Rejections SUCK! (Update on Cemetery Dance magazine submissions)

This is part meditation on the publishing business, part update for the authors who currently have stories under consideration for Cemetery Dance magazine, and at the end is a mea culpa.

We received 1,750 submissions this summer to fill 20 or maybe 25 slots in upcoming issues of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Approximately 50% of the stories have been read once, 25% have been read twice, and 25% have been read at least three times. Our goal is to have at least three members of our trusted first-reader team read each story before making any decisions about where the story goes next.

That said, you probably noticed above how many submissions there are for so few slots, right?

In this situation, there are always very good stories an editor has to pass on because you simply don’t have room. There will even be some GREAT stories you have to pass on because they aren’t quite right for your readership (wrong genre, etc) or for other reasons that might sound stupid to the author (already bought something too similar in theme, storyline, etc).

Ultimately, you buy the stories that hit you the hardest (in the gut, the heart, the head), were effortless to read (pulled you in from the first line and carried you through to the ending as if walking through a dream), AND also work best for your target market.

What this means is: I’ll be sending rejections to 1,725 or so authors who sent their very best work and have their fingers crossed that the work will spark a fire for us. I have to say: “Sorry, this isn’t for us.”

From watching Facebook, Twitter, and other places, I know most of the authors whose current submissions didn’t make the cut are taking it in stride and often with good humor. That’s the perfect attitude and I have to admit it took me a while as a writer to get there. Every rejection felt extremely personal to me in the beginning.

For those who do still take a story rejection personally, I completely understand. You worked hard on that story! I try to remind writers that a story rejection is not personal. It’s not a criticism of your writing ability or you as a person. There are simply so many good stories and so few slots. If you keep writing and pounding on doors (or forging your own way to reach readers, but that’s a topic for another day), you’ll get where you want to go in time.

So, we all know form rejection letters SUCK. Yet, you cannot send 1,725 personal replies. You’ll never get anything else done. But some kind of rejection letter is necessary, so the author can close out the file on the submission and target the next available market. (All while hopefully grinding away at the next story, too. Remember Alec Baldwin’s ABCs: Always. Be. Creative-writing.)

Last night it was time to send the first rejections for this batch of submissions and I decided to try to transform our standard rejection note into something at least a little more encouraging:

Dear [Author],

Thank you for sending us “STORY TITLE” for consideration.

We appreciate the opportunity to read your work, but unfortunately this one isn’t for us.

Please note we received more than 1,750 submissions for approximately 20 slots, which means a lot of very, very good stories are not making the cut. (There are even some great stories that just aren’t right for our market.)

Please keep on writing, revising, and submitting to the very best markets you can find. It can be an arduous journey, but a fulfilling and rewarding one as well. And with each new story you write, you’re honing your craft. No effort at your writing desk is ever wasted.

We wish you the very best of luck with your work.

I’m not an inspirational writer and that’s the best I could come up with on short notice, but I felt it was at least a little better than a cold, sterile “not for us, sorry” message.

Unfortunately, when I was rejecting a group of stories, the system glitched — or I glitched — and some authors were sent the letter two or three times. Or maybe more. Sigh.

Dammit and dammit were my first two thoughts when I realized what happened. And then I followed that up with another dammit for good measure.

That said, most of the authors who responded to the multiple messages handled the situation with a good dose of humor and grace IF they mentioned it at all.

There was also this guy:

Hey, I cannot blame that reaction. I’ve been there, although I try really hard to walk away from the keyboard and think about whether that sort of reply is how I want someone to remember my name in the future. (I’m much better at this than when I was a kid and I still feel dumb for all of the time spent BROODING over rejections when I was younger.)

My hope is that anyone else who also received multiple copies of the letter last night will take heart in knowing their story was read and considered seriously, we don’t enjoy sending rejection letters, and we especially didn’t mean to “rub it in” that a story didn’t make the cut.

My apologies go out to any authors who were extra bummed about the notification when it just kept showing up in their inbox like some kind of zombie rejection email rising from the grave. I can definitely imagine how annoying it would be for that same message  to just… keep… coming.

For those still waiting for an answer on this year’s submissions, we’re moving forward as fast as we can while still seriously considering each and every story. The process will take some time. If your story sells elsewhere in the meantime, please let us know. We’ll congratulate you and kick ourselves for not reading it sooner!

If your story doesn’t make the cut this time, please keep writing, keep revising, and keep pushing your work forward.

Best wishes,
Brian James Freeman
Cemetery Dance Publications

P.S. I should also apologize to my mother-in-law, who is the sweetest lady in the world and always hated when her kids used the word “sucks.” Sorry, Dori!


  1. What a great column, Brian! It’s a nice reminder that rejection does make us stronger. I don’t like getting it either, but when I have I do try to take it with grace and humility. As a budding publisher I have also been on the other side of the “letter,” and it never feels good. I think some writers thing editors/publishers enjoy saying no to their submissions. I can attest that for me, nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks so much for this insightful reflection. I hope your writing is coming along well. I can’t wait for your upcoming short story collection. I ordered it the day it went on sale. 🙂 Best wishes, Mark Parker (Scarlet Galleon Publications)

  2. Thank you for this, Brian. I know a great many authors will take comfort in your words. CD is a professional organization and magazine, and I’m honored to have connected with you several times over the years. Keep up the great work.

  3. Lol, I got 2 emails, but that didn’t bother me. Two bullets to the head is no worse than one! Just kidding, thanks for reading.

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