What Does Your Rejection Letter Really Mean?

Post - fortune tellerI’ve acquired a list of oh so tastefully worded emails from editors and staff writing to inform me that to their enduring regret, they won’t be including my story in their literary journal. I knew rejection is a fundamental part of a writer’s life, but I didn’t realize how minutely I would be able to parse the rejections I receive.

Wondering how your rejection notes stack up? Here’s a cheat sheet to help you know where you stand.

First, who signed the rejection? An actual name is best. Was someone brave enough to say, I, Nina Fosati, Senior Editor, am writing to you? Give yourself three points. Is it signed “The Editors,” or (I like this one) the abbreviated letters standing in for the name of the journal, i.e., “CNF Editors.” Neutral, no points given or taken away. No signature, not a good sign. Minus three points.

Second, how friendly is the Complimentary Close? The more personal, the better. Things like, Best, and Warmly, earn three points. Exception: if the word luck is included, i.e., “Best of Luck,” you’re screwed. They thought your work was shit. Never send them anything again, ever. Minus ten points. Is it signed Sincerely? Neutral, no points given or taken away. No closing, not a good sign. Minus three points.

Third, the Body Paragraph. Counter to the above exception if the word luck is in the body paragraph, but the close is warm, assume it is not meant ironically, and they do wish you luck in finding a publisher. Earn three points. However, if luck in the body is paired with “Sincerely” or no close, then yes, they hated it. You suck and completely wasted their precious time. Minus three points. Is there a delicately worded apology in the body? Are they understaffed, overwhelmed with the volume of submissions, or sorry for the automated reply? It was read by an intern and never got within smelling distance of a senior editor. Sorry, this is pretty much business as usual. No points earned or lost.

Fourth, is there a reference to your sending more things for them to read? Hallelujah, you’ve hit a nerve. The warmer the invitation the better. Judge for yourself the level of interest. Phrases like “Please feel free to share more work with us in the future” are common, plus two points. Words like “impressed by your writing” or “we admire what you’re up to” along with solicitations to read more are Writer’s Gold. Plus five points. No reference to wanting more, sorry, this is a typical response. Neutral, no points given or taken away. Go back and edit, then try a different market. If they offer you a link to “common mistakes newbie writers make” or invite you to sign-up for their newsletter so you will hear about their next (pay to submit) contest, it’s a bad sign, a very bad sign. DO NOT submit any more of your precious stories to that outlet. Minus three points.

There you have it, Nina’s pointers for discerning rejection letters. As you know, one editor’s lyrical prose is another editor’s fuck this shit. Keep editing. Keep striving. Think deeply about the why of your story. Don’t be afraid to simplify locations, or combine characters. Tell the most interesting tale you can. Remember, someone needs to hear your story. Keep trying.


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