You’ve gone through the difficult process of writing and revising a piece, and you’ve tediously submitted your work for publication. What can you expect when you finally hear back? When can you expect to hear back? How common is rejection?
In the fourth and final installment of my series on getting your writing published, I’ll talk about everything to expect after you’ve submitted your writing.
Just a refresher that this series applies mainly to magazines and journals that publish short stories and poems (rather than publishers that publish novels and poetry collections).
Simply on a statistical level you should expect getting a rejection letter. And after a while, rejections will feel less and less personal or hurtful. If you expect that you’re going to get more rejections than acceptances, the rejections will be way easier to handle.
Publishers get way more submissions than they can print. Rejection often has nothing to do with the quality of your writing. Editors are working with limited space, so your writing can be great but still rejected. If your piece is long, the editors may opt to publish two or three other pieces instead of your one piece. If the editors receive a lot of poems but little prose, the editors may decide not to publish your poem in favor of publishing more prose. Sometimes your writing could just rub the editor the wrong way for subjective reasons. I’ve seen brilliant writing passed over in the editing process for numerous reasons like these.
When you receive rejection letters, remember it is not a personal attack on you or your writing. In the words of C.S. Lewis, onwards and upwards.
Types of Responses: Rejections
Even if you do get a rejection, there is more than one type of rejection letter. There’s actually two.
Standard Rejection Letter
The first type is a standard rejection letter. The standard rejection letter is simply a form send out by the publisher with your name and your piece’s name automatically filled in. Typically, it will thank you for your submission but politely say the editors cannot accept your piece at the moment.
Personalized Rejection Letter
The second type is a personalized rejection letter. These letters are typically when the editor(s) really liked your piece or something about your writing. It’s essentially a personalized response from the editor(s) letting you know that they had to reject your piece but that they also found something about your writing that was worth taking extra time to write you a specialized note. Granted, editors may still like your writing and send a standard rejection letter, but a personalized rejection letter is a sign of encouragement!
Types of Responses: Acceptances
The next type of response is an acceptance, and like rejections, there are two types of acceptance.
The first kind of acceptance is an unconditional acceptance. This is when the publisher will publish your piece as-is. This is the letter all writers dream of getting. It’s the validation after too many rejections.
Perhaps slightly lower on the totem pole is the conditional acceptance. This is when the publisher will publish your piece, but there’s something they want you to tweak or change. This could be anything from the title to condensing certain areas. There’s nothing wrong with conditional acceptances. They are still pure gold. They are still something to call home about. There’s a bit more work for you to do on the piece, but I think they can be just as good as an unconditional acceptance.
When you get a conditional acceptance, your instinct may be to resist making the changes the publisher wants. In some cases, this is a good move. It’s your writing, and if those changes undermine the piece, then it may be worth it to reject the changes. However, don’t reject the proposed changes out of hand. At the end of the day, you can still keep a version that doesn’t have the changes. Consider whether risking not having the piece published is worth not making those changes. Most likely, it’s a better decision to make the changes.
What If You Don’t Get a Response?
It’s entirely possible that you won’t hear back within the timeline the publisher gives. Many publishers will even tell you on their website that if you don’t hear back within a number of months, you can query them.
When you query a publisher, send them a polite email inquiring about the status of your piece (it may help if you tell them the name of your piece and when you submitted it). Publishers sometimes get swamped with submissions and get behind schedule. When you query, though, make sure you follow the instructions for doing so on the publisher’s website.
No matter what response you get, keep submitting. If you get accepted somewhere, submit other writing. If you get rejected, resubmit your piece, or revise then keep submitting. Submit, submit, submit.