My Big, Fat Rejection Notice(s)

If you are a writer, you have been rejected at some point in your writing career.  It comes with the job. I have a big, fat pile of rejection notices for every single short story I’ve ever written and submitted.

The funny thing is though, some of my rejection notices aren’t quite rejection notices.  Here is one example of those from a nice editor who will remain anonymous for purposes of this posting:

Hi Carol, thanks for sending (Story Name)… some good writing and a very good setup, but for me the ending was a bit disappointing… I would rather have seen the emotional long-term affects of the abandonment than the transition of “that’s not what happened” to ” maybe that never happened” as a literary device… so I am going to pass, but thanks anyway!

That wasn’t so bad, was it?  I actually feel better after reading rejection notices like this than those silly form rejections which tell me nothing and give me no feedback for improvement. In fact, I took this editor’s suggestions and made edits to the story in question to reflect a more emotional impact to the narrator than the literary device I had used.  This particular story hasn’t been placed yet, but I’m sure it will be eventually.

Here is another rejection notice which isn’t a full, flat out rejection:

Some nice lines in there, Carol. “scraped the remaining soldiers from the battlefield…” Overall, it does not seem right for (Journal Name) at this time. We have decided to pass.

The previous rejection notice was given on a story called A Full Head of Hair, which was published by First Stop Fiction because it was more in keeping with the style of their journal than the one that rejected it above.

What do I take from these rejections?  Well, a few things – very important feedback on the story, which I always read and consider carefully.  Also, when I consistently get great rejection feedback like “this is well written” or “nice lines” then I know my writing is at a quality level consistent with what these journals would publish even if that particular piece isn’t right for them.

And of course, here is the BEST kind of rejection notice:

I love what is here, but I wanted more development, and the last line wasn’t quite working for me…. I would consider a revised version of this if you are willing.

Not only was I willing to revise it, that piece was accepted and published. (You can try to guess which of my stories the note above was about….)

There are so many unsung editors of small journals out there who are incredibly generous of their time and feedback.  I have benefitted tremendously as a writer from their guidance and (at times) their tough love.  I’m glad there are publications out there who care enough about the writers who submit to them to give personal feedback on submissions. It helps create a positive feedback loop.

I’d enjoy hearing from you writers out there who have also had good experiences with rejection notices. Did they spur you to re-write, re-submit, or make a needed change in your writing?  How did the feedback affect you and improve you?

6 Responses

  1. I have had one particularly good experience with a rejection to a journal, because the editor really took care to point out my strengths as a writer as well as my weaknesses. This encouraged me to keep trying as I felt they had given me fair attention and a thoughtful assessment, not just fobbed me off with some form letter, or worse, no response at all.

    Funnily enough, I was afflicted with the same problem as you – my ending was criticised for not being strong enough. Oh well. Live and learn!

    • Thanks for sharing that Louise. I have trouble with endings too, and I’d say it is the area I’m working on the most.

      But the feedback is what is so important for development; it gives you a specific starting point.

      Glad to hear that your experience was helpful to you too! Thanks!

  2. Funny you should mention this…I just received one from an editor who said it wasn’t quite right for their upcoming anthology, but to resubmit using their name to another editor for a different anthology. In addition, she gave me feedback as to what she liked, and what she would have liked to have seen in terms of character devlopment.
    I agree with you that this type of “rejection” is fantastic; you have the opportunity to get into that editor/journal’s head, and you have the added bonus of knowing that your writing is in the ballpark.

    • Wow, that sounds like a great “hand off” you got Wren Andre, from one editor to another. I’ve never had that happen, and I think your piece must have been pretty terrific to get that kind of response.

      In terms of “knowing that your writing is in the ballpark” – I agree. Writing is such a solitary activity, and something you think reads well to you, or even to someone you use as a reader, isn’t the same as getting solid feedback from an editor you respect.

      It helps validate the work, and us, to feel like … yep, keep chugging in this direction. It may not be perfect but we’re going the right way.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

  3. I got here via Court Merrigan’s blog. Speaking as a writer, 90% of the time I submit selectively – I’ve read the journals for a while, or browsed through the recent issues or for whatever reasons, got the impression that my writing will work for them, or the editor(s) may be open to taking it even if it’s different from what they usually publish.

    10% of the time I submit on impulse and every single time I’ve done that, the piece got rejected. A few of these rejection notices were worded nicely enough, though I’ve only ever got one that’s useful – that my story lacked a certain sizzle, and I knew very well what the editor meant. How ‘useful’ a rejection notice may be, I think, really comes down to the writer. If the editor has so much made a critical comment, they’ve probably got a valid point, and if the writer is one that’s seriously dedicated to their craft, they must come to see what’s inherently weak or lacking in the work, too.

    I read the slush pile for my zine – and I send personal rejection notices if the writing has its merit, but it falls short somewhere, or it doesn’t make the cut, or there’s something about the writing I don’t like…one way or another I give the exact reason why I’m not taking it, because I’d appreciate it if an editor did the same rather than just sent a ‘it doesn’t fit’. I’ve received rather few responses from these writers though, which kind of makes me wonder if I should spend the time on writing these detailed rejection notes, ah. It takes so much time thought to write one.

    • It’s funny you should mention writers not replying to rejection notices Nicolette. I reply to every single rejection I get if it is a personal rejection. I’ll also reply to a form rejection if the note came very quickly because I’d prefer the editor rip the bandaid off quickly if the work is getting rejected – especially if they’re not providing feedback.

      The worst situation, in my humble opinion, is to wait 5, 6 or more months for a submission reply and then get a one or two sentence impersonal form rejection. There are a few journals (who I shall not name here) that have done that … I once waited 8 months for a poorly written 2 sentence form rejection that really irritated me. In the case of that journal, I have not submitted since.

      I’ve been so fortunate to work with great editors on the pieces I’ve had published, and I’m very thankful for their time, feedback and encouragement. My suggestion, for whatever it’s worth, is if you send a personal rejection and you want to hear back from the writer, leave the door open for them to reply. Some folks might be a little shy about replying to an editor that just rejected their work, whether or not the note was personal. Of course, your mileage may vary and obviously you have to weigh whether or not it’s worth your time.

      P.S. I loved Court’s story that appeared in Pank about the drug dealer and his friend – I think it was called The Cloud Factory. Very impressive work. Check it out on his publications page if you haven’t read it.

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