The Stupidity of Rejection Letters


Some time ago, I sent off a revised version of this story to a small literary magazine. It’s not the greatest story, but it’s very unique: A Holocaust tale told in the form of a narrated children’s story and featuring an M. Night Shamalamadingdong twist at the end starring KISS’s Gene Simmons.

Although (or likely because) it’s weird and flawed, I like this particular story very much. I’ve sent it it out several times and have never gotten so much as a nibble, yet I keep trying because right or wrong I believe there’s something worthwhile about this one.

The overwhelming majority of story submissions — not just mine, and not just this specific story — don’t earn so much as a personal “no thank you.” Sometimes the writer never hears back, but most often we receive form letter rejections, or boilerplates. Stories of famous writers who hung their hundreds of rejections like wallpaper or jabbed them onto spikes are aloe for some authors’ burns, but form letter after form letter can take an emotional toll. Don’t let that happen.

Occasionally if you’re lucky you’ll receive a boilerplate that’s so remarkably off the mark that it can’t be taken personally, like the one I received recenty for my weird and flawed story:

Dear James

Thank you for sending us “Loneliness Will Haunt You, Will You Sacrifice”. We appreciate the chance to read it. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but we’re going to have to turn your piece away into the cold. Sometimes we’ve already got a similar piece, sometimes we’ve seen a few too many like it lately, and sometimes we’re just in a bad mood and feel better taking it out on you.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.

What I love about this form letter is that the template pulled in both my name and the name of the story. This should give me some sense of personalization, but the text is so absurdly out of alignment with my submission that it made me laugh. Somehow I doubt that this particular small literary magazine has run too many stories about Gene Simmons, my grandfather, and Mauthausen concentration camp. I question whether they are overwhelmed with submissions of that type, either. Granted, I may have triggered the “bad mood” clause, but the notion that a story of such specificity would be rejected for those particular reasons really tickled me.

My point here is not that I was ill-treated — I wasn’t. This publisher’s form letter was kind and clever, with a quirky humor meant to take the sting out of rejection. I admire that.

No, my point is this: If you’re writing and submitting, don’t let the rejection form letters get to you. Most editors are trying to be nice and to let you down gently. And when you run into one that comes across as unintentionally funny, please share it with your friends. We can all use a laugh now and then.

Categories: Music

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1 reply »

  1. I’m not a writer…I don’t think I have the thick skin for it…on top of other deficiencies, of course. But I have to say that was a rather funny way to let you down.


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