AJ Update: Analyzing Lit Mag Rejections

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I’m accustomed to getting rejections from literary magazines, because well, the acceptance rates to the ones I submit to are less than 1%. Let’s be realistic for a minute, rejection is the most likely outcome!

With the holidays over, I’ve received a slew of rejections for stories that have been out on submission for months. It’s given me a great opportunity to analyze where I can improve, and of course, whatever revelations I have for myself I also share here, and hopefully you’ll find it useful too!

Rejections are a part of a writer’s life, and they, too, can have value. What I look forward to are personal rejections. They really give me insight into what I can do to stand out, improve, and meet my goals. C.C. Finlay is the editor from one of my favorite magazines, F&SF, and he has often given me personal feedback for my stories. According to Duotrope, my favorite story submission manager, Finlay rejects 99.3% of stories submitted, but has provided personal feedback 57% of the time.  I’m impressed by the speed with which he goes through submissions, with an average response time of two weeks, and he doesn’t seem to delegate his choices to readers. Just for reference, the typical magazine takes two months to respond. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s amazing to get feedback from someone so experienced.

Most personal feedback results that I receive from lit mags within the past year praise my prose, pacing, and sentence-level skills. These are learned writing skills that I’ve been honing for the past few years, so it’s nice to see validation that I’ve definitely made progress. But I’ve seen a trend in personal rejections. They praise my writing, but reject the submission because the story didn’t touch them or the ending wasn’t satisfying. I know that some feel the story is good too, but it still didn’t make the cut because they were looking for something specific or the vibe just didn’t match the theme of that month’s magazine.

Of course it’ll be difficult to overcome circumstantial rejection, but there’s a clear trend of something that is preventing pro-magazines from accepting my stories. They want a deeper “story,” something that really touches their readers and makes them think. It needs emotion, passion, and a plot that stitches together perfectly from beginning to end.

When it comes to short stories, I think my creativity is just fine, as is my character building, but it needs to be targeted and more focused. I tend to just sit down and write a story, which can make it meandering and overflowing with more “story” than there needs to be. I need to adjust my gears and try approaching this from a different angle. For the next few stories that I’ll write, I’ll try writing a mini-outline, or having an end already in mind and see how it goes. I’m hoping that approaching a story with a plan, I’ll finally tick all the boxes necessary to create an amazing story that’ll make the cut.

Whether you’re submitting to literature magazines, or struggling with a manuscript and agents, keep this lesson in mind. You absolutely need to build your prose skill and sentence-level prowess, but you’ll also need to learn how to best target your story. Do you make a battle-plan before sitting down to write? Do you think there are ways you could make your story more targeted? Give it a try, and let me know how it goes. It might just be your best story yet!

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2 thoughts on “AJ Update: Analyzing Lit Mag Rejections

  1. “You absolutely need to build your prose skill and sentence-level prowess, but you’ll also need to learn how to best target your story.” This is good advice for writers, literary and otherwise.

    I tend to pants my stories, which leads to more time spent revising, but less time planning things out ahead of time. It’s the method that works best for me and my muse, but everyone has their own writing method. It all comes down to what works best for you specifically.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Completely agree! In my case, I find that when I pants, and then go back to revise, I never had a plan in the first place so I wind up trying to fit the square story into a round hole of what I think it should be. I tried planning out a story before writing it since I wrote this post, and even though it took me two days to outline, the story itself came out really quick. I’m super proud of it and I think it’s one of my best stories. I’m really glad I tried it! But yes, this is specific to me and it depends how others work best.

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