6.20.2006

Rejection Central

Pulled from the comments column is this amazing site about all the rejection letters a short story writer received.

I'd be VERY interested to see which letter is best, or 'least bad' given no one wants a rejection letter in the first place.

44 comments:

Hornblower said...

I like the ones with the hand written notes on them. I also notice that many of them - even the type-written ones - were of the "feel free to try again" variety which is always more encouraging than "not for us" which sounds like "FOAD".

But my fave is the Tikkun's
http://debcentral.com/rejections/tikkun.html

Saundra Mitchell said...

The one from StoryQuarterly was particularly nice, because it was personalized and had some thoughts on how to improve the submitted story.

I especially like the Lilith rejetction, where the editor marked out the form paragraph about sending a pamphlet to explain what the magazine is about; along with the note to try again. It's heartening to see signs that you're doing it right, even if you're not being accepted.

Anonymous said...

bah. my own collection of rejections could put that site to shame. i could wallpaper an airplane hangar with mine. i could hire an archivist to catalog them, and a philosopher to interpret the handwritten notes appended to them. when i die i expect they'll fire the crematorium with them.

Brooke said...

This probably won't make me popular, but really, these were all kind rejections. The one from Jest was terrific.

I'm so tired of hearing people whine about their work being rejected. Yes, it hurts to have your work turned down, but usually there's a lesson in it - either to research your target market more carefully, or take more time learning your craft.

I got turned down by 75 agents for my first novel - which seemed to indicate that maybe I needed to work on my writing. I spent three years doing that, and I'm a much better writer for it.

Bethany said...

Hey, I know that girl! She was in my creative writing classes at UF!

Writers live in a tiny little world...

Anonymous said...

I know we have had this discussion before, but it's worth repeating. Offering a subscription to their magazine in the rejection letter seems a little tacky.

Rebecca

TwistableSim said...

Just curious, but doesn't posting those violate the owners' copyrights if they didn't give her permission?

Anonymous said...

...they need her SS#? What for?

I'm sure there's a reason, I guess, it's just that lately so many places are having compromising information leaks that could lead to identity theft.

kitty said...

The letters which had some sort of written notation -- signature, "Thanks" or whatever -- were quite nice. Just an actual signature makes the world of difference.

The sales pitches were insulting.

I thought the best was Antietam Review, with Boulevard, Lilith, Story Quarterly and Tikkun all being very good.

Anonymous said...

I noticed several publications were listed whose rejections were not accessible (they are yellow). I think that might refer to twistablesim's point about rights. (?)

Anyway, that's nothing. Most of them are nice to point of obsequious. Nothing to complain about, certainly.

As a writer, I've recieved many, many rejections, the lion's share of them not nearly as encouraging as these, but I'd honestly prefer at this point a post-it with "no" written on it attached to the ms. As Rosenbaum implied on the Tikkun slip, no wording or explanation is any consolation. When you've been at it long enough, only "yes" matters.

Anonymous said...

Just reading through these hurt my feelings! I think that's a sign that I need to step it up and send more work out.

While I know that people at journals are trying to be as nice as they can, there is something about the apologetic form letter that I find a little grating. It's the attempt to sound personal "We are so very sorry" in middle of something so impersonal "Dear Writer."

But, but, but - it's all part of the game, and so we must play it.

J. Carson Black said...

I don't know if you can copyright a rejection letter. But a book of rejection letters would be pretty neat. Sprinked throughout really cruel rejection letters could be tips on writing good queries. And there could be famous rejection letters, too, like ones to James Lee Burke (I think someone told him he should shoot himself) and to Tony Hillerman, who should "take out the Indians".

ello said...

Hey twisttable sim, I doubt a form rejection letter is copyrightable. To obtain copyright a work has to be original and creative, not an argument that you can put on a rejection letter.

My favorite was Tikkum, very classy. The worst was the Denver one and any rejection letter that included a subscription for the magazine. Real tacky of the editors! If you want to push subscriptions, post it on your subscriptions guidelines stating that subscribing will help with consideration or something like that. Don't put it in a rejection letter. That just seems jerky.

Anonymous said...

Magazines are kinder than book publishers.

Used to be, magazines were where writers honed their skills. There were all levels, and you knew you were getting better when you moved up the food chain.

Now, so few mags take fiction there's really no where to get a feel if you're doing it right until you submit to agents and/or editors and get slammed.

Too bad those days are gone. It seems a better system.

Jessica said...

It's kinda nice because she was rejected so many times but finally published. My favorite of the rejection letters is the one from Partisan Review. Two short sentences on one big peice of paper, it just looks funny. It's the small things that entertain me.

G. Jules Reynolds said...

I like the one from the Baltimore Review. It's encouraging without seeming overly personal.

Anonymous said...

It's probably just me, but I find sites with black or very dark backgrounds and light typeface pysically hard to read. I couldn't get past the home page on this one.

Thank you Miss Snark for resisting this trend. Maybe there's a reason books are printed black on white and not the other way around besides using less ink.

anon-y-mouse

Xopher said...

I liked the one from Tikkun best too.

But all the ones I read (I didn't read them all,/ /n/o/t/ /a/f/t/e/r/ /I/ /d/e/c/i/d/e/d/ /n/o/t/ /t/o/ /p/u/b/l/i/s/h/ /t/h/e/m/) seemed neutral-to-nice. I hope I get rejections that kind when I finally start submitting! (I hope I finally start submitting.)

twistablesim, I'm pretty sure that any mail you receive is yours, and you can publish it if you want to. Obviously if someone mails you a book (or manuscript) that doesn't apply, but these are letters to her.

My verf word is pozeze. I don't want to THINK about what that could mean.

Xopher said...

Hmm, then yeytqbaq, which I'm pretty sure is Navajo for "Hey, nitwit!"

Laurie said...

I thought the best ones were the form rejections that included a handwritten note encouraging the author to submit again, in particular the one from Antietam. The very worst were the form rejections that included solicitations for subscriptions--quelle tasteless!

Ms. Hawkes said...

I also like the handwritten notes, if only a coupla words, although comments like "nice work!" sound a bit hollow, and feel like a condescending pat on the noggin. I agree with Hornblower about the "not for us". Duh!

theinadvertentauthor said...

I actually prefer the abbreviated rejection; it feels much less personal. On the other hand a personal note is always nice. Either way, my little heart skips a beat when a tastefully prepared rejection comes printed on nice linen cardstock.

Bibliophile Bitch said...

Oh my God! What's wrong with you all? Some of those rejections sucked!
Like, for example, Amherst Review "encouraging" the writer to subscribe for $6! Also the Minnesota Review--same thing. It's one thing to reject an author but to slam them with advertising is NOT classy.
I thought the note on the Antietam Review was very encouraging.
Rejections suck. Form rejections suck ass. Rejections with advertisement suck......well come up with something realllly nasty.

Jason Boog said...

I just wanted to weigh in about pitching non-fiction to magazines.

While the process can't be compared to fiction pitching, it's so so so hard to pick yourself up and re-write a non-fiction pitch after you spend so much time customizing an idea for a single publication.

Even though it's a stupid waste of a good idea, it seems easier to abandon the idea than it is to gut the pitch and rebuild it for another magazine.

What do the non-fiction writers out there do? Stop after one rejection or keep pitching?

Ms. Hawkes said...

To J. Carson Black–

There is a book I have titled "Rotten Rejections," a collection of rejections of famous authors works - After reviewing it, I can say that while rejection letters today still sting, they don't carry the wallop of yesteryears singeing Thanks, but no Thanks. Written to Henry James in 1898 in response to In The Cage:
"A duller story I have never read. It wanders through a deep mire of affected writing and gets nowhere, tells no tale, stirs no emotion but weariness. The professional critic who mistake an indirect and roundabout use of words for literary art will call it an excellent peice of work; but people who have any blood in their viens will yawn and throw it down––if, indeed, they ever pick it up."

angie said...

I don't get the popularity of the Tikkun rejection. It struck me as obsequious and annoying. I don't need a fucking therapeutic response, just an answer.

I personally liked the The New Delta Review & those like it - thanks, not for us, good luck placing somewhere else. Short, clear & professional. Of course a personalized note or signature is nice, but don't try to sugar-coat a rejection with a lot of fawning, apologetic crap.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

To specifically answer Ms. Snarks question:

Atlantic Monthly - It did the best job of making it sound like the writer was doing them a favor with the submission, as opposed to the well-meaning "we get so many entries (better than yours) that we just can't squeeze you in."

Frankly, I expected more from the McSweenies a-holes (said with loving reverence). If ever I hoped to get an "original" rejection, I would expect it to come from the crew on Valencia Street.

Xopher said...

My slashed-out bit was intended to say "not after I decided not to publish them."

ixlcon. Bad Roman numerals for XXXIXcon?

Anonymous said...

As an editor at one of those journals, let me say that a handwritten "sorry" is strictly reserved for promising material from writers we wouldn't mind hearing from again.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Copyright belongs to the writer unless it's done for hire or one of the few categories that the law states are not copyrightable such as an ordinary grocery list.

Some places, such as newspapers or P&E, get past that with a statement that letters they receive are subject to publication.

Cheryl Mills said...

Oh my! So if you write a "Thanks", does that mean the same as "Sorry"?

And WTF does "Good luck" mean? I can't help but think it should be followed by "asshole!"

Enlighten us, oh editor of one of those magazines...

overdog said...

Hey anonymous, they need her SS# so they can pay her. You know, like, um, money? And report it to the, um, ah...whatsis... Oh yeah! The IRS. Yeah. That's it. You know, like real people with real jobs.

Anonymous said...

Re: Enlighten us, oh editor of one of those magazines...

Honestly, we get so so so so very many submissions, that if we encouraged everyone, just to be kind, we would no longer be able to sort the good from the not-good. As soon as you encourage someone, you are guaranteed to get everything they have already written...

A "sorry," a "thanks," anything hand-written means, 'you've got what it takes, keep trying.'

Eventually, if your work is good, you WILL get published.

Nick said...

The best rejection I've gotten so far was my query letter with "Sorry. My client list is currently quite full" scrawled on it and initialed by the agent.

MommyWithAttitude said...

I wish I hadn't read that site, because I received a rejection from the New Yorker that said my work had "obvious merit." First I got excited, then I thought, they probably say that to everyone. But now that I see they didn't say it to Deb, I'm obsessing over it all over again... Does the New Yorker really think I have "obvious merit"? I won't sleep for a week now.

Anonymous said...

Re: I'm obsessing over it all over again... Does the New Yorker really think I have "obvious merit"?

Yes, they do.

The New Yorker, like many magazines, has a couple of levels of rejection: flat-out "no thanks," and "no thanks, even though you're better than most."

Be happy you got the better form. It really does mean that your writing had something (or a lot) to admire, but don't lose any sleep over it.

Quick said...

mommywithattitude... did you keep sending that piece out?

I received responses like that from just about every magazine and lit journal in australia in response to one story. All these detailed, handwritten letters from respected editors telling me of the merits of the story and to try them with something else because this was not for them. For four years (I still don't know why I was so dogged about this) I'd get these frustrating letters, sit down with a pen poised ready to make the required changes, reach the end without wanting to change anything and send the story off again. Then out of the blue I got a call telling me that my little story had taken out first prize in a major national competition.

If I'd only received standard form letters I probably wouldn't have hung in there.

Who knows whether the New Yorker really thinks you have what it takes, but you may as well take a punt that they do and keep sending it off.

Amra Pajalic said...

I once got a lovely personalised rejection from a journal editor. When I saw that she was co-judging a short story competition I entered another short story and won third place. Sometimes a rejection really does mean-not enough space or do want to see your work but this doesn't quite do it for us.

And sometimes if you've done the rounds to umpteen journals with a certain short story it is time to retire it. You've moved, learnt from the experience and can craft stronger short stories.

I love, love this idea of posting your rejections. I personally find it encouraging cause I've gone through the same thing, shit-load of rejections until I got published. And then once you do get published you better your ratio because you get better at targetting the right short story for the publication, plus editors take you more seriously. It's all about growth, as long as it doesn't kill you first.

s.m.o'shea said...

I think that agents should save the form letter in a MS Word document, and insert the recipient writer's name into it.

That way, even if the agent didn't take the time to sign it (which I think would be lovely), at least the form rejection seems SOMEWHAT personal. Which is not to say that the agent should be buddy-buddy. It's just nice to see that the agent actually took time to read it, even if they didn't like it.

Plus, fresh printing=no more seventieth copy shadow. Always a plus.

MommyWithAttitude said...

jason boog --- I know what you mean.

Every publication has an "agenda" of sorts, and you have to tweak your language here and there without tweaking your message, and it's often simpler to start over.

I'm dealing with the same frustration pitching a non-fiction book to different publishers.

Anonymous -- THANK YOU! I'm thrilled to hear that.

Quick, it was a non-fiction piece and I tried the New York Times and NewsWeek, neither of which sent me so much as an FOAD. I'm still hoping to use it somehow.

Melinda said...

I wanted to see the Laurel Review letter! But there's no link.

I helped out at the LR for a semester ages ago, which I enjoyed, but I did have to send out rejection letters.

This is how things worked at a tiny lit magazine. The editors and the readers would read the MSS and, if a MS struck them, they'd scribble a comment on the envelopes the MS came in.

These were set aside and sometimes given a second look. If the material was good but not quite for the magazine, they'd give it a "kiss," aka "try us again." All the rest got form rejections. And then a few got published.

The last time I stopped by, there were two recycle bins overflowing with rejected submissions. Just so you know.

Small literary magazines often send out requests for subscriptions with their letters because they really could use the subscriptions! A lot of them survive on grants, not on advertising. Advertising is traded between magazines -- "I'll show an ad for your magazine if you show an ad for mine." Kind of interesting.

I think nearly all of the LR editors have retired and there's a new generation in place. But I'm pretty sure things are still run the same way.

You guys might volunteer at a local lit magazine. It is a real eye-opener (and also you get to read real slush!).

Mark said...

Yes I've had the "obvious merit" version from The New Yorker three times. John McPhee got it ten times before they hired him, so it's not meaningless per se.

Catja (green_knight) said...

Thanks for the link. Getting rejections is disheartening, and the chance to read them en bloc is quite amusing - makes me feel better about mine - but what I don't get is the grousing about perfectly ordinary business letters. The comments (visible if you hover the mouse over the picture) seem out of step with the often encouraging nature of the letters; and I didn't find 'if you like our mag, subscribe here' offensive.

Anonymous said...

The most surprising rejection I've ever received was from the editor at Weird Tales magazine. His typed letter had nine typos neatly hand-corrected in red ink by someone (not him). He said I used the wrong form of 'its'. Seems he thinks 'its' should have been 'it's.' But I double checked with my old college English professor who has a PhD in English. Seems the Weird Tales editor was mistaken. The story he rejected was bought by the very next editor who paid more than twice what Weird Tales would have paid (not that money is the main factor). And, my gosh, I’ve received two handwritten rejections from the New Yorker, one with an “obvious merit” comment, and one from Zoetrope with “your story was well written, suspenseful and entertaining, but not exactly what we’re looking for.” I guess I’ll keep trying!