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Real World: Editors - Episode 4, Part 1

Welcome to part one of the final episode Real World: Editors, where we find out what happens when editors stay polite, but also start getting real!

In this episode, Split Lip editors sound off about rejection.

4. Why We Rejected Your Piece

Are there things that lead to an automatic rejection? What factors go into rejection that the average submitter might not consider?

Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice, Split Lip Editor-in-Chief:

I can’t think of a time when we automatically rejected a piece without reading it all the way through first. I know this is a cliché, but we can usually tell from the first page whether a piece is the right fit. This is especially true for fiction and flash. If you don’t introduce a story/problem/action from the first page, your piece is likely not a good fit for Split Lip. I’m not suggesting you need fireworks and a robbery and a Category 5 storm, but you do need some sense of forward moving action. Too often we get stories that start with a generic descriptive sentence like, “Jerry wore a red suit and ate apples.” A better start to Jerry’s story might be: “On Monday Jerry put on his favorite red suit and choked on an apple during a video conference with his boss, a boss who also happens to be his father-in-law.”

Marianne Chan, Split Lip Poetry Editor:

Here are some factors that lead to an automatic rejection: hackneyed opening lines; wording and line breaks that seem arbitrary/unconsidered; xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or other hateful, discriminatory language. (Hateful people suck, and hateful poems are even suckier. Make sure your poems are awake before you submit them to us.)

Another reason why your poem was rejected? It may not have been the right time for the poem. We want a wide range of voices in our magazine. Sometimes if a submission resembles other poems we’ve recently accepted or published, this could be cause for rejection.

I work in a non-writer environment. People often tell me that they hate poetry, and they often ask me why I like it, why I have dedicated a huge chunk of my life to it. I don’t answer this question very well. I often get flustered and say things like: “It’s fun,” which makes me sound like a simpleton. I should answer this question by saying that there are some poems that have changed my life, and that’s why I read so many poems and spend a lot of time writing poems—because I think it’s a powerful form. Now, I don’t expect all the poems we accept to have a life-changing quality. I’m also not saying that the poems we’ve accepted have changed my life; that would be a little over the top. I am saying, however, that several, if not all, of the poems we’ve accepted have changed the way I think about poetry and the world and have influenced my own writing.

We want to see poems that go far enough to make a positive impact on people, and more often than not, poems that land in my queue don’t go far enough. And I’ll call myself out: often, the poems I write don’t take things to the next level. So, this is a note to self and note to future submitters: When writing, go as far as possible. Challenge and question your writing. Make sure you can justify every line, every moment. Then, after all of this labor, submit your work. We’d love to see it.

Maureen Langloss, Split Lip Flash Fiction Editor:

If a story contains racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, male gaze, ableism, or xenophobia, it is instantly rejected. This is a hard no. And we remember the author’s name. The fact that we receive A LOT of submissions that fall into this category is demoralizing and sad.

I hate rejecting stories, but our queue is so long that some amazing work does not get published. Take heart. A rejection does not mean your story is bad!

There are some issues that make a story less likely to get published, however: weak or flabby dialogue that is expository or does not advance character development; too much description or adverbs/adjectives (there’s not enough time in flash); not enough tension; if the flash is more of a scene than a story containing an arc or a shift; if there’s not enough emotional resonance; if it’s a clever idea but it doesn’t have more; lack of nuance; if it’s tied up too neatly, heavy-handed, or overly symbolic; if the work is confusing; too much throat-clearing at the start; weak endings. I cannot tell you how many stories are AMAZING until that last paragraph when they don’t lift the story to higher ground. We are looking for strong voice and interesting use of language/structure/character. We are looking for marginalized voices.

Ray Shea, Split Lip Memoir Editor:

You must must must have a strong beginning to your story. We’ve all heard it before as writers, but I didn’t really understand how important it was until I became an editor and read hundreds of opening paragraphs that made me less than thrilled to have to read the next 4 or 5 pages. You should also have a great ending; too many writers write a good memoir and then spend the last half page or so letting all the tension drain out with a lot of summarizing. That being said, if your work is fantastic but the ending is just a little off, we might accept it and work with you to help you rewrite the ending. But a weak beginning is almost impossible to recover from.

We get a lot of work submitted to memoir that is not memoir! There are many kinds of nonfiction, but if it is not primarily built around a true story from your life, it isn’t memoir. Many personal essays fit, but some don’t. We automatically reject think pieces, opinion pieces, travelogues, journalism, or photo/art essays. We like lyric essays but if the piece feels like all lyric and not much essay, we’ll forward it to the poetry editors.

Finally, just because you get a rejection does not mean we didn’t like your writing! Sometimes it’s just timing. Sometimes we get a lot of good work at one time and we have to make the tough choice on which few we can keep. Sometimes it’s because we’ve covered your topic recently, so if we’ve accepted two or three pieces in a row that are about the death of a parent, or rehab, or abortion, etc., we will prefer work about other topics, for diversity’s sake.

Katie Flynn, Split Lip Fiction Editor:

I’m not crazy about stories that play coy when it comes to character details or back-story, turning them into mysteries in need of solving. That’s not a stand-in for plot.

Many of the stories I reject are simply too familiar/predictable. Like please don’t send me a bar story unless you’re absolutely sure your bar story will stand out among the many bar stories I read in the queue. Originality matters a lot, coupled with believability, a voice that feels authentic and particular. We love voice at SL, and unique forms that suit the story, and humor.


Stay tuned to see what editors at other journals have to say about this question.

Catch up:

Click the tag below to check out the previous episodes.


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