Saturday, February 3, 2024

Salon des Refusés by Mary Dutta


This week I received the edits on a short story for an upcoming anthology, one in which I was invited to participate. Having been asked to submit a story for the project, I knew rejection was unlikely as long as I followed the guidelines and was receptive to editing. It’s a far cry from my first publishing attempt.

That was for an open-call anthology. For such works, a conference/group/publisher invites story submissions for an anthology with a specific focus or theme. Invariably, there are more submissions than slots available, and many authors will receive rejections rather than a hoped-for acceptance. That was the case with my first story, and with others since. Along the way, I have learned some of the possible reasons why a story might be passed over and that has given me a new perspective on the disappointment that comes when an editor says no.

Some stories are rejected for the simplest of reasons: failure to follow the submission guidelines. Maybe the word count exceeds the stated limit, or the author fails to format as requested. Maybe the story doesn’t fit the theme, or the subgenre. A cozy tale is not going to find a home in a noir collection, for instance.

Even if a story checks all the boxes, editors are not simply choosing the “best” of the many entries they receive. There are a range of considerations that go into choosing which twenty or so stories to include in any given anthology.

One important consideration is variety. If a call for an animal-themed anthology elicits a flood of dog stories, the editor won’t accept them all even if the stories are well-written and engaging. Similarly, if an editor is faced with multiple stories where poison is the weapon of choice, or the killer’s motive is revenge on an ex, they won’t all make the cut. Reader interest is not well served by a collection of similar stories that all blend into each other.

Experience has taught me that rejection can be due to factors distinct from the quality of my writing, and that it can also indicate a story in need of further revision. I have had stories accepted on second (or third!) submission, finally alighting on the right combination of determining factors. That first story found a home and transformed me into a published author.

If I ever publish an anthology of my short stories, I’ve got the perfect title: Salon des Refusés. The phrase can be translated as “Exhibition of Rejects.” It dates to 1863, when the Paris Salon rejected many paintings that did not adhere to its strict, conservative parameters. There was enough of an outcry that the rejected works got their own exhibition.

I’m not putting myself in the company of Manet, Pissarro, Cezanne or the other artists who featured in that long-ago salon. But when my work is rejected, I remind myself that I am in good company, and trust that my creative efforts will eventually find a home.

Have you found a way to accept rejection and to keep on trying?


  1. I think any creative, be they writers or painters, must either learn to accept rejection or find a new outlet. Rejection comes with the territory. I love your idea of putting your rejected short stories into a collection! I'd read it!

  2. I could publish my own rejection anthology. The rejection that stung the most was for "improper formatting" which, it turns out, was for the subject line in the submission email which wasn't specified in the submission instructions. A week later, it was, but my story was already auto-rejected.

  3. Whenever I get a rejection (and I've gotten plenty) I figure I have a polished story almost ready for publication when the right venue comes along. I have a story coming out around Valentine's Day that is pretty far off my usual haunts, and I've had it for several years, pondering where it might find its home. Of course, I look at the stories for review and re-edits before I send it out again.

    Right now, I have two submissions that may fall into the "need for variety" rejection category. In one, jewelry theft is a major component, and I found out that several other people have also contributed jewelry stories. The other is set on Lake Michigan, and "talking" to someone else who wrote a Lake Michigan story, I figure one (or possibly both) of us are going to see a rejection.

  4. Rejections are just a step toward success. Temporarily discouraging, yes, but part of the process.

    Worse than a rejection is silence. I do hate it that whoever solicited the material (agent/publisher) thinks they are so self-important that they can't have an automatic reject that all they have to do is copy your email address.

  5. I agree with Jim. I think silence is worse than a rejection. Thanks for the great post, Mary!

  6. I try to let rejections roll, but it still stings even though I recognize everything Mary pointed out is true. Those rejected stores are a treasure for new anthologies, with a bit of revision and tweaking.

  7. Love this Mary! For me it boils down to what in a younger day we called the single girls’ battle cry: Next!

  8. If you publish your Salon des Refusés anthology, please use Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe for the cover.

  9. Great post, Mary! I loved learning about the Salon des Refusés. Rejection does sting, but I have to tell myself that it’s all good practice. Shari

  10. The rejections hurt, but you are right that with revision (and sometimes revision and revision and revision), they find a home. It's keeping the faith that's hard.