My First Rejection Slip

If you put a gun to my head, I couldn’t find all the documents I’d need to prepare our tax return in under an hour. But ask me to find my old rejection slips from my submissions to science fiction magazines during high school and college, and apparently it will take me less than a minute. There they were, clipped to copies of the stories themselves. Here is the very first one I ever received, from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction:

My First Rejection Slip

In case you can’t read my handwritten note at the top, apparently I received this slip on March 5, 1985, for a story called “The Laws of Chaos.” It was the first story I had ever submitted for publication; I was a sophomore in high school. I typed it on a manual typewriter, my father’s old Royal portable (which means it lived in a large square box and weighed less than 20 pounds).

Damn, that makes me feel old.

I remember discussing my early rejection slips, that year or the year following, with a friend of mine who also wrote science fiction stories. He was surprised that I’d actually had the guts to send my work to real magazines, and I asked him, “What’s the worst thing that could happen? I get another rejection?” (That friend, by the way, has been a professional writer since he graduated from college, and his work has appeared in Spy (remember Spy?), Playboy, The New Yorker, and various other markets. He has apparently gotten over his shyness about his writing.)

The Mrs., who met me just a couple of years later, tells me that I was remarkably incautious back then, and — she was trying to be tactful — “not suffering from a lack of confidence.” I’m not sure how that makes me different from every other teen-aged male of the species, except that because I didn’t know how to drive, my recklessness came out in occasionally unusual ways. I certainly got more rejections. I’ll post about some of them tomorrow.


19 responses to “My First Rejection Slip

  1. That’s great that you sent in your stories. I was like your friend and afraid to send any in during college. I think I entered a Playboy short story contest once. That’s it. I think blogging will help me get over the irrational fear. Maybe…

  2. Mike, if you have a story that’s finished, edited, and all shiny and clean, you owe it to yourself to send it out. In all likelihood, the first market you send it to will reject it, with an unsigned form rejection letter. That’s it. That’s the worst thing that can happen. Now, if you get a signed rejection letter, or a rejection letter with a short handwritten note (or a personalized email — do rejection letters come by email these days?), you can feel like you won, and be confident sending it out to a second market. And if it gets accepted? Come back here and let me know — I’ll meet you in the Loop and buy you a beer.

  3. Wow, how weird that you found me. I think that’s a first for me, although I stumbled onto a real life friend in a similar fashion a couple of weeks ago and that was the first time I’d done that either. In any case, it’s great to see you here. Please send my love to the entire Unfocused family and tell Mrs. Unfocused that I will do my best to call her soon!

  4. I don’t haven anything to the shiny, polished point right now. When I do, I’ll see what happens and let you know. Thanks

  5. Eh, Mike. If you can, get it critiqued first. The first step to putting your heart into anything is to be able to accept objective criticism. It takes a while, but once you have that, nothing can scare you.

  6. That’s a great point, Don. I haven’t posted anything there yet, but one of the forums provides a space for getting objective criticism. It’s called Share Your Work, and you can find it at:

    It requires registration, but it’s free.

  7. Thanks for the ideas guys. I’ll check out the site.

  8. Huh, very interesting to see some of these older rejections. The Magazine of F&SF does them much smaller now. Well, I’ve never gotten past the Slush God so that’s all I know.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. You’re welcome, and thanks for coming by. Believe me, I’d be much happier sharing acceptances, but I suppose the rejections are better teachers.

  10. my novel was rejected by TOR so I sent it off to Baen. It’s going to be in their slushpile all year.

    I also wrote a short story which was also rejected, by strange horizons. I am looking for another magazine to send it to.

  11. Well, you’re way ahead of me. Good luck with the novel you’ve got out. As for your story, you know best what kind of story it is, and what market would suit it best, but Strange Horizons is far from the only market out there. If you don’t already have a recent copy of Writer’s Market, or one of the partial editions, like Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, you’ll probably want to pick up a copy. My copy of the 2008 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market has 20 pages of listings for online markets alone, plus 18 pages of small circulation magazines, and 16 pages of larger circulation magazines.

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