Why You Get Form Rejection Letters
By Jenna Glatzer
It's not your fault. Really,
it isn't-- not unless you're one of "those" writers.
Allow me to explain.
Whenever I've worked as an editor, I've invited query
letters and unsolicited submissions. For
various reasons, most of them weren't appropriate for the publications for which
they were intended. Although I
never used what you'd technically call form rejection letters, most of them were
When I had nothing positive to say, my letters basically
read, "Thanks, but this isn't for us." It's when the submissions had merit that I ran into trouble.
Then I had the tough decision to make: Do I tell this
writer WHY I'm rejecting the submission, or not?
You may wonder why that's a tough decision.
Of course there's the time issue; editors who get inundated with submissions
don't have the time to respond personally to each writer who submits. But
when we do have a free moment and would like to be honest with the writer, some
of us bite our tongues anyway. The reason? Not all writers know what it means to
be a professional. And not all of them can take criticism.
Whenever I sent constructive criticism with a rejection, I
knew there was about a 75% chance I'd hear nothing back (which was fine), a 5%
chance I'd get a quick "thanks for your consideration anyway" (which
was nice), and a 20% chance I'd get an argument (which was not fine).
Here's today's example.
A writer sent me a 58-page writing-related e-book that she
hoped I'd sell on Absolute Write. I
wrote back to explain why I couldn't carry the book: It was too short (in my
experience, people feel ripped off if they pay for a "book" and get
something less than 100 pages), it needed copyediting, some of the links were
broken, at least one of her statistics was very outdated, and her style was
inconsistent-- some links were "live," others were not.
Instead of paying attention to what I wrote and taking it
in the spirit that it was intended, she wrote back to tell me that I was
"unfair" to her book, and that I was basing my rejection on
"minor points." She gave
me a whole list of reasons and excuses for why it was okay that her book hadn't
been proofread, and why I must have been wrong about the broken links (I
She concluded by telling me that her book was better than
anything she's read when she started promoting her (vanity-published) book.
I wrote back to tell her that I didn't consider any of
those points minor, and that while she might be willing to overlook her book's
flaws, I wasn't.
I should have known better.
Of course, I got a second ego-smattered note complaining some more about
how I must not have really paid attention to what she wrote.
She, my friends, is exactly why you get form rejection
letters. As an editor, not only do
I not have the time or energy to get into arguments with every writer whose work
I turn down, but I also just plain don't want to. I was under no obligation to explain to that writer why I
didn't choose to carry her book, but I made the mistake of thinking it might
help her to know the flaws that I found.
Unfortunately, thanks to her, and others like her, editors
grow weary of explaining themselves, and those who'll stick their neck out and
offer real criticism come few and far between.
I appreciate editors like Elaine Greene at House
Beautiful. Although she's
rejected two of my stories, she took the chance and told me exactly why the
stories weren't right for her magazine. She
even went on to suggest which magazines might publish the pieces, and she used
my SASE to send me an example of something she'd recently published that was
along the lines of one of my stories. Now
THAT was sticking her neck out. I
admire her example.
She ran the risk that I'd write back and tell her why she
was wrong, why my piece was too good for her (yes, some writers really do say
things like that), threaten her (yes, some writers really do things like that),
etc. I've had writers ask me for
full "critiques" of pieces I've already said I can't publish, send me
quotes from their old English teachers to prove that they're really the greatest
writers in the world, and put me down directly because I dared to find a flaw in
their flawless prose. I have no
question that an editor at House Beautiful has gotten even more flak than
I have, so the fact that she took her chances that I wouldn't be one of the
"bad seeds" meant a lot to me.
I hate form rejection letters. I hate getting them, and I hate giving them.
I'd much rather offer my honest appraisals, because I like to think that
sometimes, a writer takes what I say and actually does something with it--
revises an article to make it stronger, hires a proofreader, learns how to write
a stronger opening sentence, etc. But
editors get burned time and again, and then we get jaded.
We learn that those 20% of authors who will write back to
argue just sap our energy. They
leave us with "bad vibes." They
make us never want to offer another piece of possibly-helpful criticism again.
The only proper response to a personal rejection letter is,
"Thank you for your time and consideration."
I don't care whether you think the editor is from Mars and has read some
completely different manuscript than the one you wrote; it does you absolutely
no good to write back and complain. It's
not going to get you published, it's not going to make the editor think you're
suddenly a better writer than the one whose work she rejected, and it's
certainly not going to help you in the future.
Editors talk to each other, and they remember the "unprofessionals."
(I keep a small list of the ones whose work I never, ever want to see
anywhere near my desk again.)
You can write a bad article, or a bad query, or a bad
manuscript, and chances are, I won't remember your name six months from now
(which is good, because you have a clean slate when you write something new).
But if you waste my time by arguing with my free advice or commentary,
you can bet I'll remember, and wherever I go as an editor, I'll make sure not to
It does such a disservice to the 80% of writers who could
actually benefit from an editor's words to resort to form letters.
The strongest editors may continue to offer comments despite the
unprofessional writers, but many just throw in the towel.
So, take heart-- it's not your fault that those letters
seem so impersonal. Really, it
isn't-- not unless you're one of "those" writers.
Reprinted with permission.
Jenna Glatzer is a full-time writer and ghostwriter. You can learn more details at: http://jennaglatzer.com/