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How to Write a Rejection Letter. Or Not?

You can read the post at Diabolical Plots here.

I'm not sure I agree completely. There's some good stuff there, to be sure. It is a rejection letter, and it's not going to make the writer feel good. But there's an awful lot of "Nevers," too.  For example: I've read stories before that were written very well, either had been published someone else or could have been, but didn't work for me. If that happens, I definitely want to see more by that writer, and I want that writer to know it. Finally, aside from "Being Honest" (@ #7) this list makes it seem like the editor should be so worried about the fragile writer's feelings, that  if the editor says, "Not bad, but I think it should be a novella" or "The gender dynamics of hurting the wife to get to the superhero put me off..." or, "The plot felt a bit predictable once they arrived on the island" or, "It reminded of Damon Knight (in a good way), but it doesn't quite work for me" or any kind of feedback about what did or didn't work in the story, the writer might shatter. (This seems to be in direct conflict with #7: Be Honest, which seems like it supercedes everything that comes before it.) 

All I can say is that at the end of the day, if getting a rejection letter is going to cripple you emotionally, you probably shouldn't send me your story.

The truth is, I don't like writing rejections because as a writer, I know they suck. But whenever I get a rejection and the editor's taken the time to tell me why she decided to pass on a story of mine - what specifically didn't work, where the editor stopped reading, etc., it might give me some extra insight, whether it be to my own story, or to the publication itself.

A rejection can put you into a funk, sure. Especially if you practice rejectomancy (all hail duotrope) the way I do. But a rejection as something that injures you? Again, maybe you're not ready to send your stories out.

That's what I'm thinking now. But maybe I'm wrong. So let me put it to you - if you're receiving a rejection from me, what do you want me to tell you? Do you just want a form essentially saying "We've read your story and decided it's not what we're looking for." Do you want me to tell you why I decided against the story? What do you want (if you're not going to get an acceptance)?


May. 21st, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
(Take into account that I don't have many rejections to my experience because I've not really submitted much!!)

Honesty. I'd prefer a blunt pass than false praise and hearty wishes the story "finds a home." But if the editor in question is giving a few lines of feedback, my ideal rejection letter would look something like this:

Dear Bogwitch~
While I appreciated your comical twist on Rumplestilskin, there was too much graphic pornography in this piece for our publication. The quality of writing is quite good, but the style simply won't work as a read-aloud podcast. If you can manage to write something that doesn't make us all blush in the reading, feel free to submit again.
Sincerely~Podcastle head-honcho
You might want to seek some sort of counseling.


The point being, give a couple of positives, a couple of negatives if possible. Ultimately, be honest about why you passed. Is the writing just not quite there yet? Say so. If there is no positive, be honest and tell the writer where it went wrong. A couple of constructive criticisms from someone in the position to give valuable advice is HUGE to a writer. And always appreciated.

Some things like, "good luck elsewhere," or "I'm sure this piece will find a home someplace else" could well be true, but it seems they've become cliches of themselves. Editors garnered scary reputations over the years. I suspect such well-intentioned closing wishes has been an attempt to gentle those reputations. Once a writer has seen it a half dozen times though, it loses all "nice" and becomes patronizing. IMO
May. 21st, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
See, I feel like there's a false dichotomy between "Being honest" and "Best of luck." Because why wouldn't I want a writer to suceed, if not at PC, then somewhere else? I'm not sure whether the "nice" ending actually becomes patronizing, or it's just that after 100 rejections (or so) the writer's eyes have glazed over (or glanced away).

(And you don't need counseling. At least, not anymore, now that you have your sky chair back :)
May. 21st, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Skychair therapy!
May. 21st, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
You have pornographic Rumplestilskin!? I so want to read that.
May. 21st, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
:) No, I made that up. But I do have a version of Snow White wherein she is forced into prostitution.
May. 21st, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
Wow, you probably don't want to know where my mind went with that one.
May. 21st, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
I betcha a worse place than it actually is!
May. 21st, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
Since my brain is currently at work, that's a lot of room for it to wander

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