Another Note on Rejection Letters

I first wrote A Note about Rejection Letters in March of 2007, one month before Gary Wilkens and I founded The Externalist: A Journal of PerspectivesThe Externalist is more than two years old now, and as I continue to receive rejection letters of my own, I’m forced to consider the whole process from the other side of the desk.  I know now that a rejection really might have nothing to do with the quality of my work.  I know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if an editor takes the time to write a note on my rejection letter, that is a positive sign (unless, of course, it says something like “Don’t ever submit to us again”).  I know that good writing is turned down all the time and that if one market doesn’t like a piece, another market still might.  Interestingly enough, none of this makes me feel any better.  Rejection is, after all, still rejection, right?

As if the simple knowledge that rejection is still rejection isn’t enough, having been on the other side of the desk, I now recognize that certain mistakes in cover letters or manuscript format or submission method can be the cause of a rejection just as easily as “not quite right for us,” “too many good pieces to publish all of them,” or any of the other standard jargon that comes in a letter. 

For example, a writer sent me an email not long ago asking for permission to send their piece as an attachment to protect formatting needs.  I replied that permission was given and to tell the poetry editor that I had done so in the cover letter so he would know, and signed, as I always do, “Sincerely, Larina Warnock, editor.”  The writer immediately (I’m talking within five minutes) sends the submission–to the wrong email address and thereby, the wrong editor–with a cover letter that begins, “Dear Lorinda.” 

I’d be lying if I said that my gut reaction was anything other than to write a Bectonian email and use my position as editor to block this writer’s work from seeing the light of day.  I am, after all, only human and on a particularly bad day, when someone makes a mistake like that one, it does cross my mind that I can send cruel emails or worse, send no email at all.  This writer was lucky as it wasn’t a particularly bad day, so I only wrote back and said, “All poetry submissions must go to our poetry editor” (I have since ceased this practice and just delete any unsolicited submission sent to the general editor email addy).  I didn’t even bold my name when I signed the reply.

A few weeks ago, I received a very nice rejection letter (my third) from Beloit Poetry Journal.  Handwritten on the letter was a note that cited two of the poems I’d sent as coming very close and encouragement to submit again, but what caught my attention more than that was that my original cover letter addressed, “Dear Mr. Rosenwald & Mr. Sharkey.”  The second Mr. was circled and above it, handwritten, was a “Ms.”  Snap.

So I second guess myself.  If it takes a long time to hear back, I wonder if I forgot to send a SASE.  If that length of time ends with a form letter, I wonder if it took a long time because the work came close, sucked bad enough to not be worth an immediate reply, or was justifiable revenge for misaddressing the cover letter. 

Worse, just as those who get a standardized rejection letter from The Externalist will likely never know if the editor was short on time that day or in a really bad mood, I will never know if my own very human, but very irresponsible mistakes have cost me a publication or two.  But hey, it beats wondering if the writing is really that bad, doesn’t it?


Note: The first post “A Note about Rejection Letters” is the most read entry on this blog (My Little Voting Poem takes second, though I think Another Voting Poem is a better piece).

12 thoughts on “Another Note on Rejection Letters

  1. Pingback: VandeNikhilam USA » Another Note on Rejection Letters « Significance & Inspiration

  2. Great post, Lordinda. KIDDING. Very informative, Larina, and as an occasional editor at and, I often wonder what to say as well. I feel like any comment on the work comes off as snotty or too critical, but saying nothing feels cold. So I try to find a nice way to say that this was off theme or too long or generally good writing, but not quite what I was looking for, and by all means keep writing and submitting.

    I’m off to read the first post on rejection letters.

    Great looking blog by the way, excellent choice! 🙂


  3. Thanks for stopping by, Richard! I’ve learned that 95% of all writers will appreciate any personalized comment that you make, even if that comment is, “This piece doesn’t feel quite ready for publication.” I recently received a note thanking me for not accepting a piece because the author had gone back to it after a long time away and completely understood where I was coming from. The other 5% are divided equally into the categories of “mildly amusing” and “downright scary.”

  4. Hahhahahhaha…haven’t gotten the scary yet but I did get a nice response from a publisher who rejected my novel, Transubstantiate. It was very close, I won a contest with them, and thought…hey, maybe they’d like my book. One editor loved it, one…not so much. So I was bummed because I thought I might sneak it through, be one of those stories, “Oh, I didn’t have any problems getting my first novel published, in fact, the first press I sent it to…” So when I sent back a thoughtful response to the nice, lengthy rejection they were just happy I didn’t get all indignant and angry. He told me I’d be surprised at some of the nasty responses. Heck, I’m hoping maybe they’ll bite on my 2nd novel. Can’t burn bridges, right?


  5. One of these days, I’ll write a blog post titled “Ten Rejection Letters I’d Like to Send.” Even better, maybe I’ll ask all the journal editors I know to share one rejection letter story that they really remember (no names of course). I get why writers get frustrated, discouraged, or otherwise upset. I don’t get why some insist on digging themselves further into a hole that will just narrow their chances even more. Sounds like you have a great handle on professionalism!

  6. Thanks. But I do understand as the submissions go up, dealing with 50 rejections a day vs. 2 is a much bigger deal and I get why forms are necessary, I just don’t like them.

  7. I recently sent out a short story fiction piece to a major publisher. However, it was my first submission and I neglected to enclose a SASE. After learning that enclosing a SASE was imperative I did not expect a reply. Four months later I received a standard form rejection which addressed me personally and mentioned the title of my piece. The editor suggested I retain a literary agent and provided The Literary Marketplace as a reference point. Although I was disappointed by the rejection I was encouraged that I was addressed personally and my title was acknowledged, not to mention the fact that I received a reply at all considering I did not enclose a SASE. Should I see this as a positive sign or am I just in denial? Please share your honest opionion it would be greatly appreciated.

  8. That’s fantastic. They could very easily have blown you off. And a standard form rejection often has no name (Dear Author) and does not address your work by name, nor do they suggest you retain an agent. That’s way above a standard form rejection letter or slip. See this as a VERY positive sign. What major place, can I ask? There is major and there is MAJOR. Didn’t mean to butt in here, but since my blog is the same template and Larina and I are separated Siamese twins, I often speak up in here.

    Neo-noir fiction

  9. I did not think publishers would reject my poems so often. I thought I was better than that and I still do. Sometimes I feel personally assaulted. I read their damn publication and the hacks that are accepted and want to puke. Is it all about have a subscription, buying their how to manuals and enrolling in their courses is that what writing is about. The last two mentioned we are not rejecting you for the quality of your work. We have published writers with less ability who meet our criteria. The letters are getting longer and longer which may be a good sign. A couple people even initialed them in in pen. The odd having said that comment is also used. It’s like a couple times when I asked a girl out and she said you’re too goo good for me and I’ll hurt you. Do people really mean what they are saying, do they assume I am that fragile for the truth. What is with all this BS. I have always been upfront with people and I get little in mutual feedback.Sincerely JT

    • John, a rejection often has little to do with the quality of your work. Editors are people. They have subjective tastes. As if that isn’t enough, they receive hundreds (and often thousands) of submissions per month, especially if they are paying markets. I have three journals that I submit to once or twice a year because I respect the quality of their journal and want to be a part of it. Persistence pays off.

      Unfortunately, there are a large number of journals and mags out there that use the submission process to gather new subscribers. There are varying opinions about the ethics of this, but the reality is that just as they wouldn’t exist without us writers, we writers wouldn’t exist without places to write for.

      Unless it’s over payment or breach of contract, avoid heated exchanges with editors at all costs. Editors talk to each other. Seriously.

  10. Avoid magazines like future cycle and evening street press. They all want subscribers not writers. I had a heated exchange with the editor at future cycle. He is nothing but a pompous 3 initial turd who is probably a failed poet turned lit prof turned editor. I was offended by their website, join our contests and buy poetry bundles he is so full of himself. He called me a poetaster, incorrectly using the word mind you. Nothing in work is overly sentimental, i don’t try to rhyme and I am naturally trying to be absurd it isn’t an unintentional thing to humor. He rejected me flat out because I am Canadian and my last name because my work is good. he got so defensive he was personal with me and called the magazines that I was published in crap. I know I shouldn’t start fights but his arrogance gets to you. RSK are his intitals like its a huge risk to send your work to him. We can all take rejection, but don’t pretend you have read my work when you haven’t. I don’t need him and none of you do. At evening press they kind of said they were a little wrong posting their pay pal info as a link to the rejection letter. I know they are not rejecting me personally but when you question RSK about integrity he flies off the handle. I shouldn’t get out of poetry he should quit editing. He tells me he loses money with his bundles what a jackass. I don’t mind the rejection don’t try to sell me something or pretend you’ve read my work is all I’m saying. I threatened I was going to post reviews of the magazine on the web and I am going through with it. I don’t lie.JT

  11. How do I control myself with these editors, yes I shouldn’t write back critiques of their selection process but their smugness is too much. Susan Bright of Plain View Press is another moron she misconstrued my work completely. Are they suggesting we just all kill ourselves and get it over with. You read their work and it’s not that good and they think they can squash people like bugs. I’m so angry I don’t care they all drop dead or contract deadly diseases. They are a bunch of wastes of skin. It’s because it is in the back of their minds that they will reject people just because they we’re rejected and probably are still terrible writers themselves. It is so apparent that they are only pond scum sucking lit instructors they want people to quote their books and their DVDs, just die already the planet does not need ditch pigs like you.

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