Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Reading the tea leaves of rejection

I got a rejection yesterday. Having been an editor for nearly two decades, I gave it a glance and updated my submission records. I’m mostly interested in the “yes” or “no” part of a rejection slip, and, as I stated in a previous post, I have an expectation of courtesy.

But I can easily remember when I was a new submitter, and each rejection was an oracle sent with a message from another realm. I puzzled over every word, including pronouns. (“We” welcome you to send more? Did they discuss this? How many editors and interns huddled up and decided to ask me, Karen Craigo, to send a couple more poems their way some time?)

Here is the text of yesterday’s actual poetic smackdown. Let’s analyze:

Dear Karen Craigo,

Thank you for sending us "three poems." We appreciated the chance to read your work. We will not be including your submission in the upcoming issue, but we wish you well with your writing and hope that your work will be a perfect fit for another publication.

Apologies for the delay in responding.

We do accept--and encourage--simultaneous submissions. See long lists of other publication possibilities at http://newpages.com/ , http://www.pw.org/literary_magazines?&perpage=* , https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/crwropps-b/info , and http://www.thereviewreview.net/ .

Thanks again.

The XXX Review

This rejection has a lot to recommend it. It’s personalized (but don’t read too much into that—I know the software, and it does this automatically). There is a note of thanks (“We appreciated the chance to read your work”), as there should be. (I thank them, too, for their time and effort.) There is also an apology for a late response, although I didn’t find it all that late. Some writers watch the clock when they submit, but I submit and forget. I see that I submitted this work in September, and four months seems fine to me.

I rather enjoy the paragraph about simultaneous submissions. My guess? The editor has received queries recently, or perhaps some grief about tardy responses. The subtext here is that writers didn’t have to hold their breath; their waiting time could have been well spent in submitting to other journals. This editor probably shares my philosophy, which is that simultaneous submissions keep us sharp. Editors need to know that if they snooze, they lose; if they take too long, the consequence could be loss of good work. This is not an argument to disallow simultaneous submissions; it is best seen as one for allowing them and getting to them swiftly.

The only place this rejection goes wrong for me is in the note of encouragement, where they “hope (my) work will be a perfect fit for another publication.” This may sound like an extreme view, but I don’t think what happens next to my rejected work is any business of this publication’s. I’m sure it will be a fit, perfect or otherwise, somewhere. It all seems to find a home eventually. In an effort to be encouraging, this editor tipped the balance a bit into patronizing. It’s not something I desire or appreciate, particularly. A better note of encouragement would have been a more general “Good luck in placing this elsewhere.” See the difference? Their way is a false platitude—they hope (really? this is on their mind?) my work will be a perfect fit (when I rather doubt there is such a thing). This editor was being courteous, but she went a little too far.

By the way, this is a very average rejection. It is not a “send again” rejection, despite the note of appreciation. Everyone gets some version of this rejection. Better work, in the editors’ eyes, typically gets an additional line that specifically says something to the effect of “We invite you to submit again.” And a few editors have a bad rejection, too, that says something like, “Please familiarize yourself with our publication before sending again.” Ouch. This, though—the standby, the basic form rejection—is the easy, habitual choice; it takes no thought, and it was not personalized in any way. It represents an editor doing business professionally, and it’s more than acceptable to me.

As I get more rejections, I’ll post and analyze some of them in the future. I certainly hope I haven’t blown it with this post, though! What if all of the editors just accept my work so they can avoid the notoriety?

It’s a risk I’m willing to take.


  1. I like this thing here that you are doing, Craigo.

    1. Thank you for those very kind words, Anthony! These things are complicated. They're amazingly frank at their core -- "send again" REALLY means "send again" -- but that's all surrounded by code, accidental and intentional. Fascinating to me. :)

  2. Karen, I had the same reaction when I read the rejection: "In an effort to be encouraging, this editor tipped the balance a bit into patronizing."

    1. Oh, I'm glad it's not just me! :) It seems like her heart was very much in the right place, but the message could be tweaked to some advantage, I think.

  3. My worst rejection slip came from a hard copy submission. It was the standard thanks, but no thanks letter, along with an advert asking me to subscribe to their publication. It felt like a slap in the face.