Don’t Self-Reject!

Writing is hard. Collecting the library of information necessary to be a successful writer is hard. But maybe the hardest thing for a writer is collecting those inevitable piles of rejection slips. Fear of those rejection slips, however, is a killer.

No, I’m not going to give you a pep-talk about J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or anyone else. What I’m talking about is self-rejection. Humility is a good trait, but writers can take that a little too far. It’s tempting to look at a market and think “I’m not good enough for this market. I don’t have stories published. I don’t have a Name. They won’t accept me.”

Sound familiar?

Well, stop it. Self-rejection is a sure way to be stuck in one place forever. No, you don’t have a Name. You might not have stories published. You’ll never be ‘good enough’ (don’t believe that one? Ask just about any of your favorite authors if they think they are ‘good enough’. Hello, fraud complex!)

You’re facing your fear by writing the stories and submitting them at all, so why not buck up a little and give yourself a chance?

Don’t believe me? I’ve asked a few experienced editors to contribute. John Klima, Douglas Cohen, James Sutter and Samuel-Montgomery Blinn have all stepped up to tell you why they want you to submit to them.

James Sutter
Editor: Paizo

Being a professional author means making peace with your own inadequacies. Not just recognizing them–anyone can do that–but truly accepting them. There will always be someone out there better than you–probably a whole lot of someones. But you’re not competing against Dan Simmons and Neil Gaiman. You’re competing against the rest of the slush pile, and most of those stories are equally chock-full of their own problems. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to run faster than the hungry bear, you just have to run faster than whoever you’re with.

As a writer, you must always be willing to fail, to trade your ego for publication and visibility. If at some point you find that you’ve stopped failing, then you aren’t taking enough chances, and you should set your sights higher. While you should always do the best work you can on a given story, once it’s as good as you can make it, you need to send it out, and not stop sending it out until it’s published. Some of my highest-profile sales have been stories that I was ready to retire after years of rejection, convinced that they’d never sell. Sure, some pieces (especially those that have been kicking around for a few years) might not represent you as well as others. But if an editor buys a story, it means that someone who has built a career out of separating wheat from chaff thought it was pretty good. And if not, you can always try again. The slush pile holds no grudges.

For an author, the biggest danger isn’t that someone might not like your work–it’s that they might never encounter it at all.


James L. Sutter is the Fiction Editor for Paizo Publishing, as well as author of the forthcoming novel Death’s Heretic and more than twenty-five short stories for such publications as Apex Magazine, Black Gate, and the #1 Amazon bestseller Machine of Death. His first anthology, Before They Were Giants, pairs the first published stories of such SF luminaries as Larry Niven, William Gibson, Cory Doctorow, and China Mieville with new interviews and writing advice from the authors themselves. For more information, check out

Samuel Montgomery-Blinn
Editor: Bull Spec Magazine

Every one of the major markets will publish new writers. Asimov’s, F&SF, and Analog all do it. Clarkesworld does it. Lightspeed does it, Fantasy Magazine does it, Strange Horizons does it, on and on. New writers are the lifeblood of short fiction, and the most critically-acclaimed anthologists — Ellen Datlow, John Joseph Adams, Jonathan Strahan, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer — are so acclaimed because they consistently put together anthologies with great fiction, including stories from new writers.

But definitely don’t listen to just me. Instead, listen to Robert Heinlein (via Robert J. Sawyer) who in his own rules for writers included a step for resubmitting to new markets after rejection, and to William Gibson, who in a (now decade+ old) interview with The Edge said of getting over his own tendency toward self-rejection: “It was lack of confidence and naiveté. I went from this one semi-professional publication to submitting to what were the top markets at the time, but I was forced to do that by other writers. My initial impulse was to hide it under a bushel and avoid rejection, and I was very fortunate that I had people who came along who beat me up and twisted my arm.”

Consider your arm twisted.

Samuel Montgomery-Blinn is the publisher of Bull Spec, a quarterly print and PDF magazine of speculative fiction out of Durham, NC, whose own great hope is to help discover new, optimistic voices. Bull Spec can be found here.

John Klima
Editor: Electric Velocipede

Self-rejection is unavoidable. A writer will have a story and not send it to particular publication because he or she feels it isn’t right for that publication. In some cases that may be valid. You probably shouldn’t send your paranormal vampire story to Analog, nor should you send your science-heavy story to Realms of Fantasy. But that’s not what I’m talking about, that’s just knowing your markets. I’m talking about where someone has a well-written story, but they say “I won’t send this to Electric Velocipede because they only publish weird stuff and this isn’t weird.” Yes, we publish a lot of weird stuff at EV, but we publish just as much straightforward fantasy, and in fact, many reviewers have commented on the fact that we are more likely the publish straight science fiction than many other small venues. So, send your stuff our way and we’ll decide if it fits.

Often we convince someone to send something that they weren’t planning on sending to EV and then we don’t accept it. This validates to them that they were right in the first place. Let me be clear about this: no it does not. It only means that story wasn’t what we were looking for. Maybe we’ve seen an excess of planetary exploration stories, but we have a dearth of robot stories and you have a robot story that we’d like very much.

And this is where we need to work harder. We don’t provide a lot of feedback on stories as most people aren’t actually looking for it. But, when we exhorted someone to submit a story, then we need to give some feedback. And if we like the person’s writing, we need to say so and re-assert the concept of: we want to see your fiction; we’ll decide whether it fits.

John Klima previously worked at Asimov’s, Analog, and Tor Books before returning to school to earn his Master’s in Library and Information Science. He now works full tme as a librarian. When he is not conquering the world of indexing, John edits and publishes the Hugo Award-winning genre zine Electric Velocipede. The magazine has is also a four-time nominee for the World Fantasy Award. In 2007 Klima edited an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories based on spelling-bee winning words called Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories. In 2011, Klima edited an anthology of retellings of fairytales for Night Shade Books titled Happily Ever After. He and his family live in the Midwest.

Douglas Cohen
Editor: Realms of Fantasy

(Originally published at the Clarion Blog: Market Insights: Realms of Fantasy. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

  Fantasy is a broad genre, and it’s yet to stop expanding.  In addition to writers, editors are playing a crucial role in defining what fantasy is.  I’ve read a number of stories in our pages that I consider science fiction.  Obviously Shawna felt otherwise, or at least saw enough fantasy-related elements to justify publishing these tales in RoF.  Too often, I hear about authors rejecting themselves from certain markets because their stories are “not a good fit.”  Now, if you’re writing a hard science fiction piece in the vein of Gregory Benford or Isaac Asimov, it’s true that your story most likely isn’t right for us. 

But if there is an element that could be considered fantastical in your sf story, who knows?  We just might buy it.  Did you know John Joseph Adam’s recent dystopian sf reprint anthology has a story from RoF in there?  Did you know we published a story with robots that were clearly inspired by Transformers?  Did you know we had a story about molecule memory that was reprinted in Rich Horton’s Science Fiction, Best of the Year, 2008?  I could go on. 

The point—and this is something to keep in mind for all markets—is that it’s not your job to reject your stories for our magazines.  It sounds like a basic thing, but too often I see authors—including experienced ones—overanalyzing their prospective writing markets.  This is not a phenomenon unique to RoF.  It’s good to know your markets, because that might help you land a sale sooner rather than later.  But don’t be the editor for them.  I can’t stress this enough.  When in doubt, submit.  Let us decide what’s right for the magazine.  The worst that happens is that we say no.  To borrow (and probably mangle) a phrase from John W. Campbell: “How dare you reject your story for my magazine?”

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  1. Paul Weimer
    16/09/2011 at 9:03 pm Permalink

    Self rejection is a problem for me.

  2. Austin Briggs
    17/09/2011 at 10:22 pm Permalink

    Fantastic article. Thanks for collecting the opinions of experienced editors! Loved the examples. 

  3. Samuel Mont-Blinn
    18/09/2011 at 12:41 am Permalink

    Thanks so much for including me — and I really do like that (mangled or not) phrase from Campbell at the end.

  4. Alex C.Telander
    19/09/2011 at 7:13 pm Permalink

    Great article.  Self-rejection is something you have to get over; never giving up is the other big part.  It’s what I get from a lot of authors I interview, when I ask them how they got published.  There is original talent involved — obviously — but it’s also a numbers game, and getting your work in front of the eyes of the right person.  N. K. Jemisin in an interview ( talked about celebrations she’d have with her writing group when they hit rejected goals.  James Rollins submitted to over fifty agents before he got someone to take a look at his work.

    You just can’t give up!


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