Rejection. Dejection. Introspection. By Ginny Swart

Dealing with rejection as a writer

Funny how these words all go together.

For a short story writer, rejection is part of life. Even the best known writers get rejected by editors who have bought loads of their previous offerings.

What's more, editors very seldom give you a reason for their rejection; they just trot out their stock rejection notes and some of them are real lulus.

Sample rejection letters for writers

Here are a couple of samples:

"Thank you for letting us read your story, but this one isn't suitable for our needs at this time." Does this mean there might BE a time when they need a story like this? She's not saying. It wasn't clear in her response.

"The editor regrets having to disappoint you, but this story is not for us." Short and not so sweet. This is where the dejection sets in.

There's an editor I know in Australia who probably says to her assistant, "Tell this pathetic loser ‘NO'." So, although you've posted your ms, you receive a blank email response with an attachment. The attachment is titled "No". And when you open it, it informs you that your story, which the editor really enjoyed reading, is not suitable for their publication. She really regrets having to tell you this, but wishes you success in placing it elsewhere. You can't help feeling that there's a whiff of insincerity about this attachment, which results in more dejection.

Why do editors reject stories?

One of my UK editors used to send out a stock letter with four reasons as to why she didn't want the story. These were:

1. Too predictable.

2. Unbelievable.

3. Tired plot, been done before.

4. Not for us.

Sometimes she'd tick two or three of the boxes if she were in a particularly savage mood. Mega dejection!

Yet another UK editor, who had a great sense of humour and was one of the very few who scrawled a handwritten comment under her printed rejection slips, wrote comments like: " Story OK, but I hate soccer!" or, my favourite, "Sorry, but I don't do cleaning ladies'. (This one had a warm-hearted cleaning lady as the central figure.)

At first, I was dejected because I thought it was a great story, but then I realised, her readers don't do cleaning ladies. They don't want to know about washing dishes and mopping floors. This magazine has a working-class readership, which is already bogged down in the details of their less-than-exciting lives. They want humour, glitzy glamour and a bit of sex. She knew her readership, and that's what she bought.

So I sent her glamour and sex, and now I have the privilege of selling my stories to her magazine.

So that is where the introspection comes in. Not navel-gazing, just re-reading what you have submitted.

So what's wrong with this brilliant story that's just been rejected?

Where to next for the rejected story?

With a gap of two or three months between submitting and the rejection arriving in your post box, a lot of the brilliance of what you thought was a masterpiece could have rubbed off, and you will want to make changes. This is where you do a thorough rewrite.

But what if you read it again, and there is nothing basically wrong. It might just not be the right story for this publication. Are you sure you've studied the past issues and submitted something that fits that particular magazine?

Or it might be that the editor would have accepted your story at another time but already has a stock of wifely revenge/ lover's quarrels/ murder stories she needs to use up.

Or the word count might be way over or under their requirements. Reading the magazine guidelines is the Number One priority before you submit.

But don't allow yourself to be dejected for longer than it takes to eat a slab of Cadbury's.

Tart it up and send it somewhere else!

About the author

Ginny Swart has sold over 500 short stories to women's magazines all over the world. On any day of every month she has at least 30 stories out there on editors' desks. Her more serious work has appeared in literary publications in America, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and on the Web. She is also the author of three romance novels (Ulverscroft Press UK) and a book of short stories ( and a book for teenagers: Nosipho and the King of Bones (MacMillan Boleswa SA). She has an eBook available on Kindle called Something to Read, a collection of short stories. In 2003 Ginny won the esteemed UK The Real Writers' Prize from over 4000 entrants.

Ginny tutors the Short Story Writing for Magazines Course at the Writers' College.