On the significance of the personalized rejection letter

Image by Sean MacEntee, Flickr

I received a rejection letter today for a submission I sent out I few months ago, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it: it stings. Every writer will agree that no matter how many times you send something out, no matter how many publishing creds you’ve got under your belt, no matter how many books you may have to your name, a rejection letter will always hurt. But it’s a part of the gig; you need to send stuff out there if you want to be published, and you will, no matter what, get rejection letters.

But there are different kinds of rejections.

The worst, by far, is the standard rejection slip: a message typed up and saved in a word doc that is the go-to rejection for most publications and publishing houses. Simply copy-and-paste into an email and send it on its way. Not personalized in any way, it does little to comfort the writer who receives it. I have received many — many — of these rejection slips.

The rejection I received today was different, though. To begin, the editor actually addressed me by name. I know it could have simply been done by an auto-fill program that takes info from a submission and plops it into the email, but I know it wasn’t. In my submission, I used “Timothy” — in the email, the editor used “Tim”. This is one of the little things that lets a writer know that a human being actually took the time to type a letter up instead of letting a program do it: a slight variation in name.

And then there’s the fact that the editor referred to my submission piece by piece, telling me which submission she was especially sad to have to pass: telling me its strengths, the spots it could still use a little work. I’m pretty sure they haven’t come up with rejection-software that sophisticated yet (though I’m sure publishers are devoted billions of dollars into that project as we speak).

The editor took the time to tell me that she “loved” one poem specifically, but that in considering the issue as a whole it simply would not have fit. And that is something I completely understand. The over-all layout of an issue (or book, or project, or whatever) is very important. No feelings of ill will towards her.

I simply have to thank her, and all editors, for sending out these kinds of rejections. It does so much more than the standard slip does: it offers guidance, it shows the submitter the human side of a business that is slowly becoming more and more automated as time goes on.

And as writers, that’s all we really want. We write so that we can connect to another person, even if it’s through a rejection letter. This one showed me that, even if I won’t be having my poem published in the upcoming issue, I’ve definitely connected with someone. It’s a really nice feeling.

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