The other end of the telescope – a dozen ways to guarantee rejection

Last year I was invited by Shaun Levin, the creative force behind Writing Maps ( to become co-Editor of The A3 Review, a biannual arts magazine that unfolds like a map. It publishes micro-fiction, poetry, artwork and creative non-fiction via themed monthly contests and has variously been described (by reviewers and contributors) as ‘cool’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘quirky’.

As a writer, I’ve spent the last few years entering writing competitions and submitting to literary magazines, so it’s been illuminating to see things from the other end of the telescope. Since starting work for the A3 Review, I’ve read hundreds of submissions and it’s clear there’s many talented writers out there who understand what we are looking for, read our submissions rules and send us their best work. It’s been a privilege to work with our winners and a pleasure to publish them.

But (imagine the sound of a sharp intake of breath right about here) I’m amazed at how many people sabotage their chances of being published. Sometimes that’s a result of making avoidable mistakes or just not doing that final edit – you know, the one you need to do after the one you think is the final edit. Others are rejected because they clearly haven’t read the submissions guidelines. A significant few are rejected because they’ve clearly decided submissions rules are for losers (which is ironic…)

I should ‘fess up at this point – I’ve made errors, I have sinned, I am imperfect. Sent submissions to magazines I hadn’t bothered to read? Guilty. Sent flash fiction pieces out that didn’t make the word count because I forgot to do a final check? You bet. Sent a short story to a prestigious competition in a rush, only to find I’d attached a draft version rather than final one? Damn right (how I laughed as I bashed my head against the desk at that one).

That was mostly in the early days, and I’ve learned from those experiences, as both writer and now editor. But I thought it might be useful to share some of these insights. So, in the A3 Review’s spirit of quirky contrariness, here’s a dozen hot tips on the very best and easiest ways to get your work rejected:

  1. Ignore the anonymity rule. If a magazine or competition say they don’t want your name on the same document as your story (because they want to give everyone a fair shot through anonymous judging), then clearly that’s a green light to put your name in the header. And the footer. And give yourself a by-line. Probably best to add your name and all your contact details on a cover sheet too.
  2. And ignore the maximum word count rule. What’s a few extra/dozens/hundreds of words between friends? It’s not like word limits are set up to create a level playing field for entrants, or because extra words might lead to space issues on printed magazines or anthologies. Nah…
  3. In fact, forget reading the rules completely. That way you can submit whatever you want. They’ll recognise your genius and print the lot, won’t they?
  4. Don’t edit. Chop! If you insist on making the story fit the word count, then it’s absolutely okay to chop a longer story down to size. Even if that means ending it in the middle of a sentence. Before the story has finished. Just cut and send, without even bothering to put a full stop at the end. That’ll do it.
  5. Assume the reader can’t read. If you’re not sure the reader will get the theme or premise of your work from the text itself, best to have a paragraph or two somewhere on the document explaining things. Better still, send it in a separate email, insisting that the editors read it. In fact, send the email, insist they read it and then make it clear you want a reply back to say they have read the explanation. Good thinking.
  6. Send multiple entries in one document. These fat-cat literary magazine editors, lounging on golden thrones and bathing in asses milk are raking in billions from submission fees, so they won’t mind if you try to cheat the system. It’s not like they do everything on a shoestring or rely on submission fees to be able to carry on producing the magazines. So stick it to The Man.
  7. Don’t read the publication. What’s the point? Your porno limericks are works of genius in any context, right? The argument that buying and reading a magazine before entering shows genuine interest is not going to stand you in good stead later in your writing career, so why start now.
  8. Take themes/prompts absolutely literally. Do not, whatever you do, use prompts or themes as a catalyst or inspiration for a piece. Instead, grab a thesaurus and find as many synonyms as you can for the prompt word, then hammer these awkwardly into your piece with your forehead.
  9. Ignore the story or ‘When in doubt, describe’. Does a story really need narrative drive or a sense of change? Does a poem need an idea, a unifying tone, a mood created? Not if you can fill the word count purely with descriptive passages.
  10. Refrain from titles. Titles add nothing to a piece of writing. They definitely cannot help set tone and mood, act ironically, introduce intertextuality or make the work stand out. Bottom line, make as little effort with titles as possible, because nobody cares.
  11. Waste words. Words, schmurds. What’s the point of that whole ‘one last look’ thing or reading out loud before you submit. It’s not like you are going to discover a new way of writing a sentence that makes it active not passive, or adds something to the whole piece. Nope, just bang it out and play the odds.
  12. If rejected, just give up. If a magazine or competition rejects you, that means they think you are a terrible writer and a dreadful person. The only sane reaction is never submitting again. Whatever you do, don’t re-examine your piece and try to improve it. Never assume that a magazine is critiquing the writing, not the writer, when you receive a rejection. And there’s never, ever been a case where a magazine has rejected a writer one time, but printed them another.

Bearing all that in mind, don’t forget to submit to the A3 Review’s monthly contests via the website at Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more inspiration. And, yes, please do read the rules….


2 thoughts on “The other end of the telescope – a dozen ways to guarantee rejection

  1. Haha. Really enjoyed that. I haven’t yet entered any writing competitions but it’s my plan to get some of my work submitted this year. So I’ll be sure to do EVERYTHING on this list! EVERYTHING! I’ll be in with a shot of winning then. 😊

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