Writing Advice: Don’t Send Out that Rejected Story from a Themed Anthology

It’s happened to all of us. You hear about an anthology with a cool theme. You brainstorm story ideas, settle on one and spend the next few weeks writing, revising and work shopping the story. With high hopes, you submit it.

Then the rejection notice arrives. A bit disappointed, you think “That’s OK, it’s a great story. I’ll submit it to magazines interested in the same genre.”

This is a mistake. Don’t submit the rejected story to other markets for at least a year. Why? Because that’s what everyone else is doing and editors will be flooded with those stories.

Do you want your story lost in that mix?

How Publishers & Editors React to the Deluge of Rejected Anthology Submissions

I’m fortunate to have met and befriended some editors and publishers. From them, I learned the other side of the publishing world. One thing I’ve learned is the post-anthology deluge drives editors mad.

A few weeks ago at Ad Astra, a Toronto science fiction convention, I listened to my magazine editor friends chide anthology editor friends that the rejected stories from the anthologies were flooding in to the magazines. A lot of steam was blown off and plenty of friendly ribbing, but it made me appreciate their side of the business.

Editors have a stack of manuscripts to read at any given time. It can be a draining, mindless job. So, editors are looking for something that jumps out at them—well-written, entertaining and original.

The Two Results of the Post-Anthology Hang-Over

Your story may be well-written and entertaining, but if all the rejected anthology stories start rolling in at the same time, you lose your originality. The editor might only give these stories—including yours—a quick glance, mentally lumping them all together. Now, as an author I feel your pain in saying “That’s not fair!” And it’s not. But it’s human nature.

A second strike against your story is the editor will know these are rejected stories, so it’s simple to assume they are second-best. True, your story may have been rejected for reasons other than quality, but again it’s human nature and how an editor can get through the mountain of stories that much easier.

Set the Story Aside for a Year

So what do you do with that story? Set is aside for a year. That’s right—one whole year. There are two reasons for this.

First, let the wave of stories flooding the inboxes of magazines pass. After a year, your tale of the unicorn-powered zeppelin will regain its sheen of originality and stand on its own merits.

Second, before you submit the story, review it. You will have grown and improved as a writer over that year, so there may be some improvements you can make to the story to further increase its chances of being purchased.

And Read that Anthology

Lastly, read that anthology when it comes out. Take a look at what got accepted and why. You might find your writing was not up to snuff or thematically the story didn’t work with the others. Take a good, hard, critical look at the anthology because—most likely—the editor will do another anthology… maybe a “Volume 2″. Understanding the editor’s tastes will greatly improve your chances of selling him or her another story.

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4 Responses to Writing Advice: Don’t Send Out that Rejected Story from a Themed Anthology

  1. That’s an excellent post (ohhh I’m sounding like a spam bot). What you’re saying sounds so obvious — but only after you mentioned it. And some of these anthology themes are so specific that without even mentioning the anthology, our stories would be screaming ‘I’m the story that didn’t get into zombie on alien love stories’

  2. Two other points from an editor’s perspective: (1) even if I were not prejudiced against flood of rejected stories, even if I judged them fine stories, I could at most accommodate one of the flood in any issue of my magazine — because if I publish a dinosaur in space story, that’s my quota of dinosaur in space stories for this year, even if the others are fabulous, because I am not doing a dinosaur in space themed issue…especially if there was already a themed anthology in play. So why compete with the flood?
    (2) I am bloody well prejudiced…besides the fact that I can save myself a lot of time and effort by not reading stories that I know have already been rejected — maybe for other reasons, but more likely for cause–I do not want to be seen as the editor with lower standards than that first guy. I do not want my magazine to become known as the market of last resort, as the market you send to when you’ve been rejected everywhere else. So if I even suspect that this wasn’t sent to me first, very tempting to just skip it.

    On the other hand, maybe the story can be recycled. Change the dinosaur into a vietnam vet and see if it still works. Send it off to some market that has never heard of the Dinos in Space anthology, and where none of the other Dinos in Space rejects would ever think of going (say, Malahat Review) and who knows? And if they reject it, well, it will take them the year or two that Matt was suggesting in the first place, and you can go back to original version…..

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