Friday, August 15, 2014

Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected

You’re probably sick of hearing me talk about it, but I’ve spent the past year reading submissions for an anthology. So, I’m going to write about rejection today.

There were several editors who worked on this anthology. Every week we all read the same batch of submissions. We met to discuss the batch at the end of the week. In order to remember what I read, I kept spreadsheets with the title and author of the submission as well as my reaction to the submission. I was looking for something on my computer yesterday, and I found the spreadsheets. For some reason (boredom), I decided to look over the spreadsheets. I started noticing trends in my reasons for rejecting submissions. I noticed that there are some very common mistakes that writers make that lead to rejection. (Or, at least, rejection from me.)

I decided to take a sample of about 250 rejected submissions and make a pie chart of my most common reasons for rejection. The submissions were a mixture of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Most of the submissions were rejected for multiple reasons, but I always put my biggest reason for rejection first in my notes. I only put my biggest reason on the chart.

Here is my (admittedly crappy and hard to read) pie chart of rejection.

Not Quite Ready – 1.07% - These are the submissions that were very good, but they weren’t quite as good as the accepted submissions. We couldn’t accept everything. Some good stories had to be rejected because they just weren’t quite right for us.

Lacking Emotion – .56% - The submission felt flat. I didn’t feel anything for the characters or their situation. Or, I didn’t feel anything while reading a poetry submission.

Boring – 6.54% - I read past the first 3-5 pages of a story, but then I got bored. The story felt long, meandering, or slow. It didn’t hold my attention.

Not Unique – 7.01% - I’ve read too many pieces (published or unpublished) that are similar to this one. There is nothing in this submission that is unusual or unexpected.

Poorly Written – 4.91% - I can tell that the author is a beginning writer or a non-English speaker. The piece is extremely unpolished and difficult to read.

Doesn’t Fit Submission Guidelines – 35.75% - You know how a lot of rejection letters say, “Your piece is not what we are looking for right now”? That’s this category. These submissions didn’t fit the theme of the anthology well enough for me. They just weren’t what we were looking for right now.

Too Simplistic – 1.87% - The author took complex human emotions; a complex situation; or a complex political, social, or environmental problem and oversimplified it.

Why Did I Read This? – 1.4% - When I read a submission, I want to feel like I got something out of reading it. I want to be entertained or enlightened. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to get out of reading these submissions.

Other – 4.91% - These rejections didn’t fit in any of the other categories. Many of the submissions in this category just didn’t match my personal taste. For example, I didn’t like an author’s choppy writing style, or a nonfiction piece was too informational and didn’t have enough of a narrative.

Predictable – .47% - Within the first few paragraphs, I knew exactly how the story was going to end. I always skipped ahead to see if I was correct. With these submissions, I was correct.

Nothing Happens – 18.22% - Nothing important happens within the first 3-5 pages of a story, or nothing happens at all in a poem.

Confusing – 14.72% - Something in the submission was confusing, unclear, or needed more explanation for me to fully understand or appreciate it.

Lacking Character Development – 2.57% - The characters were underdeveloped.

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