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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 02:32 pm (UTC)
As far as personal rejections, I don't tend to bitch about those too much, simply because getting a personal rejection is so rare. Civility is a huge plus, story feedback is the holy grail, but at the very least it's nice to know that someone actually read the STORY instead of just rejecting based on the lack of Name Fame. When I get a personal rejection from Necrotic Tissue, I know that the editor read it, and that makes a difference. As opposed to getting the same useless form rejection from Analog. I'm not saying that Dr. Schmidt doesn't read my stories, but from the form rejections I get there's no way for me to tell one way or the other.

There's only one form rejection that really annoyed me. It was, in its entirety "Sorry, no." If you're going to be completely unhelpful, then you may as well just use the form letter, this one came off as too curt.

For form rejections I get much more annoyed about small things. If you're using the same form letter for 99% of your rejections like most markets do, then for the love of all that is holy take some time and make it a good one. My particular pet peeves:

1. An email form letter which does not even mention the story title. I've gotten some that say "Regarding your recent submission." As if they've totally forgotten what the title was and can't be bothered to remember.

2. "Keep writing!" God, I hate this line. It never fails to sound condescending. Like talking to your kid after his team loses a baseball game: "Keep your chin up, sport! You did your best and that's all that counts. But I know what will cheer you up! Consolation cake!" Sure, some writers may give up after a rejection, but those people are not likely to change their course for these two words, and for for those who don't give up that easily, this gets really annoying.

3. A form letter that says "We enjoyed it". I like to hear that in a personal rejection, but in a form letter it's CLEARLY insincere because it's a friggin form letter.

4. Needlessly obtuse sentence structure. These people are supposed to be editors, right? So I'd like to think that they can put words in some coherent ordering. Adding more words doesn't help unless the words add meaning. Things like: "We regret to have to inform you that we are declining acceptance at this time."
-The regret is clearly insincere, because it's a form letter.
-They don't regret rejecting you. They don't regret informing you of your rejection. But they DO regret the fact that they feel obligated to inform you of your rejection.
-"Declining acceptance"? Who the hell wrote that? That rings of "I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request" except this is apparently NOT trying to be funny.
May. 21st, 2010 04:27 pm (UTC)
3. A form letter that says "We enjoyed it". I like to hear that in a personal rejection, but in a form letter it's CLEARLY insincere because it's a friggin form letter.

Okay, THAT makes a lot more sense to me as a complaint. "We enjoyed your story, but" would be dishonest to put in a form. In a personal rejection, it's different, because why would I take the time to write that if I didn't like it?

I agree that having a concise, non-abusive form is a good thing to have.

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