The Trouble with Tribbles (and Rejection)

I started watching Star Trek when I was ten. The thing is, I would have watched it sooner, only we didn’t get that channel. Once we finally moved to an area that got CBS, my life changed. Up to that point, I only had Star Wars to keep my creative mind flowing and my parents indulged me with the required Ewok stuffed animal toy I cherished until the day I lost it. Anyway, Star Trek was the show that actually stimulated my sudden appetite for reading. If it had Data on the cover then I probably read it.

The first episode I watched was the Trouble with Tribbles, from the classic Star Trek series. This was before the internet, so I didn’t know that so many people actually hated that episode, but I loved it. Those silly tribbles were so cute, I didn’t really understand the trouble with them, the more tribbles the merrier. After that first episode, I penned my first (incredibly bad, as in bada$$) fan fiction story based in the Star Trek world.  So in a way we now have Star Trek to blame for my delusions of grandeur that I might one day write fiction that sells.

About a year ago, I stopped writing non-fiction and engaged full thrusters on writing fiction and, knowing it will take years, didn’t really get too concerned when I didn’t even get a bite on my first few attempts.

The first rejection is like that first furry, darling, unexplainable tribble. “Isn’t this little guy cute! Hey, my first tribble, I mean rejection! Wonder what he’s doing here? You must have rolled into the wrong inbox.” Then you turn around and there’s ten tribbles, er rejections, none of them bothersome, just sort of amazed so many can rack up on one story and still have more opportunities out there. Then there are so many rejections you start to avoid sending the story out in fear of getting too many tribbles. You start to wonder what makes them fodder for tribble feed.

The tribbles have ruined my ability to see rejections clearly and reasonably.  The editor sends something like this:

Writer –

Thank you for sending your story to (name of magazine). We have reviewed over a hundred amazing submissions for this issue and your story was no exception. However, we feel it is not a good fit for our publication. Good luck in the future with this story. Keep writing and we look forward to your next submission.

And my brain only sees:

Writer –

Thank you for sending your story to (name of magazine). We have reviewed over a hundred amazing submissions for this issue and your story was no exception. However, we feel it is not a good fit for our publication. Good luck in the future with this story. Keep writing and we look forward to your next submission.

When I stare long enough the tribbles really mess with me and a hidden message appears:

Writer –

Thank you for sending your story to (name of magazine). We have reviewed over a hundred amazing submissions for this issue and your story was no exception. However, we feel it is not a good fit for our publication. Good luck in the future with this story. Keep writing and we look forward to your next submission.

Which is just wrong. Even the ones that are much more personal, telling me how close I was or praising the story make me feel really happy at first, until I remember it’s another tribble destined to multiply.

I think rejection letters would motivate me if they had some sort of insult attached that I could work really hard to prove wrong.  Something like:


This was voted the worst submission this month. We posted it in the water cooler room to remind all the editors what we’ve spared them from. We don’t think you’ll ever sell this story or any other in at least three years, or until you take a basic level writing class.  Thanks for the laughs.

We look forward to your next submission.


I’ve started to panic and panic makes my imagination run wild. I see a list of reviews next to my future novels.

See what Editors are saying about Tina Smith’s work:

“Wasn’t a good fit.”
-Hacks Magazine

“Not quite right for our publication.”
-Magazine of Mediocre

“Didn’t win me over.”
Rejection Weekly

“Couldn’t hold my interest.”
Daily Doubt

I’m a psychologist, so I was sure I could reframe my thinking on rejection. I wish I could think like other writers that rejection doesn’t mean I’m not awesome yet. I could be close and just need more stories out to up my chances.

But working on more stories doesn’t cure my fear of rejection. Thinking of rejections as a stepping-stone to an awesome sale doesn’t really help either. Ignoring the rejections definitely doesn’t work. Even thinking of rejections as adorable fuzzy rodent-like balls of cuddle hasn’t worked so far.

Now I finally see the trouble with tribbles, you get enough of them and they can start doing some damage. Some can even alter your self esteem by their sheer crushing volume. The problem is, it takes those balls (you know tribbles) to get anywhere worth traveling, so bring them on.

I love comments. Every time you leave a comment a poor deserving starving writer sells a story.

20 thoughts on “The Trouble with Tribbles (and Rejection)

  1. Martin L. Shoemaker

    Except for detailed personal rejections, all rejections should be translated as follows:


    Off to Duotrope!”

    Or substitute “Off to self-pub” as appropriate.

    1. Tina Post author

      Yes, yes. I did exactly that. I sent the personally rejected one off to a new market and sent a shinny fresh new story to the market that said they almost bought the last one. I take my tribbles lightly….but I’m glad the short rant moment inspired me to write this blog post, which did extend my allowed five minute rant to thirty minutes.

  2. Rebecca Birch

    This is a great post. I will never be able to see either tribbles or rejections–er–“adorable fuzzy rodent-like balls of cuddle” the same way again.

    The thing that I see here, though, is you’ve gotten enough tribbles to start feeling overwhelmed and crushed beneath them. That’s wonderful! I think that I need to collect more. Mine apparently aren’t breeding fast enough and I’m actually craving more of them, because I know that the more I have, the closer I am to that next sale.

    So bring on the quadrotriticale. Let’s make more tribbles. If nothing else, they prove we’re not Klingons. At least, I’ve never had a rejection actually *growl* at me. Although, sometimes it does feel that way. =)

    1. Tina Post author

      I have a few that are not breeding fast enough for me either. They sit getting fatter and rounder in one market. I like being able to keep breeding them until someone buys one of the things…

      I like this tribble breeding program you have going over at your blog. I think while you were commenting on my blog I was commenting on yours. I was thinking of you last night because I decided to send out one of the stories I started when we were on our 500 a day challenge to the market that just gave me a “we almost bought this” note at the end of my most recent rejection.

    1. Tina Post author

      I thought about posing around a bunch of hairy crunched up balls of rejection letters, but I’m not as snappy with the photography gig as you and Tammy. I’d have to print them all out, because they all come on email now. I was deleting them, but then decided to keep them in a folder so I could go back and verify that I did send a certain story to a market already and prevent double sending (which the editors hate).

  3. Pam


    All I could see when I read this post was “someone who love Star Trek, Star Wars, and *secretly* fan fiction. Tribbles was one of my favs! And don’t get me started on Data. Truly we are long lost sister from another galaxy sent here to be but poor mortals on this dim planet.

    But to the rejections, I feel you. In fact, I have a hard time sending things out anymore at all. After three or four rejections, I assume the majority rules, I suck, and I start to hack and slash my work. Which is not the most productive use of writing time.

    I’ve started trying to look at it like this, every time you read a published story, be it in a magazine or a novel, that writer sent it in just one more time. It could have taken, as with a dear friend of mine, 30 times or with another 100 times rejected. They both are published now. The work didn’t change, they just found the right ear, and with every blow they returned to try just one more time. Persist. You will succeed. I know. 😀

    1. Tina Post author

      It’s true. After I meet my super awesome EP, Pam, I feel invigorated to wrangle up these troublesome tribbles and try to train them to do something useful. Looking adorable won’t cut it any more. I’ve found they make a great dusting, buffing, and dishing washing cloth.

      I’m glad I have that part of my personality that keeps thinking “maybe the next one…”

      1. Pam

        Impressive use of alliteration! I bow to your obvious talent and creativity in using said tribbles. 😉

  4. Jeanette

    I love your post, Tina! Now I’m going to start seeing these rejections as cuddly little fluff balls…with fangs. But I still want more. I keep every single one. I even print out electronic ones, but I think I only do so because I don’t have *enough* of them yet. Maybe when the folder gets too big to contain them all, and the filing cabinet so heavy that it tips over, dumping all the tribbles all the office floor, then I can feel like I’m getting somewhere! *off to get some more stories on the market!*

  5. Monique Bucheger

    LOL. I too, will never see Tribbles or rejections the same way again. 🙂

    But I do have a couple thoughts that might help. Call it denial, but I think there can be a lot of reasons that a story gets rejected that has nothing to do with the story itself. I read years ago that one should never by a car built on a Monday or a Friday–because it may be made by a person who is hungover on a Monday or is being spray painted quickly out the door by somebody wanting to leave early on a Friday. Studies have shown that cars manufactured on Tuesday-Thursday have less issues than Monday and Friday models.

    I personally don’t send out queries on Monday or Fridays for the following reasons: on Monday–emails tend to stack up over the weekend and if you have an OCD agent who can’t stand an overflowing emails, maybe they don’t take as much time with each story that they could. Or they want to clear their emails before they leave on Fridays.:)

    Or–I heard an agent say that when she got a call from the school to meet her son at the ER the queries she read the next day didn’t resonate as well. Which is just saying, I think, most stories get rejected because they they are NOT a good fit, but sometimes, things happen in the life of the agent/editor that could skew how they read the entries that day.

    I do know that 5 of my queries out of 13 got requests for fulls. Maybe the agents just liked my story, but that’s a higher degree of success than most newbies. And I only send them out Tuesday- Thursday. So, in my mind, SOMETIMES, the story is fine, but the timing with the personal agent is wrong.

    Of course–last month I attended a workshop that featured like 7 well requested agents/editors and we (the audience) watched as a 1st page was read and when 3 agents raised their hand, the story quit being read and the agents told us why they would reject it. A few stories made it past page one. One of the biggest reasons for rejection was the fine balance between starting in enough action to peek the agent’s interest, but not so quickly they didn’t have time to care about the character.

    It was an exercise in just how subjective this business can be. And for the record–a couple agents were extremely hard to please and a couple were very open-minded and never raised their hand and and the other 3 had firm likes/dislikes but were willing to listen a little longer to see if their likes showed up.

    So I am not sure how helpful that is, but I thought I’d throw these observations out there. 🙂

    Good luck–I loved your Identity story. 🙂

    1. Tina

      Thanks Monique — That is an interesting approach to wait until the middle of the week to send stories. In short fiction markets I’m not sure if there is a carry over on this idea, since the stories all go in the bucket to be read at a later date, I’d never be able to control when my story gets read (except for some markets that are really fast). I’ll just have to make it unputdownable. But I see the thinking in your suggestion!

      I loved the story about the agents raising their hand when they stopped reading. It would have been a really cool exercise to see 🙂

  6. J D Brink

    Tina, I love the last interpretation of the rejection letter. I try not stare at them long enough for that to happen. But it has gotten to the point where I just send them out so they can come back as rejections so I can move on to the next round of the same. When I see my handwriting on a SASE come back I think, Good, now I can send it out again–this is before I even open it, instantly assuming it hasn’t sold! (Of course if the envelope isn’t more than a page thick I know there’s no contract in there, that’s a give away too.) It gets to the point where it seems a foregone conclusion. Is that bad…?

    1. Tina Post author

      No. It means you must be close to a sale. The worst thing a writer can do is give up too soon! I always hear stories about people who were about to give up and then sell something. If you’ve reached the point where you think you’ll never get a sale then you must be close 😉

  7. Jim Miner

    Lots of fun to read your comments. I am old enough to have seen the first Star Trek in it’s first run. The ones with Harry Mudd were among my favorites. My all time favorites was the one with Joan Collins set in a mission in the 1930s. The next one was the spores, where Spock let his hair down and gave Kirk a good beat down. I could go on and on. Star Trek is great Sci fi in my book. In this society that loves to wallow in the gloomy, it was and is a bright hope that the future is going to be better, that we will solve our problems. It had the guts to have a man’s man as the lead. He was in fiction what John Kennedy was supposed to be.
    Your words on rejection are funny and helpful. All the best, Jim

    1. Tina Post author

      Jim–Yah!! Another Star Trek fan. I loved the Harry Mudd episodes, too. The original series would come on right after I’d get off school and I sit and watch it while working on my homework. Then I’d watch Next Generation reruns in the evening. I should have gotten pretty saturated, but somehow managed not to.

      I agree about downer fiction in a downer world right now. I think some of the best stories have hope and happiness at the end. There is a real call for that in short fiction right now and a push away from the literary melancholy.

      Thanks for wandering over to my blog 🙂

  8. Jim Miner

    There is certainly a place for sad, or stark, or brutal themes. Even pessimism. But it shouldn’t predominate in our art. An example is television, where they have shows about the end of the world, what would Earth be like without humans, what would happen if an asteroid hit? For every one of these they should have a show that envisions the positive. How will our world be better? How will technology make this a better place? How will our religion evolve so that we keep an emphasis on the soul and morality? Star Trek envisioned a multi cultural crew before it was en vogue, an Earth that had found peace within itself. Plus, cell phones.

  9. Tina

    Nice! I like the way you think 🙂 Some stories really do call for down endings, but when there is a flood in the market then it’s time for a swing the other direction. Star Trek was really ahead of it’s time (like you say). I’m sort of a technicaphobe (sketchy about technology) — I think it takes away a part of human interaction that is vital…but then on the flip side being able to converse with so many different people around the world gives me compassion I would not have gained otherwise (unless I traveled around the world). I think everything has a positive and negatives and the best fiction shows this (whether it be novels, short stories, or television).


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