Ah, the personal rejection letter, that faint beacon of hope in the black abyss of form rejection hell. The personal rejection letter includes a small note from the editor, in his or her own words, that is positive or encouraging. It’s more sincere than a form rejection, and usually indicates the editor believes your story had some merit. I know, it’s still a rejection, but it is a sign you’re on the right track. Personal rejections are much rarer than form rejections, but I’ve found the more I publish the more of them I get. Don’t get it twisted, though; I’m still getting my fair share of form rejections.
Let’s look at an example of the personal rejection from my own (small) collection.
Hi Aeryn, and thanks for the chance to read your work, we really appreciate it.
Unfortunately, ‘XXX’ is not quite what we are looking for at the moment, but you should certainly keep passing it around. It’s a solid little karmic-horror story and was a fun read.
Thanks again, and I hope you find a good home for your story!
This is an example of the personal rejection in its simplest form. In fact, you’ll likely recognize many elements of the form rejection here. The difference is the editor took the time to insert something positive about the work in his own words, and that casts a new light on some of the common rejection lingo.
The line “…not quite what we are looking for at the moment” is one I largely ignore in a form rejection, but I’ll give it more consideration in a personal rejection. Hell, I might even take it at face value. Maybe my story wasn’t a good fit for the issue they’re putting together or even the magazine as a whole but was good enough to warrant a personal response. This is good information because it tells me what not to send this publisher, so when I resubmit, I can zero in on what they do want.
The second standard rejection line in this letter, “I hope you find a good home for your story,” also feels a bit more genuine in light of the editor’s personal comments. He said I should “keep passing it around,” and, well, I’m gonna, and I’ll feel a tiny bit more confident when I do.
The biggest positive thing to take away from this letter is pretty obvious. The editor said something nice about my story. It’s not gushing praise or anything, but it’s enough to keep me from revising the story before I send it out again. This editor thought it was “solid,” the next might think it’s good (unlikely) or even great (really unlikely).
Okay, we’ve talked about the good stuff, but let’s play devil’s advocate. First, there’s a very important element missing. The editor did not ask me to send more work. That’s a bit of a red flag for me, as it’s been present in most of the personal rejections I’ve received. The editor might have felt it was implied by the other things he said, but then again, he might not have, which leads me to my second point. This really does feel like a form letter with the exception of a sentence and a half. There are some publishers that send a personal note with every rejection—kind of an always find something nice to say philosophy. In a sense, they don’t have a true form letter. So is this just a nicer version of a form rejection? Is the editor simply letting me down easy by saying something nice about my story? It’s possible. I’ll never know.
Where to go from here? I think it’s important to stay positive, especially when you don’t have any strong evidence pointing to the negative. So, if you were to receive a letter like this, I think you should take it at the editor’s word. The editor did like the story. He does believe I should keep sending it around. I should take this as a sign to resubmit to this publication with a different story.
Have you received a personal rejection lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.