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The other day, a friend of mine from the GSHW copied me this rejection email she’d received:

Thank you for submitting to [publication’s name].


Alas . . .


Regarding [story title]


In slush, where all hopes are sown,

one phrase can make us all groan—

the frustrating plight

of "not enough right"

compels us to send this work home.


Best wishes.


Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m told my story’s been rejected, I sure as heck don’t want to hear about it in a limerick. 


Not that this slush reader is the only one who thinks people need a little more than a straight ‘No thanks, not for us’ notice. I once got this rejection:

By the time you read this, your manuscript will have already been rejected. 

There's no sense in asking me why or what you could have done differently, because I've already moved on to other stories. 

It wasn't you.  It was me.  I -- Awww, who'm I kidding… it was partly you.  You didn't make me feel like you were really interested in making this relationship work.  I didn't feel any sparks between us.  You didn't make me laugh. 

This story wasn't a match made in heaven, but the next one may be.  Submit again.  If you don't, you'll regret it.  Maybe not today.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But soon.  And for the rest of your life.

Of course, I’m sure these people had the writer’s best interests at heart. They were probably trying to take the sting out of their rejection notice, and reading that second one again after more than a year, it doesn’t seem anywhere near as condescending as it did when I received it. 


However, when you’re telling a complete stranger that you don’t want to publish their story, I think it’s probably better to keep it short, bitter-sweet, and above all formal. 

How about you?


Would either of these have bothered you?


What’s the weirdest rejection notice you ever received?   



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( 63 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 6th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
I never got a truly weird one. Snooty in tone, yes, and full of typos (two different agent letters), but never weird.

I do not think I would appreciate limericks in a rejection letter, unless it actually conveyed useful information, as in something like this (which I just made up):

Your characters were well drawn, but
Too much exposition did you in.
Learn to polish and to cut;
Fix the typos and try again.

Form letters should leave humor alone, because, as we all know, no means no. Using humor in a form rejection is like making jokes while inflicting pain.

Edited at 2009-10-06 12:21 pm (UTC)
Oct. 6th, 2009 12:34 pm (UTC)
You know, a helpful limerick like that could work :)

Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 6th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
I'm sure they think they're being cute, but they're coming across as jerks. Writing is difficult enough without that.

I love the "we'll hold onto this until something better comes along" rejections. I've gotten that one two or three times.
Oct. 6th, 2009 12:55 pm (UTC)
'..."we'll hold onto this until something better comes along"...'

You'd think they'd be smart enough to realize it'd better to say nothing and reject or accept a piece later.

That said, from what I've heard, slush reading is a tough job.
Oct. 6th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
I like both of those, but then again, I appreciate limericks rather too much :)
Oct. 6th, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC)
I've written (and read) my share, though most seemed to open with a line about how there once was a young man from a town with a name that rhymed with a rude word ;)
Oct. 6th, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC)
Honestly, neither of those would have bothered me. I would probably have laughed, which is what I suspect the rejecting agent had in mind. You can't be too upset if your smiling, right? Scientific fact, that's just the way it works. ;)

I've gotten some VERY helpful rejections; one that totally pushed me up several rungs on the "learning to be less clueless" ladder. He took the time to tell me exactly what I was doing wrong, and those few things I was doing right. It stung, but it was awesome.

I think the wierdest rejection letter I got was the one that totally tore my manuscript to shreds for grammar errors that did not exist (my grammar is NEVER to be questioned!) within a letter so riddled with grammar/punctuation mistakes I couldn't take it seriously. I even gave her the benefit of the doubt at first, under the notion that maybe she was showing me MY mistakes by example--but no. The grammar she cited within my manuscript was spot on. She was simply an idiot. And strangely--I find her still listed among reputable agents. Now THAT is wierd.
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
'...my grammar is NEVER to be questioned...'

Amen to that. My old gran didn't like to be questioned either ;)
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Oct. 6th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
Strangest: "...incredibly well written, but we're not looking for that right now." I can only hope the editor meant that kind of story...
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
Lol, me too :)
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
It sounds like only good intentions were meant, but I also found both of them a little condescending.
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
For sure, I don't for a moment think they meant to offend, but I wonder how many people submit something else to them after receiving one of their rejections.
(no subject) - ghostposts - Oct. 6th, 2009 01:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 6th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:46 pm (UTC)
If you're not going to tell me anything useful in a rejection--e.g. a specific reason why the story was rejected--then just reject me and have done with it. These attempts at being cute in a form rejection are just annoying.

One market I submitted to sent back an 800-word "funny" rejection. Admittedly, it was humorous. But at the end of 800 words, I was no wiser about why the story was bounced. That's a waste of my time.
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
I think the key is in whether or not you have a better idea of why you were rejected. If you don't, then I agree with you. Tell me and be done with it.

Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
Any zine that would let a slush reader reply with trite, "cute" crap like that probably isn't worth subbing to. If it happened once I'd just roll my eyes. After a couple of times I'd take them off the list. It's unprofessional and, frankly, embarrassing.
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
The shame of it is (at least I hope the shame of it is) that these folks don't mean to offend.

As someone who's occasionaly caused offence without intent, I can certainly relate :)

Oct. 6th, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
I once got one saying: "Next time send us a better story".

Can't fault their honesty, though!
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, the old "I'm having a bad day, so let's take it out on this poor sucker" routine.

Some people are just gits, though as I've said, I don't think the two examples I cited fall into that category.
Oct. 6th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
I think that 'novelty rejections' are probably about as clever and professional as writing a novelty cover letter or query. I agree with Karen, unless it is providing a perspective on my writing I wouldn't care to receive one. And even then, I'd rather just have a few straight forward words with the deficiency clearly noted. So yeah, I guess I'm in the camp that feels it's unprofessional and condescending.

(My personal favorite rejection reason is there "There is nothing wrong with this story, but I found myself hating it from beginning to end." Which I've gotten with some variation, three or four times now. Which is loads better than the "Please never submit here ... or anywhere else again." rejection I once got. :O )
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:58 pm (UTC)
'..."Please never submit here ... or anywhere else again." rejection I once got...'

That's just mean :(
Oct. 6th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
I haven't gotten a bad rejection, a weird rejection, or a funny rejection yet. Unless you count "Alas, this story didn't hold my interest" as any of the above. Didn't think so.

The frustrating rejections I have gotten are "your story has made it to the second tier of review. It might be a few weeks before you hear from us, so please let us know if you would like us to release your story." Um. You mean it has a shot? Why would I want to screw that up? Then a couple weeks turns into another six months. And you start thinking, maybe I should have told them no thanks. It's like asking a girl to a dance and she says "I'll let you know in a couple weeks." And the dance is in a couple weeks. Is that a no, or should I start shopping for corsages?
Oct. 6th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
I guess near misses are worse than flat-out rejections, especially if you never get to find out what you did wrong.

Thanks for the input. I like that dance analogy :)
Oct. 6th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
Professionalism should be a two-way street.
I've gotten both snide and "funny" rejections before, and neither are my cup of tea. Sometimes I think they're funny, but usually after the irritation has passed. It's one thing to have a friend gently mock your aspirations, story, etc., but when a complete stranger does it...
Oct. 6th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Professionalism should be a two-way street.
'...Professionalism should be a two-way street...'

Abso-bloomin'-lutely :)
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 6th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
Accepted, then rejected by the same venue. That sucks :(

Did you ever find out why?
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 6th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 6th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
Nope. Neither would bother me. Why? Because a no is a no is a no.

Once it's a no, it gets marked as a reject, and I move on to the next market, or, having exhausted all markets, the story gets shelved.

I think people can waste a bit too much energy worrying about rejections. The truth about rejections is this: you didn't hit the mark, with that story, on that day, for that particular editor. That's it. Nothing more. Rejection notices aren't tea leaves you can divine your publishing future in.

Okay, maybe I'm biased because I am an editor as well as an author, but I think its easy to be distracted by the extraneous bits.
Oct. 6th, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
You're right, of course, and I certainly don't think we should take them personally, but it does seem a little odd that some people think (say) a limerick would make you feel better about a rejection than a formal letter.

By the way, Ed, congrats again on your inclusion in Ellen Datlow's honorable mention list. You must be well chuffed :)
(no subject) - temporus - Oct. 6th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 6th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
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