Monday, 1 March 2010

The fine art of being rejected

It’s a terrible thing, rejection

I’m talking about editors rejecting your writing here, but you know me, I’m also talking about life.  You don’t want to be rejected and you certainly don’t want the same rejection as everyone else.  

If your partner chucked you with a standard letter, an uninformative shrug of the shoulders – you’d have to kill him. You couldn’t bear for him to say: 'Not for me this time, sorry.'  You’d want to scream: ‘But WHYeeee!!???’  What specifically did I do or say to make him discard me?  Was it those PJ’s or the laughing at your own jokes or not paying enough attention to depilation or your fact that I may one day turn into my mother?  (sorry mum)

Also, you'd like the fault to be redeemable - an easily rectified oversight - or at least the comfort of many, many additional plus points offered in mitigation.  Yes, you snore but by god you look beautiful in the mornings.  You want him to be already regretting his decision, oh and maybe giving you the number of someone else who might be more inclined to cope with your teeny weeny little flaws.

Oh – see what I've done? – I’ve talked about life as an analogy for writing instead of the other way round.  What I mean is don't you hate the bog-standard, form rejection? I want to know what the editor did (or didn’t) like about my piece, that I was close and next time things will be different.

I've had a dozen stories published and plenty more poems, but only because I'm thick-skinned enough to keep sending them out.  For every success there are many rejections, so I thought I'd share a few of my favourites that offered more than the standard rebuff:

  • "Thanks for sending, but this is a very familiar idea, and I'm afraid you haven't done anything with it beyond simply stating it."  

  • "No. I liked the ending, but the story seemed to drag on and on." 
  • "How does he know a lump of himself landed on the camera when he is dead?"

After a while, things started looking up...

  • "It feels unexplored, thin.  With an expanded, fuller ending, I think this story has good potential."
  • "Oooh, this was a tough one… I think in the end though we're going to pass on it, but please keep submitting!"
  • "...this one didn't do it for me (though I like the ending)."

And sometimes an encouraging rejection from a quality mag is better than an acceptance from a lesser one: "There were some words and phrases in it that we really loved, but the competition was fierce."

I tried several times to submit to Postcards from Hell but kept getting the form rejection: "We have subjected our victims to your story but they were not sufficiently traumatized. Your story has been consigned to the Lake of Fire. Thanks for trying."   So it was a bit of a triumph getting the a personal one from them:  "Truly, one of the oddest stories I've received, but I'm going to pass."

Sadly, I’m not always creepy enough, though:  "The prose here is precise and elegant, the story quietly fascinating, but in the end, it's simply not dark enough for us.  Or I'm too flippant: "It is well written, but I wish it was less farcical."  

The worst rejection?  One poetry magazine sends out the simple, brutal, disappointed: "Alas, these are not what I seek."  Which makes you feel like you've let yourself down, let them down, let everybody down.   

What's the best / worst rejections you've had?

Late addition (22/10/10) - I was just sent this link the Ten Funniest Rejection Letters - enjoy!


  1. Yes, I've checked all three boxes again.

    I absolutely reject your suggestion to tick only one.

  2. One editor told me, "please know, this is not a standard rejection. We hope you'll submit again." I was encouraged, and submitted again. They emailed me: "please know, this is not a standard rejection. We hope you'll submit again." Bastards!

  3. Bastards! That's terrible, Mark!

    I forgot to show the one that inspired the blog: "I must admit, this one gave me pause. It's not often you come across a well-written cannibal story, but here we are." lol

  4. I want to read the cannibal story!

  5. Dear editor; I read your "rejection notice" with an initial enthusiasm but very soon became quite alarmed at the lack of, I suppose you might call it, substance.
    Also, ironic trick endings went out with O.Henry
    All in all I am, regretfully, forced to inform you that your brief work fails to meet our standards.
    Please do seek other venues for your submissions

  6. An email of two words: 'no thanks'. Not even a comma, capital letter on the 'n' or a 'Dear Fran'. Pff.

  7. I don't think any of my rejections were as funny as yours, but I do remember one rejection where the editor gushed on and on and finally, painfully regretted that he had to pass.

    I was okay about it until one of my critique partners excitedly emailed me a very encouraging rejection letter from the same publisher--and it was word-for-word the same as mine.

    I didn't have the heart to tell him the publisher sent out a boilerplate rejection. He was so chuffed at how encouraging it was, and he had had a pretty rough go of it lately. Sometimes it's just kinder to say nothing at all.

  8. The ones I hate (Smiths Knoll) is "we really liked x but not enough to publish it".
    I'd much prefer to know they hadn't liked it at all!

  9. Not sure that this would work today, but whilst unemployed in the early 80s, I 'carpet bombed' the editor of a provincial Sunday newspaper, with material. Everything came back by return post. He eventually phoned me to say thanks, but no thanks. I continued the campaign. He then phoned with an invitation to lunch. Over lunch I sensed that this was his kindly way of explaining that I should enjoy my meal and call it a day. By the time we drained our coffee cups, he had offered me a 13 week series. Today, I just haven't got the energy or the sheer bloody-mindedness. It was probably 'hungry boxer' syndrome.

    I have had a recent rejection which stated, "Thanks for sending me these poems, which I enjoyed reading. Unfortunately I won't be able to use any of them.." Hmmm, that good eh?

  10. Lane - I can't decided if that's a spoof reply to imagined editor or a crit of my blog? (eek)
    Fran - How rude!
    Maria - How kind!
    redbotinki - Welcome! I'm not sure I've had a response even that positive from Smiths Knoll - but it's nice to know I'm in such fine company in the rejection pile
    Martin - Impressive fervour, but you're right about the hunger.

  11. Great post and quite timely as I had a rejection from People's Friend this very morning, stating my storyline was 'too weak to sustain a reader's interest for very long.' Charmed I'm sure.

    Luckily I've had a couple of acceptances this week which took the sting out, but it's true that you do have to develop a very thick skin in this bizniss, or you'd spend all day every day in tears!

  12. I remember submitting a short story and getting a personalised rejection that said that, while parts of the story were interesting, the environmental message was way over the top. This was interesting because I wasn't trying to talk about the environment at all!

    Upon reflection, I realised that if a reader doesn't Get It, chances are it's your problem as a writer, not theirs as readers.