This lets you know right away that the rest of the email is not about your Pushcart nomination.
After the obligatory “Dear Author/Writer/Word Processing Chimpanzee,” the very first word of the first sentence should be “unfortunately.” This saves writers from having to scan the rest of text for the word. It also means that if the writer’s e-mail service shows body text previews, the writer doesn’t even have to open the email to know s/he’s been slush-piled. I still recommend reading the actual rejections just in case there are specific comments or requests for more work.
This message has been brought to you by the editors of a review somewhere in the formerly industrial midwest. Remembering which story I sent them four months ago is pretty tough, and it looks like they forgot the title, too.
Since many of you visit this blog looking for bits and pieces about the MFA process and the nuts and bolts of trying to get pieces published, I thought I’d share the secret hierarchy of rejection letters.
1: The standard form letter like the one seen here. Not very gratifying, but don’t take it personally. You’re busy, they’re busy, and that’s just how it goes. That said, don’t submit to a market that doesn’t allow simultaneous subs, or, if you do, submit other places anyway. In my opinion, markets have no right to tell you not to submit elsewhere, especially in the current climate.
2: The form letter with your name and the title of your piece. Pretty standard practice. I think I get more rejections with this level of personalization than without.
3: The personalized rejection letter with a personal note telling you how much they liked your story, even though it’s not for them, and encouraging you to send them more. In the super-competitive and completely subjective literary world, this can feel almost as good as an acceptance when you’re moving along this spectrum. When you’re at this point with a specific piece or a specific market, you know that the editors really looked hard at your piece, thought about it, and saw enough promise (or whatever they look for) to personally encourage you as a writer. No one owes you that, so when you get it, it’s a good thing. Follow up with a thank you.
No, I’m not really upset with the formerly industrial midwestern review for rocking the old #1 on me. It comes with the territory, and if you can’t handle something like that, you’re going to need to toughen up if you want your stories told, and if you’re going to write the kinds of stories people will want to share. And remember: this entire process is based on subjective responses to art. You will fail often, especially in the beginning. The important thing is to keep trying and, if you must fail, to keep failing better.