What the editors wrote:
Dear Susie WriterPerson:
Thank you for submitting your short story, “Whatever” to Big Fancy Literary Review. We appreciate the opportunity to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us. Good luck placing it elsewhere.
What the writer reads:
Dear Sucky WriterPerson:
Thanks for submitting your crappy short story, “Whatever” to Big Fancy Literary Review. We appreciate the opportunity to read it, but man, it was torture getting through 25 pages of pure puke! Whoever told you that you could write should be condemned to life in prison for crimes against the literate! Seriously, you suck! We wouldn’t publish this garbage if you paid us your Powerball winnings. The piece is not for us. You’re going to need a miracle placing it elsewhere. Find another hobby.
If you’re going to submit, you’re going to get rejected. It’s one of the guarantees in a writer’s life. I’d love to say I’m immune to it, and I believe I’ve gotten a thicker skin, but it still hurts, especially when I get a form letter from a literary magazine I really admire.
I’ll admit it. I’ve cried. I’ve beaten myself up emotionally. I’ve called on my inner Sister Dolores from Our Lady of Grace Elementary School and berated myself. I’ve considered quitting. I’ve eaten an entire bag of Sun Chips in one sitting. I’ve thought about taking up knitting instead, but I figured I’d be a danger to myself handling sharp objects.
I guess the rejection experience is similar to going through the phases of bereavement.
“What? They didn’t like my story?”
“Hey, they took so-and-so’s story!”
“Maybe if I had written a darker piece, like so-and-so.”
“I wonder if ‘Other Fancy Review’ will like it.”
Then, after a few days, the story goes out again. Repeat process—until one day, some editor, somewhere says, “We love this piece.”
Rejection, like most aspects of life, is not black and white. There are different kinds of rejection.
The Impersonal: Form Letter
Short and to the point—we don’t want your story. It could be the editors are harried and don’t have time to elaborate. Or they just can’t use the story. They may not have room for it. It might not be to their taste, or it might not fit in with the style and tone of their publication. Or the story is truly not up to par. It needs work and should be revised.
The Glimmer of Hope: Form Letter with a Short Personal Remark tucked in
Once you’ve stopped beating your head with your thesaurus, re-read the rejection letter. Sometimes an editor will slip in a tiny hint that she liked your work. “We enjoyed reading your story.” “We encourage you to keep writing.” In fact, I re-read all my rejection letters before writing this entry (it took hours!) and found several I would swear were flat-out rejections that actually had a short bit that said to consider submitting again.
The Good Rejection: Send More!
If you’re going to be rejected, you want one of these! Sometimes, editors will really like your story, but for whatever reason, that particular story simply doesn’t work out for the issue they’re producing or the magazine, in general. They might say they were impressed with your writing and ask you to send another story in the future. These are gems. You’ve gotten their attention in a great way.
Good rejections keep me going. Though still a rejection, they’re tiny validations that I should still write, still submit, still create. Acceptances are celebrations. A moment of writer glory! Of course, happily ever after endings only happen in sappy romantic comedies and 1950’s musicals (I love all that stuff!). So chances are the next email response will be a rejection. So the story goes.
Commiserate! Share your rejection woes, your thoughts on rejection, wacky rejection letters or how you handle it.