The “good rejections” file

I have a file of “good” rejection slips that I have received over the years. I think that every wannabe writer should have one of these files. What is a good rejection, you ask? Let me explain. For those of you who are non-writers, you must first understand that most magazines that accept fiction get bombarded with it. The major s.f. markets get 800-1000 manuscripts per month, each. There simply is no time to give each manuscript even a brief, let alone detail critique of why it doesn’t work. So most magazines sent out form letter rejections. Sometimes these letter just inform you that the story was rejected. Others are form letters that list the most common reasons that a story was rejected (not any of which may be why your story was rejected. This can be frustrating for a writer who wants to improve his or her craft because you don’t know why the story didn’t work.

On occasion, however, a writer will get a rejection letter that gives some indication that not only was the story read, but that at least something about it was good. On rarer occasions, you’ll get a letter from the Editor himself (or herself), indicating that you made it through the slush pile readers and that your manuscript was passed on for the editor to read. On even rarer occasions, the editor will praise your story and tell you what was wrong with it and why it was rejected. (This rarest form of rejection–what I consider “fouling one off”, has happened to me three times.)

It is these rejection slips that I consider “good” rejections. They show progress and I keep them around and pull them out occasionally to see how far I’ve come. They help me feel good about my writing. I’ve pulled them out just now and figured I’d post a few of them so you can see what some of my “good” rejections have looked like over the last 12 years or so.

First, one from Algis Budrys when he was editing tomorrow speculative fiction in the mid-90s:

December 28, 1995

Dear Jamie:

Thank you for showing me “Borges As the String that Led Man out of the Maze.” Although it was generally consistent, and often clever, it was not quite right for Tomorrow‘s audience. Working for that audience can, sometimes, be pretty tricky.

I’m sorry. I’m very sorry; the first part of the story is extraordinary, and the introduction of that fact that it’s not Earth is very effective. But after that the invention flags.


Algis Budrys

And one for the same story (which I later retitled to “Chasing Borges”) from Robert K. J. Killheffer at century:

November 30, 1995

Dear Mr. Rubin:

Thank you for submitting your story, “Borges…” I’m sorry to say that it won’t work for us. We have a very small staff and receive a great many submissions, so we can’t offer length individual critiques in most cases… In this case, although, I did find your idea intriguing and your writing accomplished, the story as a whole did not have the atmosphere it needed. Nevertheless, I wish you the best of luck finding a place for this piece with another publisher, and I hope you’ll try Century again.


Robert K. J. Killheffer

(“Try us again” is also a good sign. I’ve gotten several of those, most frequently from Kris Rusch when she was at F&SF.) Here’s an undated letter from Realms of Fantasy:

Dear Jamie:

Thank you very much for letting us see your work. While this particular story does not suit our needs at this time, your work shows a great deal of promise, and we’d very much like to see more from you.

Thanks for thinking of Realms of Fantasy, and we look forward to hearing from you again.


Shawna McCarthy

From Gordon Van Gelder, I got this one for “Chasing Borges”:

May 15, 1997

Dear Mr. Rubin:

Thank you for giving me a look at “Chasing Borges,” but I am going to give this story a pass. It’s a nice homage to Borges, but at the moment, I’m buying pretty selectively and “Chasing Borges” was just a little too self-conscious for my tastes, alas. Best of luck to you with the story, and thanks again for sending it my way.

Yours truly,

Gordon Van Gelder

From John Joseph Adams at F&SF, I got this one:

August 12, 2003

Dear Mr. Rubin:

Thank you for submitting “The Golden Watch,” but I’m going to pass on it. There’s nice writing here, but this tale didn’t hold my interest, I’m afraid. Good luck to you with this short, and thanks again for sending it our way.


John Joseph Adams

Perhaps the best rejection slip I’ve gotten so far comes from Sheila Williams at ASIMOV’S for my story “Wake Me When We Get There”:

April 25, 2005

Dear Jamie,

Thanks for letting me see “Wake Me When We Get There.” I thought that the story was moving, well titled, and very well done. Unfortunately, woeful lack of preparation unconvincing for an exploratory mission like this is unconvincing. (When Allen Steele used this idea, the characters had rushed the initial procedure and there was sabotage to boot.) I very much look forward to seeing something new from you when you have it, though.

Sincerely yours,

Sheila Williams

It’s fun to review the letters in the file every once and a while, and it reminds me that I am, in fact, making progress. Of course, the best kind of letter you can get is one in which your story is accepted!


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