I am the 40%

My short story received its second rejection this week. This rejection was from Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. My previous rejection was from a magazine with a 96% rejection rate, and I turned around and submitted to a magazine with a rejection rate of over 99%. You might be thinking “doesn’t this guy learn from his mistakes?”

Well, possibly I don’t, but I had a couple of reasons for trying with F&SF. First, on their submissions page, they say that they receive plenty of fantasy, but not enough science fiction or humor. My story is sci-fi with a little bit of humor. Second, The Grinder reports that almost 60% of rejections include feedback. So, I was hoping that even a rejection would have some value.

Unfortunately, my rejection seems to be a form response. (Now, I want to carry a sign saying “I am the 40%” to a political protest and see what percent of people agree that they are the 40%.) I actually think the 60% statistic at the grinder may be incorrect — there is some language in the form letter which authors could be misinterpreting as feedback on their individual story.

It only took 10 days to get my rejection, but people who submitted stories shortly after mine were getting their rejections in 4-6 days. I’m interpreting this time difference as my story making it past an initial slush reader, before being torpedoed by the next person up the ladder. So, I guess there’s one ray of sunshine after all.

I have another target magazine lined up, but I’m trying to decide whether to submit as-is, or change up my opening paragraph. I’ve recently read more anecdotes about editors who drop a story after the first sentence or first paragraph. A lot of sci-fi and fantasy stories, including mine, rely on a “twist” in the middle or at the end, but the twist can’t be in the opening sentence, or it’s not a twist, it’s just the baseline for the story.

I’ve reviewed an issue of F&SF — check it out for my take on some stories that did make the cut.


  1. Keep at it; don’t give up! =)

    1. Thanks! I’m going to keep throwing this story out there for a while, and I’m hoping to whip a few more stories into shape as well.

      1. Go for it!!!

  2. Never give up! Keep going! πŸ˜ƒ

    1. I’m going to keep trying, but I won’t say that I’ll never give up. If I try six stories in six different styles, and they all get rejected by a dozen or more magazines, then I think I’ll look at some other way to get my stories out there.

      1. Have you got in contact with Ellie Malony on WP? She’s running her own magazine and is looking for material.
        The other thing you could do is start a page on one of these story sites like Scriggler?

        1. I think I’ll try the brand-name magazines first, so my readers can compare with their own experiences.

          I’ll take another look at Ellie’s magazine, for some reason I was thinking it was more literary and less SFF.

          I guess I’m still not really thinking of myself as an author, but looking at those story sites is a great idea. In fact, it’s an idea worth writing about on the blog, even if I don’t pursue it myself. Thanks.

          I could also put a few of my rejected stories together as a 99 cent collection on Amazon, but the market’s so crowded there, I’m not sure how many people would actually read it.

  3. F&SF is a tough one to crack. Competition is always fierce with ‘prestige’ (and paying!) magazines. And yes, the longer report time can mean it moved up a tier for a second look.

    Just from my own experience, I consider most rejections as form ones unless they contain something specific about the submitted work other than title.
    “Although we enjoyed [Title], we didn’t feel it was the best fit for the upcoming issue” — something like that is a polite form rejection.
    “Although we enjoyed the lyrical quality of [Title], we felt there was too much setting detail, which unbalanced a story of this length” — that’s rejection with specific and usable feedback.

    It never hurts to try out different openings if you have the slightest doubt about what you’ve got. Some of mine hit Version 50+ before I settled on the opening line/paragraph/hook.

    Cheering you on! πŸ™‚

    1. My letter was somewhere between your two examples. It said something along the lines of “the worldbuilding was interesting, but we’re going to pass.”

  4. That’s a pity, I always enjoy those short (sometimes non-sensical) humorous stories you write at the beginning of your posts. If the story was like those, you should be able to find someone to publish it.

    1. I’m glad you like my intro stories. The one I submitted isn’t that silly (at least not intentionally). It’s more like a traditional sci-fi story, with the twists being a little humorous.

  5. As a fan of your shorts, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope to read a success post in the near future πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks, Nicholas. Honestly, I’m having fun blogging about this, and I think other short story authors may get something from this series of posts. So, it’s a win whether my story ever gets accepted or not.

      I just need to find the time to finish additional stories and get them out there.

  6. Hang in there, sir!

    1. You’ll be seeing some more of these posts, don’t worry. I’ve got a half-dozen other stories that I think are worth submitting, but I haven’t had the time to clean them up and get them to my beta readers.

  7. […] this article was sent to Lisa Burton, my assistant, by Planetary Defense Command. The Commander is friends with Lisa on Facebook, and he thought we would like this article. […]

  8. Hi. I would of course suggest that you don’t give up but in reality, from my personal experience, I’ve seen a lot of incredible talents not being accepted by the society. Sometimes, people are not ready to expand their views and imaginations. People tend to accept mainstream topics rather than unique ones….So, you need to work very hard to convince them so that they accept a new, unique genre. Best of luck!

    1. My story is fairly genre-standard (for sci-fi). The setting is an alien invasion, and a lot of the plot revolves around seemingly-bizarre behavior by an AI.

      However, the majority of what I’ve seen in magazines lately are: bleak dystopias, re-telling of fairy tales, and stories written to score points in modern-day politics. My story doesn’t fit any of those.

  9. J. D. Brink · · Reply

    I’m sure you’ve heard this before but: a major part of writing is rejection. Nobody, NOBODY, gets all their stories from the very first to the very last, gobbled up instantly. And there have been award-winning novels, like “The Forever War,” that were rejected a zillion times before someone recognized it for what it was and published it. Novels and short stories, all the same deal. They get rejected. ALOT.
    I graduated with a BFA in creative writing in 1999, and had started submitting a little even before that. My first story didn’t get picked up until 2007, by like the 24th mag I’d submitted that story to. This past year I’ve had a lot of luck, but before now? I could count my credits on a butcher’s finger-diced hand, from 1999 to the 20-teens.
    My more recent method is to start with the mags that have the fastest response times. You can see how long they generally take with an account on Duotrope. I want the fastest rejections first so I can get to the next one. Don’t submit to the take-forever places until you’ve gotten rejected by several of the quick ones. In the time it takes a slow-mover to reject you, you could have collected 5 from the fast ones.
    Notice how I assume it’s a rejection? Because it probably will be. LIke you said, some mags reject 99% of stories. It doesn’t mean your story isn’t good, or someone else won’t want it, it just means you didn’t roll a 01 on your percentile dice.
    So then, if you burn through a whole lot of rejections over like a year or two and no one wants to print it, just publish it yourself. We have that power now. πŸ™‚
    Good luck! And just keep moving forward!

  10. […] that my writing, while not worth publishing so far, at least has some merit. Β The timing of another rejection made me believe that I had made it past the initial round of cuts, so maybe I should get back on […]

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