Ten Technical Reasons Your Short Story Got Rejected


Finding success writing short fiction is not just about how compelling and memorable your story is. It’s also about how well you pay attention to technicalities. If you earnestly believe your story nailed the former, but still your mailbox is swarming with rejection letters, then maybe you neglected the latter.

Many short fiction editors are constantly inundated with submissions, and one of the ways they weed out sloppy stories from their slush piles is by sending out rejections as soon as it becomes obvious that a writer didn’t pay attention to technicalities.

Here are some of such technicalities:

Your Manuscript Wasn’t Formatted Properly

If you truly want to be successful in the publishing world, then you have to follow the rules that govern that world. One of those rules is ‘the Standard Manuscript Format’, which is generally accepted unless when a market specifically says otherwise.

Of course, you love fancy fonts. I know that because I too love fancy fonts. The problem is that as catchy as a font might be, some people may not find it easily readable. Thus, it can become distracting for the reader–which is bad for your story.

Learn more about the Standard Manuscript Format, and if after that you feel too lazy to implement it before making submissions, then try using writing software like YWriter and Scrivener. They can automatically format your manuscript using the Standard Manuscript Format.

You Submitted to the Wrong Market

Every short story market has genres and sub-genres of fiction they publish. It’s up to you to analyze each market to understand what they want. This involves studying the magazine’s submission guidelines and reading stories published in it.

Does the magazine publish mainstream, romance, speculative, crime, or historical fiction? Also, pay attention to sub-genres. For instance, a magazine that publishes speculative fiction may prefer hard science fiction like in the case of Compelling Science Fiction, literary adventure fantasy (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), or horror and dark fantasy (Nightmare). Just make sure your story fits into the genre the market you are submitting to publishes. Otherwise, you’d be setting yourself up for rejection.

It’s Riddled with Typographical and Grammatical Errors

Magazine editors are busy people. Many receive hundreds of submissions per week. The influx is typically so overwhelming that they work with slush pile readers in order to cut down their workloads. Remember that apart from reading submissions, editors also edit accepted stories and sometimes oversee publication. The least you can do is alleviate their job by properly proofreading your manuscript for errors.

Use beta readers. Join a critique group. Do everything in your power to ensure that your manuscript is error free. No editor wants to buy a story that would be too much work to edit. In fact, many editors will reject your story if the first few paragraphs are riddled with errors.

Your Story Falls Outside the Word-Count Limits

 Typically, a short story ranges from 1,000 words to 7,500 words in length. But then, each short story market has its own word-count limits, and most state them clearly on their websites. For instance, The Dark Magazine only considers stories between 2,000 and 6,000 words. Beneath Ceaseless Skies prefers stories under 11,000 words. Clarkesworld only considers stories between 1,000 and16,000 words. While Compelling Science fiction accepts anything from 1,000 to 10,000 words. Thus, you’d be asking for instant rejection if you submit a story of 16,000 or 1,000 words to Beneath Ceaseless Skies or The Dark Magazine respectively.

Your Story Is an Excerpt from a Larger Work

Unless that excerpt from a larger work is compelling and can stand on its own as a short story, then submitting it to a short story market will translate to rejection. It’s that simple. Many magazines state in their submission guidelines that they don’t consider excerpts. If, however, you are looking for a market that serializes science fiction stories of up to 80,000 words, then try Analog Science Fiction.

You Submitted Outside the Submission Window

Some magazines have specific times of the year that they are closed to submissions. Some others remain open until they have accepted enough stories to cover an upcoming issue or a publishing year. And some others shut down submissions only when they are inundated with stories to consider. Avoid the mistake or even temptation of submitting outside submission windows. You’d most likely get an automatic rejection. Always check your target market’s submission guidelines before submitting. If the market is closed to submissions, find another market or wait for that market to reopen submissions.

Your Short Story Is Wordy

Wordiness can come in the form of phrases or expressions that are redundant. It typically means using more words than necessary to convey a point. Chances are that you don’t even know that your prose is wordy. You can avoid this mistake by always working on improving your craft. Enroll in a creative writing course. Read up on how to detect and correct wordiness. Using the grammar app Grammarly can also be helpful. However, be careful so that it doesn’t ruin style or context–that is, where your use of longer expressions is appropriate to convey style and minimize ambiguity.

If you are being wordy intentionally, perhaps, to increase your earnings, seeing as magazines pay per word, then maybe that’s why your mailbox is swarming with form rejection letters. The solution is simple. If you want to earn more, then improve your productivity. Write more short stories.

You Submitted a Story Simultaneously to Two or More Markets

When the guidelines say no simultaneous submission, you have to believe that the magazine in question isn’t messing around. You may think the editor wouldn’t notice, but then sometimes the editor of one magazine may become a guest editor of another magazine. Also, some editors are friends. Two may be discussing submissions they love and yours comes up. Then there is the mistake of submitting simultaneously to, say, Nightmare and Lightspeed, which are both edited by John Adams.

You Made Multiple Submissions

Many Magazines now use submission management apps. Some like Moksha can prevent you from making multiple submissions unless the magazine in question accepts them. While some other apps can make it easy for editors to identify and delete multiple submissions. Some editors may simply consider one story and reject the others. While some other editors may simply reject all stories. The key to not getting rejected in this case is reading your target market’s guidelines and avoiding making multiple submissions when they are not allowed.

You Sent the Wrong Story or Cover Letter

Some writers use a form cover letter for their submissions. They simply alter it a bit to incorporate the right story and editor’s name. There’s always the possibility of forgetting to make the alterations and thus sending a letter that addresses a different editor or talks about a different story. Some editors may forgive this and go ahead and read your story, while some others may simply reject the story. Why not do yourself a favor and write a new letter for each submission? Trust me, before you know it, writing cover letters will become much easier than you think.

This doesn’t mean that an editor couldn’t and wouldn’t overlook some of these technical mistakes. If your story is compelling and memorable, a few typos or improper formatting may not get it rejected. The question you have to ask yourself is: why take the risk? If by paying attention to technicalities you can improve the chances of your story selling to your desired market, why not take your time and do just that?

3 thoughts on “Ten Technical Reasons Your Short Story Got Rejected

  1. Good post. I’ve done a few of these myself. It’s easy to put all our effort into writing the story to perfection, then rush through the steps of submission. My advice: spend as much time and attention to the submission process as you did to writing the story!

    Liked by 1 person

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