What Does A Rejection Letter Mean?

A lot of writers do not understand what a rejection letter means.  Since I have the privilege of being on both sides of the fence as an author for over 25 years (mostly with short stories in science fiction and fantasy) and these last few years as a paranormal romance author (with a novel and novellas) and being an associate editor with Space and Time magazine (not a romance venue), I’ve decided to help you unravel the secret code of the rejection letter.  What does it really mean?

When you get a rejection letter for your book or story, it could mean one of several things.

If it says something like:
Thank you for sending your manuscript.  It does not suit our needs at this time.
All the best,
The Editors

This means one of the following:
– It does not suit their needs at this time.  You sent a story about a boy and a dog and they have plenty of boy and a dog stories.

Important Note:  Many editors only read the first paragraph, first page, or first five pages and make a decision.  They don’t mean to be unkind, they just have  a ton to read.  By ton, I do mean that literally.  So your first words must be great.

- The person assigned to reading the slush pile doesn’t recognize your name as an accomplished frequent contributor.  (They may be reluctant to read  someone new unless you grab them in the first page.)

Important Note:  Never send to  an editor or agent before they go to a conference.  Often they will announce their appearances at conventions on their website.  Wait until after.  Also always check their website to make sure they are open to submissions.  Submissions sent when they are closed are left unread.  Some publishers will delete submissions in their box, before they announce they are open to be fair to those writers reading the directions.  READ DIRECTIONS.

- The person left the company and someone else is sending rejections slips to everything on their desk.

- The person did read it, but did not feel strongly enough about it to send it forward to their boss.

In the above instances your work was unread or lightly read.  What do you do?  Don’t fret about it, move on and send it to the next publisher on your list.

What if at the end of the letter, it says “try again with something else” or “send something else”?  That’s good!  That means there was a quality about your writing they liked.  Send them something else as soon as possible and in your cover letter, be sure to mention that they told you to send something else.

What if the letter says, we are very interested in your work and would consider publishing it with changes?  Then they tell you what changes they would like.   Excellent!!!  What do you do?  Make the changes and send it back as soon as you can.  Be sure to put in the subject line of the email–Requested with Changes Made.  Also put that in the cover letter.

Remember they are considering it.  They might still reject it, but someone finally took the trouble to write back to you and give you specifics.  Learn from that.   On the other hand, they may publish it.  Congrats!!!

There’s an odd rejection letter out there you should know about.  It goes like this:
Sorry we won’t be able to use your work.  Thank you for considering us.  Your heroine was weak and needed more backbone.  Your setting was not specific enough, and the sidekick was a dog and right now cats are big.
The Editors

Most people getting this type of letter are confused.  I was too.  Early in my career, one editor would reject my stories and send me six pages of corrections and suggestions on making it better.  I made them all, submitted to another editor, and published the story.  I ran into him at a convention and had the opportunity to sit and chat.  I talked about his letters, and he told me he was puzzled that I never submitted any of my stories back to him.  I told him that he never wrote:  ” If you make all these changes, please, resubmit.”  He said that’s was he meant, but oops he didn’t say it.

My suggestion to you, if you get one of those odd rejections with all the recommended changes to your story, is to email back right away and ask, “If I make the changes you recommend, would you like me to resubmit it to you?”   The worst they can say is no, and you change it and send to another publisher and get published.  They just might say yes.  Please, resubmit if you make those changes.  Again when you do, put Requested with Changes in the subject line and bring it up in the cover letter too.

Important Note:  Never resubmit a changed story to an editor or editor’s publishing house that has rejected the story without it being requested by them.  It gives the writer a poor reputation and editors and their staff remember and talk to other editors too.  Publishing can be a small world.  You’d be surprised who knows whom.

I hope this has unraveled the secret meaning behind the rejection letter for you.  Remember it’s only a bunch of words being rejected.  NOT YOU!  And you can always make a new and better bunch of words that will eventually be a published masterpiece.  Believe!!!

Susan Hanniford Crowley

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About Susan Hanniford Crowley

Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance Author
This entry was posted in A Writing Sirloin Tip, Business, Helping Other Writers, romance, Susan Hanniford Crowley, Writer's Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What Does A Rejection Letter Mean?

  1. Hi Susan,
    Thank you so much for reminding me to “Believe.” I know I have preached about having faith, but sometimes even the preacher needs a gentle reminder.

  2. Thanks so much for this easy to understan breakdown of rejection letters, Susan. I’ll make note of this for the future.

  3. Jamie Pope says:

    I got one that said.”While I find your writing intriguing, I do not have time for this project right now.” What does that mean?

    • Susan Hanniford Crowley says:

      Since they were not specific, I am guessing that they meant the work needed more editing. If I were you, I would edit it again carefully then send it out to someone else.


  4. Thanks for the feedback. I have gotten a few “let me see more” letters, but ….we will see;)


    Maybe you can recommend someone?

  5. Rob says:

    Thanks for unraveling the code and helping me to prepare for the inevitable first rejection letter! (I am working on not being devastated when the time comes!)

    • Susan Hanniford Crowley says:

      Rejection letters are just a part of the growing process. Remember keep sending out and keep writing something new.

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