June 14, 2015 by Nathaniel Tower
I’m really good at getting rejected. With almost 1,000 rejections to my name, I know everything there is to know about being told “we don’t want to publish this piece of trash.”
Unfortunately, rejection letters don’t always say what they really mean. In general, editors try to be nice. They want to spare our feelings. No matter how terrible our stories are, the rejections are usually pleasant enough. Sure, there have are a few insulting rejections in my archive, but the vast majority are from kind-hearted editors.
Although rejection can be upsetting, I’d actually love to receive more of those “insulting” responses. If the story I’m submitting is terrible, I want the editors to tell me. Sometimes I can’t spot my own lousy writing. If only those editors could help me out by letting me know I should retire the piece forever. But they almost never do. So I keep plugging away with the same horrible story, being told over and over that “it’s just not right for us” and that “it will get published elsewhere.”
I’m sure there are times when editors want to say what they really think of my crummy story. But they almost always hold back with either a form rejection or a few generic lines of commentary.They probably don’t care that much about my feelings though. Mostly, they don’t want a lot of online backlash. The last thing any publisher needs is having a snarky rejection letter go viral.
After analyzing all my rejections and evaluating some common trends, I’ve learned how to read a rejection. Since editors often won’t tell me exactly how they feel, I’m left to figure it out myself. This helps me avoid wasting time sending out that bad story again or submitting more work to a venue that just doesn’t like my writing.
Previously, I’ve written about the different types of rejections and what you should do about them. Now it’s time to dig into the truth about the actual words in your rejection slip.
Here’s what some common lines from rejection letters really mean:
Keep us in mind for future submissions = There’s not a chance in hell we’ll ever publish your work, but remember to visit our website and promote our work on occasion.
This piece doesn’t fit our aesthetic = We thought this was awful and can’t imagine anyone wanting to read it.
Please note that we receive thousands of submissions and have to pass on many good ones = We get a lot of stories, some of which are good. Yours was not.
After careful consideration, we’ve decided to pass on your submission = One of our slush editors made it halfway through the first sentence before falling asleep.
Okay, I’m obviously being a bit cynical here, but sometimes writers need to be willing to take a longer look in the mirror and realize that not everything they write is going to win a Pushcart Prize. We shouldn’t get excited about canned responses like “keep us in mind for future submissions.” That often doesn’t mean they want to see more from us. They’re just being nice.
Of course, many publications do provide meaningful and honest feedback that’s worth taking into consideration before you send out your story again. But there’s two important things to remember about any rejection:
- Any editor’s opinion is subjective and isn’t necessarily reflective of the merit of your writing
- Editors aren’t always honest about your story, but if they don’t accept it, then there’s probably something you could do better.
While I’d love to get more specific (and more honest) feedback on my submissions, I’ve come to accept that editors aren’t going to go out of the way to tell me my work is terrible. But I can often figure it out anyway.