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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Oh Joy, Another Rejection!

Last week, I prepared a cover letter to accompany my novella to another magazine. The magazine’s guidelines said they rarely accept fiction over 9,000 words, but I’d met someone who had worked with the publication as a part-time copy editor and who said they do occasionally publish novellas, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I reformatted my manuscript to meet the editors’ requirements and attached it to the online submission form, proofed and polished the cover letter, copied and pasted it in, and pressed “Submit.” I immediately got a message that said “We never accept manuscripts over 12,000 words. Some writers think this means they should lie about how long their manuscript is. Please don’t do that.”

I was ticked. The guidelines could have said “We rarely accept manuscripts over 9,000 words and never over 12,000 words” (it’s only another 5 words to add that bit about what they never accept). They could have saved me (and apparently enough other writers to make it worth their while to add the little note about not lying) the time and trouble of reformatting my manuscript and crafting a cover letter.

As I thought about it, though, I realized that I can use part of cover letter again, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. And since the magazine doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions, I’d much rather know now than to wait around for 2 or 3 months to hear that they won’t consider publishing my novella.

So why am I still disappointed? I know that if their guidelines had stated they don’t accept manuscripts over 12,000 words, I wouldn’t feel so deflated and let down. I’ve reviewed a lot of publications and I’ve never felt more than a passing mental shrug of “oh, that’s too bad,” when I’ve crossed off the names of those that aren’t open to such a long manuscript. I know a novella is an awkward beast to publish.

Why does this feel like a rejection when reading it in their guidelines would have been just information?

And what is the significance of “rejection” to writers anyway? I’d love to hear your thoughts: what does a “rejection” signify to you?

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6 Comments on “Oh Joy, Another Rejection!”

  1. rosannebane May 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Thanks Caro! I’ll check it out.


  2. caro May 5, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    Not sure if this is a fit for you or not, but I just noticed failbetter.com is having a novella contest, deadline May 15.


  3. Fay May 2, 2010 at 6:42 am #

    What struck me was that it is an arbitrary rule and I don’t like those anywhere. Perhaps there is still a little “hippy” in me that bristles at some rules. I always drive the speed limit but “don’t walk on the grass” type rules irritate me. So what if JK Rowling turned in a manuscript of 12,100 words? That would make it a really stupid rule not to bend.

    The lying part is pure and simple rude, stupid, offensive. Even if they had accepted your manuscript I don’t think they are a company that you would want to work with.


  4. caro May 1, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    The little note about not lying would make me really mad. It’s completely disrespectful, especially since it sounds like it wasn’t initially clear that they *never* accept work of that length.

    I find that rejection is easier to bear if it’s given with respect. An impersonal form letter is a bummer; one with a haughty attitude is worse. A handwritten note that says “please try us again” actually kind of makes my day.

    A form letter that accuses you of contemplating lying about word count to earn the privilege of being in their publication? Blech.


    • rosannebane May 5, 2010 at 9:37 am #

      Thanks Caro. I agree that there’s no need to be rude and respect goes a long way to making even unwelcome news more palatable. I also appreciate encouragement to “Please try us again.”


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