Handling “The Hold”

Writing is about rejection.  I think I’ve said it before, and I’m sure others have, too.  Over 95% of all submissions are rejected—and the rejection rate at pro-rate publication is more like over 99%.  Given this high rate of “failure,” how an author deals with rejection is important.  I’ve dealt with it in three ways: (1) growing a thick skin, (2) becoming doggedly persistent, and (3) engaging in a bit of pre-rejection rejection. 

What do I mean by pre-rejection rejection?  After I submit my story, I simply assume it is already rejected, so when the rejection slip comes, I’ve already moved on, in a sense.  This makes it easier for me to rapidly turn a story around and submit it elsewhere.  Additionally when/if an acceptance shows up, I’m elated.  Until recently, this approach has worked well, but with more frequency I’ve been experiencing something new with my submissions: The Hold.

The Hold is a good thing, I realize.  It’s a tangible sign that my writing is taking the next step.  But it’s playing havoc with my rejection psyche.  The Hold is when a publication reviews a story and decides not to reject or accept it; it puts off the decision until later.  That my story was not outright rejected tells me that it was solid enough to catch the editor’s (or the slush reader’s) eye.  That’s a good thing.  The flip side, however—or so my pessimist writer’s mind says—is that my story wasn’t good enough yet to be outright accepted.  Many stories that get held, are still ultimately rejected.  Most editors make this point in their I’d-like-to-hold-your-story response, with some going so far as to give you an actual number—Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, for example says that 1 in 20 held stories get accepted.

Regardless, when a story get’s held, it increases my optimism that it will get accepted, so when/if a rejection comes, it seems to sting a little more.  My old method of just assuming it’s rejected isn’t working as well as I’d like—those dang editors have given me a glimmer of hope.  So I’m looking for an effective, short-term, alternative strategy to deal with this “psuedo-acceptance.”  I say short-term, because I already know (and am actively working on) the long-term solution: consistently write stories that are good enough to be accepted outright, thus bypassing The Hold.

About D. Thomas Minton

Writer of speculative fiction
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2 Responses to Handling “The Hold”

  1. Colum Paget says:

    I think some places never accept outright you know, because they are edited by collectives. ASIM is one such place, and I think maybe Electric Spec is too. The hold will normally come when one of the editors likes your work, but can’t make the decision single-handed, so s/he puts the work on ‘hold’ and then they have a big bun-fight at the end of the month to decide what they’ll finally publish.


    • So true, and most of those magazines will nearly always have a hold (unless you time it right). I know some solo-editor places hold things until a some deadline–probably stuff they like a lot, but that doesn’t scream “Buy me!” loud enough. I assume they then look at that “short stack” to fill any open spots in their publication.

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