Submission Protocol: Should You Respond to Rejections?

This is a question I see in writing groups and forums fairly often, and here’s the Rejectomancy take on the subject.

Short Answer: No

The vast majority of the time you shouldn’t respond to a rejection letter, and here are the two primary reasons why:

  1. You don’t need to respond. Especially in the case of a form rejection, which a publisher might send out by the hundreds, no response is expected. It’s understood that your communication with the editor/publisher is over once they send a rejection and does not begin again until you send them something else. I’d say the same goes for personal rejections in that a response is not expected. If they ask to see more of your work in the personal rejection, THAT is the response they’re looking for.
  2. Many publishers specifically ask you not to respond. It’s not uncommon to see something in the submission guidelines discouraging responses to rejection letters. This is probably because of reason one, and it clutters up the editor’s inbox (especially with large publications who receive hundreds of submission a month).

Long Answer: Rarely

Okay, now that I’ve told you why you shouldn’t respond to a rejection letter, I think there are cases where it is okay. In fact, I recently did respond to a rejection to thank an editor for providing very useful feedback. The advice he offered will greatly improve the story, and I was exceedingly grateful for it. Since this particular market has published me before, and I’ve worked directly with the editor during that process, I felt a quick “thank you” wasn’t out of line. Of course, I couldn’t help starting my email with “I know you’re not supposed to respond to rejection letters.” Anyway, the editor sent me a polite note in reply, letting me know they usually don’t mind responses to rejection letters, as long as the author isn’t telling them how wrong they are for rejecting the story (more on that in a sec), and that it was nice to hear the feedback was well received.

Okay, with my little anecdote in mind, here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about responding to a rejection letter:

  1. Does the publication specifically ask authors NOT to respond to rejection letters? If so, then you should consider that part of the submission guidelines, and we always follow the submission guidelines, right folks?
  2. Is it a personal rejection? As I said earlier, there’s really no reason to respond to a form rejection, but a sincere, helpful personal rejection might warrant a response.
  3. Have they published you? If that’s a yes, then some kind of working relationship has been established. I’m not saying you are colleagues or best buds or anything, but you’ve likely communicated with the editor enough that a short note in reply isn’t out of line.
  4. What are you saying? If it’s a short “thank you for the very helpful feedback,” that’s fine. If it’s a pages-long diatribe that can be summed up as “how dare you not recognize my brilliance, you talentless hack,” then you need to step away from your keyboard and a) grow a thicker skin and b) remember that every writer, great and small, gets rejected. A lot.  The editor rejected your story because he or she didn’t like it, didn’t feel it was a good fit, or a hundred other perfectly valid reasons. Accept it, move on, and send them something else. I think the fact that the editor in my example felt the need to mention this bit of bad author behavior speaks volumes, i.e., it probably happens pretty regularly.

In summary, there’s usually no need to respond to rejection letters, but there might be occasions when it’s acceptable as long as you follow some common sense guidelines. Of course, like everything else on this blog, this is simply my opinion and shouldn’t be considered absolute fact.

What are your thoughts on responding to rejection letters? Tell me all about it in the comments.

9 thoughts on “Submission Protocol: Should You Respond to Rejections?

  1. When I get a form rejection, I send them a pre-written email saying that I changed my mind and their pub isn’t quite what I’m looking for at this time 😉

    In all seriousness, I figure they’re busy.

    Oh, I’ve heard about people getting rejections with the wrong story title. They responded and the editor straightened things out.

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  2. Aeryn,

    Great stuff, as usual. I never respond to a rejection letter, UNLESS I received some really insightful feedback in a personal rejection. Just like you said. In that case, I thank them briefly and move on.

    And I give YOU a big thank you for validating my pre-existing notions. At least, in this case.

    Thanks!

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  3. I just got a form rejection from that I almost responded to. It was two sentence fragments, no story title, no mention of my name, no signature, and they managed to spell thier own journal name wrong in the email identifier (split into to words instead of one). I wanted to write back just to help the by telling them about how strange this was (why would I want to trust my work to a place that can’t even write in full sentences and put my name or the story title somewhere so I know they got it correct? After all I spent time reformatting my story, looking up thier editor’s name and writing a cover letter. It felt to me like most likely never read my story).

    Instead, I blacklisted them. I don’t care if they pay or not. In three years of submitting, this was the first place on my blacklist.

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  4. Great article as usual, Aeryn. Yeah, I usually don’t reply to rejections, but one time I sent a thank you to an editor who had published me before and had provided good feedback on my submission. Admittedly, this is not something I normally do; I was just comfortable with this particular editor (we also converse on Twitter from time to time). However, considering how rare personal rejections are (at least for me), maybe I should thank each editor who sends one.

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  5. Aside from a few rare exceptions, I think responding back to an editor is a complete waste of time. Even if they loved your story, a rejection is still a rejection. And if they hated it, it’s not like a court of law where you can try to argue your case. Best, I think, to just put it out of your mind and move on to the next market. After all, the only editor’s opinion who really counts is the one signing the check.

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