Shortlisted Again

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on shortlists over the years, so let’s talk about it – while we wait and wait and wait . . .

What is a shortlist? Work has been shortlisted when you have submitted something to a market, an agent, a contest, or a grant competition, and it makes it past the first round of rejections. You are now on a shortlist of novels/stories/poems/proposals from which they will be making their final selections. Congratulations! Sometimes, there is a “long list” which is an intermediary list between first rejections and a subsequent shortlist. Congratulations are due for this, too.

And then you go back to waiting, now with a heightened sense of hope and impatience.

Photo by Brunel Johnson

How do you know if you are on the shortlist? Sometimes you get an email telling you so, which is a lovely thing to receive, although not that common. Sometimes, those making the decisions will post on their website or social media that if submitters haven’t heard from them yet, they are still being considered, and are in effect, shortlisted. A third way to guess that you might be on a shortlist is to monitor (obsessively) the response patterns of your markets of interest on publication resource data bases like Duotrope and The Submission Grinder, to name two. Markets often send out their rejections in batches, so if you check data base page for that market, you can see when data base members report receiving a rejection. If there is a flurry of rejection reports over a couple of days, and then several days pass without more reports, and if you still have not received a rejection, chances are you have jumped the first wave and are shortlisted.

At the time of the first draft of this blog, I was sitting with three stories on shortlists, and had had nothing accepted for publication in two years. In those two years, I had been shortlisted a lot. I was beginning to feel like that old saying: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” (a saying which is kind of presumptive and insulting to people who never want to get married, but you catch my drift).

Between that draft and this, I did get one of my stories accepted (“There is a Season” to be published in PodCastles 2018 Autumn Equinox issue). I am delighted. And perhaps the long wait between my acceptances makes it even more delightful. Now I’m all excited about the two shortlisted pieces I still haven’t heard about and the four more I have recently submitted.

And that’s the thing about shortlisting: it keeps you on the publication Ferris wheel cycle of submission and rejection, when you might have gotten off long ago. And I think, overall, that’s a good thing.

Photo by Bruno Abatti

photo by Lance Anderson

As some of you may recall from your intro psych courses, this publication system where you write and submit many times, with only an occasional shortlisting as a reward and an even rarer acceptance as ultimate payoff, is essentially an intermittent schedule (INT). Further, since the rewards come in unpredictable patterns, it is a variable-ratio schedule (VR), the reward schedule that is most resilient in terms of maintaining the rewarded behaviour, i.e., writing/submitting. Whether or not you like thinking of yourself as a typing rat, shortlists can keep us writing. ​​

Being shortlisted is still not an acceptance, and you may have to face yet another rejection, but it tells you that someone liked your work a great deal – enough to pull it out of a big pool of submissions. Maybe it’s not the right market, the right editor, the right time, but you get some external validation that you’ve got the stuff, or the potential for the stuff, and not to quit writing or submitting.

I find, for me, the initial disappointment from a post-shortlist rejection can be greater than for a non-shortlisted rejection. After all, my hopes had been raised, so the fall is greater. But, I find the disappointment is also more fleeting. Such rejections often come with a personal email response, in which an editor usually says something nice about your specific piece. Rereading these messages is encouraging and cuts the sting. Keeping them to reread is helpful later on those inevitable days when you have given up all hope of ever publishing.

On rare occasions, you will get a request for revisions, and to resubmit once you’ve done them. This is not a promise that your work will be accepted, but it substantially ups your chances and shows that the editor/agent/publisher is serious about the quality of your work. As you should be.

Dry spells take a lot of patience to get through, both in terms of waiting and writing. Being shortlisted helps. A lot. Hang in there.

Photo by John Tyson


by Caspar David Friederich

Look at those keen, fierce eyes that seem to burn into your very soul and say “dinner,” those razor-sharp beaks and intimidating talons, and those missile-like plummets from the heavens that end in small, but piercing, screams. Yes, my friends, this month’s menacing entity is the raptor. Raptors, or birds of prey, get their name from the Latin word “rapere”, meaning to seize or capture. They kill and devour fish, birds, reptiles, insects and small mammals. They include both daytime hunters (falcons, hawks, eagles, ospreys, vultures) and nocturnal hunters (owls).

Their astonishing speed, uncanny vision, haunting sounds, and fierce appearance have given rise to superstitions and myths: owls have supernatural knowledge and wisdom, vultures are harbingers of death or spiritual messengers, falcons symbolize war, eagles deliver people from famine, and thunderbirds create thunder and lightning. Now, these powerful and awe-inspiring birds also have many positive myths and superstitions associated with them, but that’s not very menacing so we’ll skip those (just as we’ll skip the idea that unless you are a mouse you really have very little to worry about). So, my little typing ratties [see main blog entry], when you go into the woods at night, remember that the owl will see you, but you won’t see it. Until it’s too late. Oh, and bird poop on your head is good luck. But you knew that.

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