Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The truth about short stories - rejections and acceptances

One of my fellow-bloggers, Julie of Julie's Quest (, has been brave enough recently to give details of her short story 'tally' for the year so far. Julie's writing output is as admirable as her attitude; she realises that we all have to accept the inevitable rejections and keep on trying, keep on submitting, if we're going to improve our success ratio.

This made me realise that it's quite helpful to hear about other writers' rejections as well as their successes! We all enjoy celebrating with each other when we've had an acceptance, a sale, a publication - but we quite often prefer to keep the bad news quiet, with the result that aspiring writers could fall into the trap of believing that those of us who are already published, don't have rejections or failures at all! And I think it's reassuring to know that - ahem! Yes, we certainly do.

So I had a count-up myself. My situation with short stories is that I was fairly widely published in magazines (under my own name, Sheila Norton) during the 1990s, but after I had my first novel published in 2002 I had to concentrate on the books, because I was still working full-time so the short stories had to take a back seat. Once I left the day job last year, I had more time and a lot less money (!) so I needed to get back into the short story market again. And this time around, after a gap of only 5 or 6 years, it's been even harder as there are less magazines publishing fiction, and different requirements everywhere.

Of course, I had plenty of rejections first time around, too - it was never easy. But it took me most of last year, while I was recovering from my operation, to get myself back into short story writing 'mode'. So now I'm full-on into submitting stories again, (alongside writing a new novel, which by the way also hasn't been accepted yet!) - what's my score?

Strangely enough, like Julie I've sent out exactly THIRTY stories this year. Of those, a mere FIVE were accepted for publication by the first magazine I submitted to. A further FOUR have been accepted following at least one rejection. Two of those were accepted on the third attempt; one was finally accepted this year, following six rejections when I was submitting prior to 2002 - and one further rejection this year! Of course - I'd been changing, updating and improving it each time it bounced back, but I'm telling you this to make the point that it does happen! Just ONE story has been put in the 'given up' section of my card-index system because after four rejections, I decided it just wasn't good enough and I couldn't do any more to improve it.

I now have TWENTY stories still 'out there'. Of these, SEVEN have been rejected by at least one magazine and are awaiting a decision from another one. The remaining THIRTEEN are still waiting for a decision from the first editor I've sent them to.

So you can see from this that, even with a reasonable track record, I'm by no means getting, and certainly not expecting, anywhere near a hit every time! I AM hoping, though, that each success will give me a little more 'credibility' with the editors, and bring my 'score' a little higher. Even if that doesn't happen - I'm working hard, enjoying every minute of it, and am thrilled to bits every time I have a story accepted. That's NINE so far this year, out of thirty submissions. But it's the twenty still out there that hold the promise ... they're the ones I focus on, because they are still possibilities. And I think it's important to have as many stories in that category as we can - to keep us hopeful.

The main points I wanted to get across, from this, are:
Firstly, don't give up too readily - send out those rejected stories again. What one editor hates, another might love. But of course, make sure the story is adapted for each different market. And do be prepared to give up eventually, if you've flogged it to death and realise it's never going to happen.
Secondly, please don't think, if you feel like you're getting more rejections than you were prepared for, that it's just you. It is par for the course - part of a writer's life - and not only beginner writers - we ALL get rejections; we all hate them, they're disappointing, and frustrating, but they are an inevitable part of it.

I hope this helps someone, somewhere, to feel just a little bit reassured! Good luck with those submissions - we need it!


  1. You're so right about it being much harder now to get published in magazines. I made a list the other day of the mags that have gone completely or just given up fiction since the early 90s and it was very depressing! And the guidelines are far stricter now.

    Excellent post this! Full of truths and good common sense!

  2. This certainly does help, thanks.

    Right, better get on with sending out those stories.

  3. Thanks, Teresa. It's depressing, isn't it, that there's such a narrow market now for fiction, so many mags preferring to publish 'real life' stories about people's operations or weird relationships. Perhaps the fashion might change again eventually.

    And thank you Debs: I'm glad it was of some help to know we're all in the same boat. Good luck with the stories. Let us know how it goes!

  4. It is helpful to know, and you're right we do tend to post about the successes, but not the rejections. I've got 17 possibles out there at the moment, so am keeping my fingers crossed :o)

    (Still can't get over that you're Sheila Norton!!)

  5. Hi Karen - nice to see you here! Good for you, having all those lovely 'possibles' out there!
    And yes, I'm a strange mixture of two people! So pleased that I can now tell everyone, though! x

  6. Hi, Olivia and thanks for the mention. I posted my stats for the same reasons you have - to show people that we do get rejections, even if we have been published before. That's bizarre that we've both sent out thirty!! We are a pair of writeaholics!! Well done on your five sales so far and fingers crossed for your remaining pendings!

    Julie xx

  7. Excellent post. I for one appreciate your honesty. You are completely right that those of us that are just starting out sometimes assume that those of you that have a track record get accepted every time you submit something.
    When I first started submitting stories I gave up after the first rejection but I now know better. I have had several things accepted after being previously rejected and sometimes without making aby changes at all. I guess its horses for courses.

  8. Thanks Julie, and yes - it's a coincidence about the 30 stories! I thought your idea of revealing your stats was such a good, generous idea that I decided to count up my own and do likewise! Here's hoping we both get a few more 'yesses' now.

    And thanks, Gonna Be. I'm glad it has helped you to know the truth about the continual nature of those nasty rejections! Of course I'm sure there are some really great writers who get nearly everything accepted, and they obviously deserve their success, having surely gone through the process of having more rejections earlier in their career. I wonder if there is ANYone out there who never got rejected???

  9. Such a brave post! Thanks for your honesty. This makes me feel a lot better! Weird about the thirty thing: my subs this year total 40 to date, but around 10 of these are resubs from rejections. Success rate: 7 so far. Only 17 still out there - I need to get writing! It's so good to know others are out there coping with the same cr...p!

  10. Thanks Lydia - and I'm glad now that Julie started this topic on her blog,and that I've continued it here, because it seems to be making all of us feel a bit better to share these feelings amongst ourselves. Well done with your 7 acceptances. Hope you get lots more!

  11. A great post, Olivia. It's made me consider ALL my rejected stories once more! Thank you.

  12. I wonder sometimes if sending out fewer stories and honing those ones you do send works more for success than sending out masses and masses of stories. Just a thought.

    Someone said "I learn more from my failures than from my success" and I think that's so true! I love this post!

  13. Your stats almost mirror my own, Olivia.


  14. Wonderful post Sheila. I know quite a lot about rejection although more on the non-fiction side and I have to say I have totally stopped taking it personally! I just sigh and move on. In my market it's a lot to do with timing. But thank for you teaching me about resubmitting fiction ...I cannot believe I am going to admit this but I never thought of altering and resubmitting. I thought once rejected no other editor would consider it. stupid I know!

  15. Thanks for all your comments - I feel we all have something in common here!!

    Amanda - yes, definitely look at the rejections again! One of my recently accepted stories was one of the ones that had been rejected twice by other mags. But I did work hard at re-jigging, cutting, changing. It often works!

    Geraldine - I agree. I have learnt now not to send out a completed story straight away - I have to rein myself in - but leave it a day or two, re-read, edit, and improve. I think writing novels has taught me more patience in that respect.

    Sue - that's interesting! Just goes to prove that we are not alone. Probably most of us get a similar level of 'hits'.

    Helen - thank you. I'm sure the situation is just the same with non-fiction. And of course, often the markets are more narrow so that what you've targeted to a specific market, eg a kitchen magazine, would be no use to anything else. The only non-fiction I've written and had published so far is for writing mags - oh and local papers! - so I don't have much experience. But definitely don't ever presume a reject is a reject! It's just a postponement!!

  16. It is interesting isn't it? When I've gone and done talks at writers' circles, it always surprises me how many think that once you had some sort of success, that's it - it's acceptances all the way after that.

    Getting published is not like sitting your A Levels and once you have them, that's it. Every time we write something, the editor/examiner is judging us. It's just that those of us who have had some success realise that a rejection may be down to the editor getting out of bed on the wrong side on the day our submissions happened to land on their desk.

    My golden rule is - today's rejection can still become tomorrow's acceptance!

  17. Great post. I've sent out 25 so far this year, and sold 5. Subs are down for me this year as I haven't been writing as much. But I've also written a bit of non-fiction and that's been accepted too.

    I have very little still out there at the moment - need to get writing again and replenish stocks! I agree it is great to hear how others are faring so thank you for this post.

  18. Your goldren rule is much the same as mine, Simon - a rejected short story just merits a sigh and a shrug now, before I get straight on with revising and resubmitting. (But a rejected novel can be a lot more painful!). I like your A-level/examiner analogy. Very true.

    Sorry to hear your subs are down this year Womag, but that's the trouble, isn't it - if we have a period (for whatever reason) where we're not writing quite so much, we then get a period a few months later where nothing seems to happen - no rejections perhaps, but no acceptances either - very boring! But well done with the non-fiction. It's good to branch out into new areas, isn't it.