By Bonnie Stanard
Recently I had a good rejection for a short story, at least I thought it was a good one. And yes, there are good rejections—something other than a slip of paper the size of a classified ad returned in your self-addressed stamped envelope. I have a file of select rejections, those with handwritten comments like “”some really nice lines in here,” or “this was a tough call,” or “Submit again!”
The rejections that really annoy me begin with, “We are writers too and we know how it feels…” as if we’re neophytes with no rejection experience. Just give me a reason or say “no.” By the way, I don’t mind the short, photocopied notes, but one time I got a slice of 8.5 x 11 paper no wider than ½ inch. Now that’s getting close to disrespectful.
One year, after my manuscript for a novel wasn’t chosen for the University of Tennessee’s Peter Taylor Prize, Director Brian Griffin wrote me a nice letter. I’ve read that rejection letter a number of times.
Anyway, back to what I thought was a good rejection. The editor wrote that my story just wasn’t what she was looking for and advised me to style my writing after that of a particular writer’s work in Narrator, a literary journal. This sounded sincere.
I looked up the website and found the article in the archive and read what was a nostalgic essay on the way things once were. It’s hard to figure out techniques for writing fiction from an essay. Maybe the editor was suggesting I get out of fiction and into nonfiction.
Being the cynic that I am, I’m beginning to wonder if even this “good” rejection was as generic as the four-line formulas. Maybe every rejected submission to that journal got this same response. Maybe the objective wasn’t to help me with my writing style but to increase the online traffic for a certain writer.
Looking ahead, the days of the rejection letter are numbered as editors and writers transition to the internet for submissions and communication. We’ve already seen the profusion of www magazines. Even elite print journals are adding online satellites. Whether online or print, most journals request or allow email submissions in which you either paste your manuscript in the body or attach it as a document.
A number of journals employ online submission managers. I have accounts on several of these. This eliminates email. You simply upload the document containing your work. Decisions from the editors are posted in a grid space reserved for rejections and acceptances, which you access by signing in. There’s virtually no communication between writers and editors.
Though this is easier and faster, it has a downside. With letters (or slips of paper), you can trash all those rejections and forget about them. However, with the submission manager, every time you sign in, you see all the material you’ve submitted that has been declined. If you’re like me, one rejection at a time is manageable, but it’s disheartening to see a long list of them. And on the other hand, you don’t get those nice, hand-written comments either.