The Not So Secret Hierarchy of Rejection Letters

If you’ve been submitting stories or poems to journals for more than a day or two, you’ve probably seen something like this:

Dear Writer,

Unfortunately, the work you submitted was not the right fit for us. Best luck placing it elsewhere.

Best Wishes,

The Editors

It’s impersonal, not exactly brusk, but certainly right to the point. The good thing about these kinds of responses is that you know right away that the good folks at that prestige mag aren’t writing about your Pushcart nomination.

A week or two ago, the writing community on twitter had a laugh (and a justifiable “ew, David,”) about a round of rejection emails that opened with the word “Congratulations.” I think the rest of the email said something like “this piece wasn’t for us, but congratulations on being invited to submit to our next contest” or something.

I mean, that’s a pretty gross move.

If you’re new to all of this, I give you the Not So Secret Hierarchy of Rejection Letters.

1: The standard form letter like the one seen above.  Not very gratifying, but don’t take it personally.  You’re busy, they’re busy, and that’s just how it goes.


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 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.

The most important thing to remember?  We’re talking about subjective responses to art.  You will “fail” often, especially in the beginning.  The thing is persistence (and very often, revision).

2 thoughts on “The Not So Secret Hierarchy of Rejection Letters

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