The Road to Publication

The Road: Mile 5 – Dealing with the Response

So you’ve done all the hard work, hours sunk into writing, editing, selecting a market, formatting and finally — finally, you clicked send.  Hopefully, you recorded this submission on Duotrope.  And then all you can do is sit back and wait.

Or, start the process all over again on another story, which is actually a better route to choose.  It will help you keep your mind off the pending response from the publisher.  Help you keep from worrying and fretting, and checking your email a thousand times a day.

Eventually, you will get a response.  It might be yes, it might be no — and it might be a rewrite request.  But generally, it’s just yes or no.  It’s acceptance or rejection.  And today, I want to talk about dealing with each of those.  Of course, the section on dealing with rejection will be much longer.


Dealing with Acceptance

This one is natural — jump up and down, do a little dance, laugh out loud, buy yourself that candy bar you’ve been denying yourself.  You know how to celebrate!  You don’t need me to tell you how to handle that part.

But after that, read the email again.  See if the publisher is requesting anything from you right now.  Sometimes an acceptance letter will just say, “yay, we want it!”  If you get one of those, expect a follow up email sometime in the future (the next few days or sometimes months later) with details about what happens from there.

Some publishers don’t need that break.  Their acceptance letter comes with an attached contract for you to fill out, a request for an author photo or bio, and details about when your payment should arrive.

Try to respond promptly to the email that requires more info from you.  Contracts are usually emailed to you.  You then must print it out, fill it out and either scan it and email an image back to the publisher or mail it via snail mail to the publisher’s physical address.  The really easy contracts just want you to type the information in on Word and email it back to them.

Read the contract closely to make sure it’s everything you signed up for and you’re not signing away your story for life.  Generally speaking though, these contracts follow a similar pattern.

Be aware that not all publishers use contracts.  It’s much more rare, but some publishers don’t require you to sign anything at all.  I generally feel more comfortable if I have a contract, but I have published through markets that did not offer one.

Once you’ve responded with all the requested information — well…maybe it’s time to celebrate more!


Dealing with Rejection

1.) Rejection Hurts

It does.  It hurts your pride or your feelings or your self-esteem.  But it almost always hurts something.  Don’t be afraid to acknowledge this.  You’re not weak for feeling wounded when a publisher says no.  Rejection, in any area of life, is hard to take.  But for a writer especially, you need to learn to move past it.  So go ahead and mourn a bit if you want to.  Get yourself some chocolate and a good tear-jerker movie and just ride it out.  Or punch it out if you’ve got a punching bag or pillow handy.  Whatever it takes to get that out of your system.  But after you wallow a bit….


2.) Realize This Doesn’t Mean You Suck

It doesn’t.  It may make you feel like you’ll never be a good writer and you should just give up, but it’s not true and you shouldn’t quit.  Rejections come for so many, many reasons.  Keep this in mind when you’re staring at that email.  Here’s a few possible reasons you may have been rejected:

  • You accidentally didn’t follow the guidelines.  Some publishers are very particular about this – if you can’t respect them enough to follow the guidelines, you’ll get an instant rejection. But accidents do happen – I’ve messed up on this one myself.
  • The market recently published or accepted a similar story.  You sent them a story about robotic lions on Mars?  Well, they may have just accepted a piece about robotic tigers on Pluto.  For obvious reasons, they don’t want to publish two stories with similar themes so close together.  So while they may have enjoyed yours, they’re not going to pick it.
  • Not the right “fit”.  Publications, just like people, have different style preferences and likes.  One publication could love sweeping prose with poetic detail and gorgeous settings.  Another publication could be seeking something more minimalistic, with simple prose that packs a quieter punch.  Maybe they want quirky and you sent serious, maybe they want dark and you sent light.
  • Okay, maybe you writing needs some work.  I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat this.  There are times when you (and I) get a rejection because your writing just isn’t what it needs to be or your plot sort of fell apart at the end.  There are pro markets I dream about and drool over, but get rejected by because I’m just not ready.  You shouldn’t take this too badly – it just means you need to work more, learn more.  Writing is, as I said before, a journey.  A set of stairs.  It’s difficult to leap your way to the top (though some, admittedly, do it).

There are probably more reasons for rejections, but these are some of the most common ones I’ve seen myself.


3.) Learn From This

If you know why you were rejected, figure out how to not make that mistake again.

If you accidentally double-spaced when they wanted single-spaced, slow down a bit next time you’re formatting and submitting.  Pay extra attention to following every minute detail of their guidelines.

If you were rejected because your story or writing needs some work, then invest some time in figuring out where your weaknesses are and trying to learn more in that area.  For example, I know that my weakness lies in the area of plotting.  Sometimes my ending is shaky or the middle drags on a bit.  Or I end a story too soon.  How do I go about learning from this?  Back to Scribophile, I usually go.  But you can also read other published stories and examine the way they arrange sentences, or structure their stories, or reveal their characters.


4.) Get Back on the Horse

This is, perhaps, one of the most important steps.  I said you could, and maybe should, wallow a bit — but don’t linger there.  Get back up.  Take another look at your story.  Does it seem like everything is as good as you currently can make it?  Fine.  Send it back out.  Find another market and submit your story again.

The sooner you do this, the better you feel.

After 125+ rejections, I’m to the point now where I get a rejection and instantly submit it somewhere else (as long as I know the story is relatively sound).  Unless you honestly feel there’s something wrong with your story, send it back out.  It’ll keep you from lingering in the pain of rejection because you instantly introduce a new hope of acceptance.


Now, sometimes you’ll get a nasty string of rejections.  Those are difficult to handle and I’ve struggled with it myself. Sometimes you just go through bouts where no one wants to take what you’re offering.  It happens.  Don’t take these things personally, just keep working.  Keep submitting.  But most of all, keep enjoying the writing and the act of creating stories and people.

Rejections come to every writer.  Sometimes heaps of them.  I know I’ve tackled my fair share of them.  And I will continue to.  But the key is to not take it personally — these rejections do not mean that you are doomed to failure for the rest of your life.  And keep on trucking.  Keep on submitting.


Thus concludes the Road to Publication blog series — unless anyone comes up with another topic they’d like to see me tackle.  I hope that this series had provided some help and encouragement for new writers or writers new to submitting.  A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to read, share and comment.  And especially to the few awesome people who first tossed this idea toward me.

Once again, any questions about today’s topic please leave in the comments. I love offering my opinion, in case you couldn’t tell, and no question is silly or stupid.  Comments, suggestions, differing opinions and such are, of course, all welcome as well.


Thanks again for everything!



4 thoughts on “The Road: Mile 5 – Dealing with the Response

  1. Perfect timing to read this blog–I just got rejected! In a market that usually takes 25 days…it only took them 4 days to read my piece and tell me to find another home for it:( But I do feel brighter after reading your blog. I feel like I will come to this page often, when those inevitable and regular rejections hit. Le sigh.

    I do have one question on this topic: is it ever appropriate to ask the publisher why? I am going to guess, probably not–they are busy. We, the submitters, are many, and they are one. Still, I find it bugs me that I don’t know the reason why they didn’t like my story… Lol, I guess this is the part where you tell me to get my butt to Scrib?

    And seriously…you’ve gotten 125+ rejections? Gah! I suppose it must get easier with time… Though I still think you are strong for getting through it!

    1. Aww, sorry about that rejection. It is tough. Don’t let those day things (only took 4 when they usually take 25) get you screwed up. Not everyone reports their submissions on Duotrope, in fact I’d guess a large number of people don’t — so that can skew the numbers. 🙂

      Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t contact the publisher to ask why you were rejected. I know it sucks not knowing; I’ve definitely been there. But they’re busy and won’t look kindly on you for it.

      If you would like more personal feedback, yes, you can hit Scrib some more. OR on Duotrope you can find a list of “personable markets” — that is, a list of markets that have the highest percentages of personal rejections (rejections that often tell you why they said no). The Colored Lens (speculative fiction magazine) is AMAZING at this — and they usually respond within two to three days. I like to submit to markets that offer that feedback, but keep in mind most don’t.

      But don’t give up! They do get easier, I promise. 🙂

  2. lol, thank you so much!!! In the end, I reckon that one market I applied to was waaay out of my league. I took your advice and submitted to some “for the luv” markets instead with high acceptance rates, just to work on my street cred! I think it will get easier once I have some acceptances under my belt!!!

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