Thursday, September 09, 2010

Form rejections

by Jessica

Rejection got you down? Have a look at Judson Merrill’s post, which made me chuckle. Although JM’s waggish rejoinders to his assorted rejection letters are not, perhaps, the very model of gracious behavior, they do reflect a certain fighting spirit, plus an understanding of the absurdity of the submission/rejection process that is psychologically indispensable to any aspiring writer. That rejection is part and parcel of the writing life does not make it any less painful. Composing clever responses to form letters is not likely to advance an author’s cause or career, but it can offer a measure of comfort, humor, and a very necessary reminder that these letters, which are necessarily brief, impersonal, and devoid of actual, specific feedback, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Dear Mid-American Review,

Thank you for your recent rejection. I appreciate your taking the time to read my story. I understand how careful you must be in selecting a cohesive body of work to present in the MAR.

Your communiqué, however, did leave me with a few concerns. You write, “We have decided your submission is not a match for us at this time.” I assume this means I should submit my story again at a more convenient time. I don’t want to be a pest, though, so please provide a concrete timeline. Would you like to review the story again for your next issue or next year? Anything’s fine, just let me know.

Also, confusingly, you close that same paragraph with, “We wish you the best of luck placing your story elsewhere.” Typo?

Judson Merrill

How do you cope with rejections? How do you maintain perspective?


  1. I repeat the mantra 'all I need is one' over and over and over until I'm singing it out loud to the tune of 'All you need is love'

  2. I take comfort in my Haystack Theory of Publishing: You throw a little on, a lot slides off, but hopefully a little sticks. Eventually, after a VERY long time, you've got a haystack. You just got to keep tossing.


  3. On my first day of Russian training at the Defense Language Institute, my instructor told me I would not make it a week. I graduated Magna Cum Laude, pushed along for a year by the attitude of "Fine, I'll show you!" I've taken this same philosophy into the querying business. Each rejection stiffens my resolve to prove that I can do this. As long as I believe in me, a rejection is just a note that says I have to get a little bit better before someone else will believe in me, too.

  4. That's easy: I curl up in a fetal position clutching Strunk and White's Elements of Style and moan hysterically until the early hours of the morning. The next day I readopt my strategy of waiting for agents and editors to show up at my doorstep requesting my work. When that doesn't succeed, I get back "in the saddle" and send more queries and stories out again.

  5. Most of the responses seem to pre-suppose the person who rejected them was wrong, and sooner or later they'll be matched with someone who knows their job. But it isn't as if one had a key and just had to try it in enough locks. Maybe some times that is the truth, but I think more often the work submitted has no place whatsoever in the market and one ought to try to find out why, and what needs to be changed, or maybe the answer is to start all over again with a different work.

  6. I haven't really started querying yet, so I haven't had to deal with it yet, but reading a bunch of perspectives from the people who are giving the rejections and their reasons for why might give me an objective standpoint on the whole ordeal... maybe.

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  8. It depends. Most of the time I just let rejection roll of me like water off a duck's back. But when I feel like whatever I'm submitting would have really been a great fit, then I go back and re-examine the submission guidelines, recent issues, client list, etc., then take a fresh look at my story, query, or whatever. Sometimes I'll ask folks from my writer's group for their opinion. It's not that I want to beat myself over it, but sometimes I view it a little like a chess game. If you never take the time to review the game you just lost, then you will probably just keep making the same mistake.