, I know the submissions process can be a huge mental and emotional drain. Not only is it time-consuming and tedious, there are the nail-biting weeks or months afterward waiting for an answer.

If the answer is no, a writer must go through a period of grief and summon the strength to get back out and submit again.

But being rejected often has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

I am a writer who has committed my fair share of submission faux pas, but when I ran the Spring Short Story Contest for Let’s Get Published, I experienced the other side of the coin.

As the contest creator, I was the gatekeeper and was forced to disqualify stories for the silliest of reasons. In many cases, the writing was great, and it was frustrating because the issues that prevented the story from being in the competition were completely avoidable.

It pains me to see talented writers sabotaging themselves when it comes to submissions, writers who are racking up needless rejections that are killing their self-confidence.

So, as a person who not only has suffered rejections, but has also had to read through hundreds of submissions, this is my advice.

5 Reasons Why Your Writing is Rejected

1. Not following directions – Read the submission guidelines and contest rules until they’re branded into your brain. Then read them again. Before you send in your manuscript, read them again. Each magazine, agent, or publisher will have slightly different guidelines. Pay attention to requirements for formatting, cover letters, submission length, blurbs, bios, and more. Be especially wary of the next items I discuss in this list.

2. Word count – During our Spring Writing Contest, many submissions were below or above the 1K to 5K word count. I couldn’t understand why. I could only think the writer ignored suggestion #1—carefully read the submission guidelines. There is no excuse to ignore the word count requirement.

If your story is too short, fill it in. Find areas where you can expand. Add some more to detail to the setting. Incorporate a new scene to reveal character.

Likewise, if your story or book is too long, trim some fat. Skim off anything that is not crucial to the plot. Remove unnecessary description. Kill darlings without mercy.

If the word count is too far off to feasibly adjust, move on.

2. Mistakes – No matter how interesting a story is, typos and grammatical errors are sure to turn off any reader, especially literary professionals. It says to the organization that you don’t care enough to send your best work—either that, or you’re an incompetent writer who didn’t even realize you made any mistakes.

Being a good writer means you know how to write. This includes grammar and punctuation. If you’re struggling with the technical aspects of writing, take a class so you can execute with confidence.

Then find an editor. Even if you’re an English major, everyone makes mistakes and it’s hard to see them in your own work. Send your work to a professional first.

3. Submitting the totally wrong thing – The contest here at Let’s Get Published was for short stories in any genre of fiction. Short stories are a standalone art form with a very specific structure, yet I received many of what very obviously were chapters of a book. Some authors left the chapter heading in the document! Even the incomplete entries that didn’t have chapter headings were very noticeably just chapters, scenes, or excerpts. I was also puzzled to receive poetry and non-fiction (again, see #1)!

Don’t risk annoying agents and publishers hoping that by some cosmic chance that they’ll be so captivated by your work they’ll ignore the fact that you broke their guidelines. Make sure you’re sending them the material they work with or you’re wasting both their time, and more importantly, yours.

4. Not familiarizing yourself with the agent or publisher – From my personal experience as a writer, I know it’s tempting to jump after every submission call you see. I’ve submitted without ever having read anything from the publishing house, agent, or magazine and ended up rejected. I would have saved everyone time if I had sampled from their stable of writers first.

Read up on the writers your desired publisher works with to see how you compare. Beyond the genre, ask yourself if your style, theme, and subject matter are good fit. What is the publisher known for? Do they have any non-negotiables when it comes to sex, violence, or other graphic material? Do they stick to certain tropes or subvert them? This will help you avoid sending your work into places where it’s not likely to be accepted.

In closing

It’s a shame to think that some talented writers become discouraged or give up entirely because of rejections when they’re only crime is failing to submit properly.

Remember that agents, publishers, and writing contest judges are people too. Respect them and your work enough to be professional. Stop wasting your time and energy chasing after calls that don’t suit your story. Don’t rush to submit or send in sloppy drafts. Take your time. Do your homework.

You might submit less, but you’ll be submitting effectively. This will exponentially increase your chances of getting more acceptance letters and contest wins. It’s definitely a quality not quantity game here. Treat your writing like the one-of-a-kind art that it is.

Originally published in The Writing Cooperative.

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