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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 08:48 pm (UTC)
A more concise version of the blog post you linked to: "The only acceptable rejection letter is, 'We will not be using your story; it is now free to be submitted elsewhere.'" If you follow all its precepts, this is all that's left to you.

The post has very little on how to actually write a rejection letter. It should have been titled "How NOT to Write a Rejection Slip." Or more accurately, "What I don't like to see in a rejection slip when editors reject my stories." He's made the common error of assuming that Everyone Is Just Like Him.

Some writers don't like rejections that encourage or make it clear how close the story was to being sold. The ones I know are all fine writers and fine people. They'd rather get a form rejection. It's sort of like how, for some, losing the Super Bowl feels worse than having the worst record in the league.

To find out that they thought about your story seriously but ultimately decided against it can be heartbreaking. But rejection itself is already pretty heartbreaking to being with.

Other writers (including me) want very much to know how close the story was to being sold. My take is that editors get more than enough slush as it is. They're only going to encourage writers whose work they want to see more of. Moreover, their comments give me a hint of their sensibility and what they're looking for. This is valuable stuff. I don't (and can't) demand it, but it's always nice to get it.

Rejections hurt. But they were going to hurt anyway. It's like not the editor can write the rejection in some way which prevents the writer from hurting. That the editor has taken time to write anything at all is a good thing. That the editor writes something encouraging is awesome. I'd take that over a form rejection any day. (Of course, I'd take a sale over either.)

Magazines get enough slush as it is. An editor has no reason to write false praise. A writer can parse the praise he receives into something insulting if he really works at it. He can also slice his eyes into intricate ribbons with rusty razor blades too. He *can* do it, but why?

So much better to be encouraged by the encouraging words. Yes, it's frustrating to know that you're close but not quite there. For me anyway, that's far less frustrating than to have absolutely no idea where you stand at all.

I wonder if the blogger has ever edited anything before. Sometimes, editors turn down stories for reasons that have nothing to do with the story itself. And it's possible to read and enjoy a story that nevertheless is not right for a given venue. That's how editors can write good and encouraging things about a story that they're not going to buy.
(i.e., "If they liked it so much, they didn't they buy it?" Well, dear writer, it's not all about you.)

I've had received at least a few rejections where editors have told me they enjoyed the story. I remain curiously uninjured by the experience.

May. 21st, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
The post has very little on how to actually write a rejection letter. It should have been titled "How NOT to Write a Rejection Slip."

In truth, this was my first thought, as well.

One thing I'm noticing is that there's probably no one answer - different writers would like different kind of rejections. Some like forms, some like personals. So I've learned something :)

Thanks for your input, sir.

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