Submitter's guide to rejections
Part 2: Rejection records
This is part 2 of a two-part guide to rejections. Go back to Part 1: Rejection Types.
In this guide we discuss
• How to identify three types of rejections (Part 1)
• Keeping record of your rejection statistics (You are here)
• Using your rejection statistics to make informed adjustments to your submissions goals (You are here)
Now that you can identify types of rejections, that information needs to be organized. To help use rejections to your advantage, let's distill down the important details.
Organize your records by submission. Cumulative rejection records won't give you insight into one, particular piece. Each submission stands on its own.
For every submission, record how many rejections of each category you receive (form, tiered, or personal). And don't only tally the numbers. Since tiered and personal rejections are so variable, keep clippings from those letters. That way you can reference exactly what editors are saying.
Here's my preferred method of organization:
1. Create a three-column document for each submission
2. Designate a column for Form, Tiered, and Personal rejections
3. Sort the publications under the appropriate header
4. For Tiered and Personal rejections, include any critical excerpts from the editor's message
Below are some personal rejection records for reference. The first we’ll call Story 1 and the second Story 2.
This format makes it easy to see which publications had nonstandard responses to my submissions. What's more, I can see precisely what was said.
I update these records as frequently as possible. That way I never have to scour my emails to see my rejection history.
Let's say you've been submitting a piece for the last year. Maybe you've accumulated a couple dozen rejections. How should these rejections affect the outlook for that piece? Firstly, don't lose hope! It can take a long time and many rejections before a piece lands publication.
The number of rejections on its own isn't a great indicator of how a submission is faring. This is exactly why we've tracked rejections across our three categories.
Let's refer back to my own rejection records as examples.
Rejection analysis 1
I've received 20 total rejections for my Story 1. Of those twenty, three quarters are forms. The remaining 25% is composed of four tiered rejections and one personal rejection.
Beyond the numeric breakdown, we can hone in on the content of the non-form rejections. The tiered rejections look promising. A couple were near misses ("came close to publication")!
The personal rejection is particularly encouraging ("made it through the highest rounds of review"). Further, these non-form rejections all come from competitive publications.
As a submitter, I submit to the markets that most excite me. I always begin with my top choices before working my way down. This ensures that I'll never miss out on an opportunity with a beloved publication! However, it also means I often have to adjust expectations. Chances are slim at the competitive fringes of literary publications.
But in the case of Story 1, my rejection records lead me to believe it has merit in my target markets. Therefore, I'll continue to send this piece to similar markets in the hopes of capturing editors' interest. History shows that I might have a chance.*
Of course this isn't a done deal. Just because one editor enjoys a piece doesn't mean another will. But, we can certainly speculate based on a trend of responses.
Rejection analysis 2
Now consider an opposite conclusion with Story 2. This submission has been rejected 35 times! Of those 35 rejections, 4 were tiered, and 1 was personal. Unlike Story 1, none of the non-form messages read as "near misses." They aren't nearly so promising (e.g. "read with interest," "enjoyed this work").
At this point, I have to consider what to do with the submission. It doesn't seem to be landing with editors in the same way Story 1 has. After this many rejections I would have hoped to see more positive responses.
If I want to increase the possibility of acceptance, it's time to make some adjustments. I have a few courses of action:
1. Revise or rewrite
2. Target markets with lower submission volume
3. Retire the submission
My preferred first option is always a revision or a rewrite. After the piece has been out on submission for some time, I can return to it with fresh eyes. Often I have thoughts on how to re-imagine the story to make it stronger.
After seeing these records, I undertook a revision of Story 2. This revision involved a perspective change and cuts amounting to almost 40% of the total word count.
As I move forward submitting the new version, I'll track any changes in the rejections I receive. Does the revision garner more enthusiastic responses from editors? I'll have to wait and see how it trends.
But let's say I'm happy with a submission as it stands. Then it might be time to consider the kind of markets I'm targeting. If The New Yorker and The Paris Review have rejected me, it might be more prudent to adjust where I'm submitting versus what I'm submitting.
So I might also consider submitting to newer markets still building their readerships. These publications often have a lower submission volume. Meaning your submission may have greater opportunity to stand out. Editorial staff may also be equipped to provide more personalized feedback to submissions.
If my revision for Story 2 similarly garners all form rejections, I can reassess the kinds of publications I'm targeting.
The last (and least desirable!) option is to retire the piece. This is an option I consider only if I feel my writing skill set has "outgrown" the piece I'm submitting. If it's no longer a narrative that excites me, I'd rather put forward something that does.
Don't give up on your pieces too soon! Remember that this can be a years-long process. If you're determined to land your work somewhere, stick by it! But always act in its best interest—even if that means revising or re-targeting.
I encourage any writer managing their submissions to use rejections as a tool. Make the most of this process! It's all about incrementally working toward acceptance. I'm holding out on my chronically-rejected pieces and giving them all the love I can. I hope you all do the same for yours!