The positive rejection

“Thank you for sending us your brief essay ‘Handlining for students’. This one came very close, up to the final round of decision making, in fact, but we’ve decided to pass.

I don’t know if that makes you feel good or if such ‘close but no cigar’ news is just hard to hear, but we have been blessed with a large number of excellent submissions lately, and hope that you understand that we can only publish a small fraction of the material we receive.

We hope that you will consider us again”


I received the above rejection in January 2013 for a piece that I wrote in the Fall of 2012. Publishing takes time and as you likely have heard, rejection is part of the game. However, falling apart and giving up when your work is rejected is the wrong response. (Note that I said your WORK was rejected…not you…an important distinction.)

Editors and editorial boards have many personalities and quirks and likes and dislikes, in addition to the myriad goals they might have for a given issue or series of issues. Yes, your work may not be up to their standards, but it is also likely that the reasons your work was rejected is because it just didn’t fit. This is a hard reality to swallow because writers have a penchant for internalizing wounds. And often, we perceive rejection of our writing as a wound. That’s not healthy, so you need to work on that and start concentrating on those positive rejections.

(Did she just say positive rejection?)

Yes, I did. A positive rejection is like the one I shared here. Notice the second sentence – that’s the important piece that elevates this rejection above a form letter:

“This one came very close, up to the final round of decision making, in fact, but we’ve decided to pass.”

If your mind is in the right space and you are willing to accept that there are different types of rejections, then focus on the first two parts of that statement. My piece came “very close,” it made it to the “final round”…stop.

That gives me great hope. In fact, it inspired me to send it, unrevised, to another publication. They responded in a similar positive way – my piece was debated and discussed, but ultimately didn’t make it. In fact, this second journal also added that they would like to see more work from me in the future. That’s the golden ticket of rejections – an open door to submit more work.

Note the final sentence in my positive rejection above: “We hope that you will consider us again.

You may think editors say this to every writer. Trust me, they don’t. They only make such statements when they really do want to see more of your work.

Every writer needs these type of rejections because newly opened doors and people who like what you write are your ticket to future publications. I can’t tell you how many people I know who get this kind of golden ticket rejection and stop. They don’t submit the positively rejected piece anywhere else and they don’t submit anything new to the editors who asked them for more. If we work together and you try to do this, I won’t let you.

When you write for publication, strive for polished, clear prose, but don’t revise it to death. You don’t want to kill the passion and spark of your initial idea, but you do want to revise enough to get a positive rejection. Because that is an important accomplishment and necessary step toward publication. The positive rejection assures you that you are doing something right, and reminds you to keep going, no matter how much it stings.

Persistence, perseverance, and positive rejections, people! 🙂

5 Comments on “The positive rejection”

    • A good point, Kevin. Although, I would add that it’s not just the writing that gets the career off the ground, it is also the writer’s desire and willingness to continually put his or her work into the hands of editors. That’s a vital component in addition to the continuous writing! 🙂

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