Writing A Rejection of a Rejection Letter
I get rejected a lot. At least one or two on slow days. As many as five on fast ones. I have a system set up on my mac that flashes the first few words of an incoming email in a little window at the upper left hand corner of my screen. I’m so good at reading rejections that I can usually tell from these curtailed snapshots whether it’s a rejection or an acceptance. It turns out “Thank you for sending us…” is as good as a loud buzzer on a game show–or that Wah wah wah wawawawa sound from cartoons. Just about anything personal at the start of a letter is good. So is “Congrats.” If it says “Congratulations,” I do back flips.
But alas, most are rejections. My Submittable account tells me I have over 400 of them — and that’s not anywhere near the total. I used to collect them back in the days of snail mail and postcards. My writing window sill was proudly adorned with these replies. Each one a big fat NO. But I saw them as little stepping stones toward the elusive YES. Because that’s what rejection is: a dreary prelude to a grand symphony.
Most of the time, rejection feels like nothing at all. Especially when I’m in a writing groove. So thick in the process of writing, when I feel like those early monks who literally drew themselves into the very scrolls they transcribed, sitting at the writing table under the curving leg of an R as big as a house. When I’m dwelling in the writing process like a friar in an alphabet house, rejection doesn’t touch me. Sometimes, though, it sneaks up on me. It makes me a little crazy. My house of letters falls on top of me. I tend to respond with words made up of four of my favorite letters.
Got a rejection today for a story that may be too subtle for most harried readers. The two main characters are admittedly unlikable. They don’t make you want to like them, but my hope was to paint them and their interaction in such a way as to make you want to, at least, see what trouble they can get their unlikable selves into before the story or your patience for them ends. Anyways, chalk this one up to Lessons from the Universe number 74-j.
The rejection was unusual because it contained a few snippets of feedback. That sounds good, right? We want individual feedback from editors, right? Well, we should be careful what we wish for.
Many editors are so busy that their personalized comments are perforce abbreviations of a larger, more well-thought out idea. What you get beyond the standard repertoire of reasons– “not enough tension,” “didn’t jolt us emotionally,”–generally boils down to exactly what you get in the usual template rejection– “it’s not quite right for us.”
How I wish that, just once, a crueler type of person than most editors are would grab the brass ring of editor-in-chief and write back to rejected submitters with all the charm of an ejected bullet casing. “This sucked.” “We didn’t like it.” Or else (the hair-band version): “Writer, don’t walk away mad. Writer, just walk away.”
The problem is that specificity is a tea woefully steeped in bias–not enough tension, unclear turning point, no clear thematic message, and now–the latest in a string of actual comments from editors which I shall file under TMI–unlikable protagonist.
I’ve decided to practice the fine art of writing rejection letters back to my rejection letters. You should give it a try. It’s loads of fun. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Dear Garrulous Editor,
Thank you for sending us “Your Two Cents”. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the advice is not quite right for us.
Best of luck in placing this advice elsewhere.