How to Improve When You Only Get Standard Rejections

Rejection letters will often be pre-formatted and without feedback, and it can be difficult to know what to do to improve your work.

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Publishers are incredibly busy people. These days, many editorial jobs are consolidating and increasingly senior or commissioning editors have to juggle the balance of their work with established writers while taking on the occasional unsolicited manuscript and others from readers and the editorial assistants who work for them. Unfortunately, this often means that even the new work they quite like can get pushed aside and given a very formal rejection letter. There are a mountain of reasons for this, ranging all the way from ‘we can’t stand your book’ right along to ‘we loved it but Sales and Marketing just couldn’t see a way to make it fly.’ Unfortunately, publishers are highly unlikely to inform in any case, leaving you with very few ways in which to judge whether your writing is improving.

Get Opinions

Not just opinions from family members, who are likely to say your work is good because they love you.

Get Proofed

Consider paying a professional editor/proof-reader to go through the work. Back in the days when I wrote short stories, I would often send them to copy and line editors in order to make sure they were in the best possible shape for publication.

Get Smart

Look at the market you’re writing for, then search around for magazines or small-press publishers that put out the same sort of fiction/non-fiction. Submit your work to those markets (in the right form) and see what sort of reaction you get.


It’s vitally important to recognize that having people read your work is always valuable, whether or not you’re being paid to write it. In the past, an appearance in the right magazine has been invaluable to the careers of many, many published authors. I would never have placed a story alongside Terry Pratchett in the anthology Knights of Madness if it hadn’t been spotted in Xenos (small-press) magazine first. In the fields of SF and fantasy, Interzone magazine has launched the careers of a number of notable authors, including several of the field leaders.

‘Building up your name’ often becomes a battle in its own right, but there are so many more opportunities out there for short stories and in the small-press than there are in the major publishing houses. This is not to say that the two paths are mutually exclusive, however: they often cross over in some of the big events. The annual British Fantasy Awards are regularly attended by editors from major houses as well as small-press publishers and bestselling authors mingle with newly established writers or those yet to make a single professional sale.

The watchwords here are ‘visibility’ and ‘feedback’—two things so crucial to any writer’s career that they should never be put out of mind in favour of that ‘big advance’ so many new authors hanker after.

Become visible to the community you’re writing for: get the right feedback from them and everything else will fall into your lap.

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David Grimstone (David Lee Stone) from Ramsgate is a bestselling author of series fiction for Disney USA, Penguin USA and Hodder UK.

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