Rejection Letters – An Introduction to Disappointment
If you are going to send out your work to genre magazines, webzines, and book publishers, you are going to get rejection letters, probably a lot of them. It is vitally important you understand this is both inevitable and unavoidable. It is totally going to happen to you. Even when you break through and start publishing, you will still get rejected. Until you reach that vaunted place where your name alone sells books—Stephen King could probably sell his grocery list—you will get rejected.
So make peace with the rejection letter and accept it as part of mastering the art of rejectomancy.
Rejection letters come in many forms, and some can tell you a lot about your writing. They all sting, but each one stimulates the growth of an ever-thickening skin all writers need to survive the pain of rejection, and while this protective integument is never completely effective against that pain, it can blunt its impact.
In this series of posts, I’ll break down the various types of rejection letters I’ve received, dissecting them in an attempt to uncover their meaning and potential use to the aspiring author. I’ll give you examples from my own copious and ever-growing pile of the things in hopes you can learn something from them or just take some comfort that you are not alone.
Take note, I will not be revealing the names of editors, publications, or even the stories I’ve submitted. If you’re looking for that, you’ll have to look elsewhere. There are blogs that do that kind of thing, and while I have no problem with the concept, I’m taking a different approach.
Okay, let’s get to the rejections!
The Common Form Rejection (Rejectio familiaris)
When you start sending your stories out for publication, the rejection letter you are most likely to receive is a boilerplate, copy-and-paste kind of deal I call the common form rejection. It is the simplest and most efficient way for an editor or publisher to politely say “no thanks” without saying anything else
Let’s look at an actual, real-live common form rejection I recently received:
We have read your submission and will have to pass, as it unfortunately does not meet our needs at this time. Thank you
Short and to the point, this is a pretty typical example of the common form rejection. It says three things: we received your story, we read your story, and we’re not going to publish your story. It also includes the ubiquitous phrase “does not meet our need at this time.” You are going to see that and others like it a lot. Every industry has their lingo, and publishing is no different.
Can you read anything else into this letter? I don’t think so. You may be tempted to think they hated your story or they think you’re a bad writer. You may ask yourself does “unfortunately” mean they reluctantly passed? Does “at this time” mean they came close to accepting it? It’s possible any of these things (good or bad) are true, but the real truth is you can’t know and you never will. This is your first test on the path of rejectomancy, and to pass it, you just have to move on. Don’t think about this one too much. It’s not worth it.
Here’s another example of the common form rejection from my own collection:
Thank you for letting us read your story. Unfortunately, at this time, it’s not a good fit for our magazine, so we are unable to accept it. We wish you good luck placing it with a different market.
All the best!
At first glance, this looks more promising than the first. It has a more casual tone and uses apologetic and even encouraging language, but it really says the same things as the first letter. The only real difference, you’ll note, is the last line, “We wish you good luck placing it with a different market.” This is another one of those lines you’ll see in a lot in rejection letters, and I wouldn’t read too much into it one way or the other. It’s another, nicer way to say no thanks. Editors are people (and often writers) too, and they aren’t out to hurt your feelings or ruin your day. So, in my opinion, this letter is just an attempt to soften the blow, and as a writer, I can appreciate that.
Should you submit again to a publication that has sent you a common form rejection? The answer, in my opinion, is yes. Neither of the letter’s above says anything other than they passed on this story. They might love the next one. That said, if this is the tenth letter you’ve received from the same publisher after submitting ten different stories, then, maybe, you should begin questioning if this is the right market for you.
Now for the things you probably don’t want to hear. If you’ve been submitting work for something like a full year of committed submissions, and this is the only type of letter you’re getting, and you’re getting it from multiple publishers, then you may need to ask yourself some important questions:
- Do I need to work on my craft? Your work might not be ready for publication. How can you know that? The best way is to find objective readers who will give you an honest appraisal of your work. Note, objective people are generally not your family and friends—objective readers aren’t afraid to tell you what’s wrong with your work. Your friends and family might actually give a shit about your feelings. That’s no good to a writer.
- Am I submitting to the right publishers? Make sure you’re submitting to markets appropriate for your work. If you write horror, my advice is to submit to markets that are horror markets first, not, for example, markets that primarily publish fantasy but are willing to read the odd horror submission. There are a lot of publishers with ambiguous guidelines that seem to encompass every genre under the sun (more about that in another post), but if you read between the lines, and more importantly, read the publication in question, you can usually zero in on what they really want.
- Do I need to submit something else? If you’re sending the same couple of stories around and they’re just not landing, it might be time to retire them or at least give them a rest and come back in a few months ready to make some changes. Often times you just need to get some fresh meat out there.
That’s all I have to say about the common form rejection, but I’d like to hear about your experiences with this type of rejection letter. If you want to share an actual rejection, please make sure you remove all identifying marks: the editor’s name, the publication, the name of your story, etc.
Next up, Rejection Letter Rundown: The Improved Form Rejection.