Form Letters: More Than Just No?

I’ve covered the topic of form letters a fair bit on this blog, generally focusing on form rejections, which are by far the most common. But form letters come in all shapes and sizes and can communicate a lot more than “we’re not publishing your story.” Let’s take a look at a few from my copious supply and see what we can learn. Some of this will cover old ground, but it’s a favorite subject of mine, and, well, my perspective on rejection is ever-evolving just as my collection of rejection letters is ever-expanding. 🙂

The Basic Form Rejection

Let’s establish a baseline for our form letters with your basic, no-frills rejection.

We have read your submission and will have to pass, as it unfortunately does not meet our needs at this time.

If you’ve been submitting your work for any length of time, you’ve likely seen letters like this one a lot. There’s not much to learn here because the letter doesn’t say anything other than we’re not publishing your story. In fact, it’s purposefully designed to say nothing more than that. Move on and submit the story somewhere else.

The Higher-Tier Form Rejection

This is another one I’ve talked about a lot on the blog, but here’s an example so you can see the difference between these first two letters and those to follow.

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

It can be difficult to tell a higher-tier form rejection from a basic form rejection unless you’ve received both from the same publisher. So I’ll make this easy. This higher-tier form rejection is from the same publisher as my example basic form rejection. Pretty stark contrast, huh? The higher-tier has the all-important “consider us in the future,” which is generally (but not always) an indicator of a “better” rejection.

The Further Consideration Letter

The first of the “good” form letters, the further consideration notice is often welcome news, especially when it comes from a pro market, like this one.

Thank you for submitting [story title] to [publisher]. One of our first readers has read your story and believes it deserves a closer look. We would like to hold it for further consideration. Good luck!

Even if a further consideration letter ultimately results in a rejection, as this one did, you’ve gained valuable information. You now have an idea what kind of story the publisher might accept or at least seriously consider. That info helps you fine tune your submission targeting in the future, which, hopefully, leads to more letters like this and maybe an acceptance or two.

The Final Round Form Rejection

Sometimes a form rejection has a lot to say, much of it good and encouraging. I’ve removed a few bits from this rejection to conceal the identity of the publisher, as I usually do, but the important bits are still there.

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [story title].

Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. As much as we wish we could, we can’t publish every good story that comes our way.

Truthfully, we’re forced to return a great many stories with merits that make them well worthy of publication, including yours. Your story did, however, reach the final stage of our selection process–one among an elite group. Less than 5% of stories make it this far. That is no small feat.

We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere, feel confident of your success in doing so, and hope to receive submissions from you in the future. 

As rejections go, this one is pretty good. Sure, it’s disappointing that I didn’t make the final cut, but this is a tough market, and making it this far tells me I have a good story on my hands. In fact, I sold this story on the next submission. The information in a letter like this is incredibly useful and encouraging, and it should help you determine what type of story to send the publisher in the future. Of course, you might ask why the publisher doesn’t include any personal feedback  if they liked the story so much. Likely because this publisher receives thousands of submissions a year and a form letter saves them valuable time. Honestly, if the form letter is this good, I don’t mind not getting a personal note. I should also point out that this publisher does offer curated feedback form their readers on stories that get this far.

The Form Acceptance

Yep, acceptances come in form-letter flavor too. In fact, I’m seeing more and more acceptances arrive as boilerplate letters. There’s a good reason for this, actually, which the example below clearly illustrates.

We’re pleased to announce that your story [story title] is the fourth-place winner of our [publisher contest]!

Congratulations!

Your publication date will be [date].

We process all of our payments through PayPal and fourth place is awarded [$$$] as well as an e-copy of the contest anthology containing off of the winners and the runners up.

Some legal/rights things: Your acceptance of the payment means that you have given us the right to publish your story on our site and elsewhere under [publisher] name. After we publish it, you are free to send it elsewhere. We do not retain exclusivity rights.

You also ensure that this work is yours to sell and that it is not the product of any type of copyright infringement.

We just need your PayPal email and a 3-4 sentence bio.

Let us know if that works for you and feel free to reach out with any questions. We can’t wait to publish your story!

The reason the editor went with a form letter for this acceptance is they need to impart a lot information quickly and efficiently. They need to tell me my story has been accepted, when it will be published, how I will be paid and how much, what rights they are retaining to the story (none; bless them), what additional info they need to publish the piece, and, finally, what to do if I have questions. If you had to send all that information to a dozen different authors, a boilerplate form letter is absolutely the way to go.


And there you have it, five different form letters, four of which have a lot more to say than no. Have you received a form letter not covered in this post? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

2 Comments on “Form Letters: More Than Just No?

  1. Try this for size. I won’t say who sent it to me, but it’s, shall we say, interesting?
    Sent as “releasing this story” not a rejection.

    Unfortunately, while we liked your submission, so far we have not found a place for it … and it is against our policy to hold onto a story indefinitely. Much as we’d like to, we just don’t have the room to print all the stories we get — not even all the good ones. So sadly, we’re going to have to very reluctantly let this one go.

    • Yeah, I’d say that’s a higher-tier form rejection just with more fanciful language than you usually get. I kind of dig it, though.

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