Form rejection letters come in many different shapes and sizes, and it can be easy to read a lot into these boilerplate missives, largely because there is such a wide variety. In my experience, though, whether a form rejection is short and to-the-point or wordy and apologetic, they only communicate one thing of importance. To show you what I’m talking about, let’s look at five examples from my own personal collection.
Thanks for submitting “XXX,” but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.
This a good example of the short and direct form rejection. It’s polite, professional, and tears the Band-Aid off quick. Now, you might get hung up on the phrase “It didn’t quite work for me,” and you might be tempted to read a lot into those six little words. Don’t. Remember, this is a form rejection, so it’s likely just the standard language this publisher uses in every single form rejection they send out. Plus, they don’t tell you why it didn’t work for them, so there’s nothing to be learned here. The only important part of this letter is highlighted in red.
Thank you for submitting your story, “XXX”, to XXX. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half-dozen other reasons.
This is a nice example of the longer, more apologetic form rejection. It’s easy to read into this one because it looks like they’re telling you why they didn’t accept the story. They’re not. They’re giving you reasons why they might not have taken the story, and there’s not much you can do with that. Again, this is a form rejection, the same letter they send out to hundreds of other folks. It’s not specific to you or your story. I’ve highlighted the only part of this letter you should focus on.
Thank you for showing us your fiction, but we’re going to pass on this particular submission. As writers, we know rejection can feel like a punch in the nose, but try not to be discouraged. This kind of decision is naturally arbitrary, and we’d be happy to see more of your work.
I gotta admit, this is one of my favorite form rejections because the publisher is really trying to be encouraging, and I appreciate that. Still, despite all the nice things in this letter, it doesn’t tell you why the story was rejected, so, like the two before it, there’s no sense dwelling on it. Again, I’ve highlighted the important part of this rejection letter. You might be seeing a trend by this point.
Thank you for your submission of “XXX” to XXX, but we’ve decided not to accept it for publication. Please forgive the form letter, but due to the high volume of submissions we can’t respond personally on each story. We appreciate your interest in XXX.
I like this letter because it tells you why you shouldn’t read much into form rejections. The publisher says, “…due to the high volume of submissions we can’t respond personally on each story.” The key word in there is personally. In other words, they don’t have time to tell you why they didn’t accept your story, if they hated it, if they liked it a lot but it wasn’t a good fit, if it almost made the cut, and so on and so on. This is the case with most form rejections, and it is the primary reason why you should not spend much time thinking about them. They don’t tell you anything concrete except for the highlighted bit.
Thank you for submitting “XXX” for consideration. I was glad to have the opportunity to read it. Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite what we’re looking for at this time.
Another short, polite, and apologetic letter. This one includes the phrase “…isn’t quite what we’re looking for at this time,” which is as common as dirt in form rejections. You might ask yourself, “Well, what are they looking for then?” The only sensible answer to this question is: not the story I sent them. If you’ve read the submission guidelines closely, read a sample story from the publication, and then based your own submission on that criteria, then, likely, all this phrase means is they’re not going to publish this story.
In summation, though form rejections come in hundreds of different flavors, they only say one important thing: they’re not going to publish your story. In my opinion, everything else, in almost all cases, is just fluff, a polite attempt to let you down easy. Again, you shouldn’t read anything into these canned niceties and synthetic bits of encouragement because they are not specific to you or your story. What you should do is file that rejection away after you read it, move on, and send that story somewhere else.
What are your thoughts on form rejections? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
I have heard that a publication may have a few different form letters, including the (paraphrasing another writer) “Get off my front porch!” variety.
Yeah, the theory that some publishers have tiers of form rejections is one I generally ascribe to. I haven’t seen the “get off my porch” variety, but I have seen what I call the “improved form rejection,” which asks you to submit more work.
The letters in this post, though, are what I consider “common form rejections.” In other words, the first tier.
All of my form rejections have been incredibly… formulaic 🙂
I’ve received mostly improved form rejections over the last year. One particular literary magazine did kindly ask me in their rejection to submit again after six months, which I did, but I got rejected.
Heartbroken. Haha. I guess it sets you up for thinking you’ll be accepted next time?
The improved form rejection is a step above the common form rejection (if you ascribe to the theory of tiered rejection letters), and if the editor invites you to resubmit, you absolutely should. They’ve probably seen something they like in your work. Alas, there are no guarantees in this business. I’ve received long personal rejections from editors praising my work and asking me to resubmit that resulted in brutally quick form rejections on my next submission. 😉
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