This week, the BLLC is starting a new column entitled “Dear Editors.” In it, we hope to address some of your questions about writing and publishing. If you have questions for our editors, please send them along using our contact form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why did my story get rejected? I thought it was pretty good.
Editors and publishers rejects stories for several reasons, and although we cannot be sure why your specific story was rejected by this particular editor, we are able to share some of the more common reasons for rejection:
- You didn’t follow the submissions guidelines. Did you submit poetry when the CFS asked for short stories? Did you submit romance when the CFS is looking for sci-fi? Writers sometimes use a “one size fits all” approach to submitting, answering every call for submissions with their current work, regardless of what the editors are looking for. This probably one of the most common reasons writers get rejected.
- You submitted your first draft. Did you spend any time revising the piece? Did you workshop the piece or get feedback from a writing group or a trusted writer friend or professional? No? Well, you shouldn’t submit it. Editors receive dozens, sometimes hundreds of submissions, and they don’t have time to workshop your story with you. You need to do this work before you submit it, not after. Only submit your final, polished draft.
- You spend too much time on social media and not enough on your writing. This may be a little off-putting to some of you, but these days, it seems that some writers spend much more time talking about writing than actually doing the hard work of drafting and revising their work. We know, we know; writers need a platform right? Nah. They need to submit good work. Stop worrying about your brand or your platform, and worry more about plot, structure, pacing, and characterization. You can worry about that other stuff a little later on down the road. Social media can be a great way to connect with other writers and your audience, but it can also be a distraction. Learn the difference and adjust accordingly. Oh, and if you’re wondering how editors know what you’re doing on social media, well, you followed them didn’t you? And they followed you back.
- You waited until the last minute to write the piece. Please know that editors can sniff out a last minute submission quicker than you can hit the send button. The writing feels rushed, there are numerous errors, the story line doesn’t make sense. Good writing takes time, and if you’ve written and submitted a story in three days, it doesn’t make you a genius, it makes you sloppy and unprofessional. Harsh? Probably, but also why your story was rejected. Don’t get mad and don’t take it personally. Just do better next time.
- The piece wasn’t very good. Okay, so here’s another tough one. Most writers are riddled with self-doubt, so we’re not saying that your work isn’t important. As Black women writers, we are often told that our work isn’t good enough, or that it’s too Black, too gay, or too whatever. That’s NOT what we’re saying. What we ARE saying is that some of y’all are letting your friends and family keep you from getting published. In other words, who is reading your work before you submit it? Your family and friends are going to support you no matter what, even if your plot goes off the rails about half-way through the story, or a character disappears after three or four chapters, never to return. Make sure that you have a cadre of writing professionals around you to keep you honest, and to keep you from embarrassing yourself by submitting work before it’s ready. Don’t let anyone keep you from telling your story, but make sure that there are people in your writing circle that can give you constructive criticism on your writing before you submit it to a publisher or editor.
- The piece wasn’t a good fit. This is related to our first point, but with a shade of difference. Sometimes writers submit a piece that fits the guidelines, but doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the accepted pieces in the issue or anthology. Rather than having an outlier, the editor will often just reject the piece. While it may not seem fair, keep in mind that editors and publishers decide what’s best for their publications, and most would rather have interconnectedness between the pieces than not.
One final point: Kiese Laymon wrote a piece entitled “We’re Not Good Enough to Not Practice,” and you aren’t. Neither are we. So before you submit a piece to an editor, agent, or publisher, PRACTICE. You may still get rejected, but at least you’re doing the work you need to do to improve your writing.
The BLLC Editors