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Ranking rejection

All writers will receive rejection letters, but all "no's" are not equal.

Rejection letter
A rejection letter. Image by KenoKickit/Shutterstock
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Every writer gets them before acceptance comes along. Numbers of rejection letters vary – 60, 100, enough to paper the office. One wonders about the sanity of entering a profession with so much guaranteed gloom.

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Pursuing a writing life necessitates the development of coping skills. Even the most famous of writers tell rejection stories, beginning with their early days and sometimes continuing long after their names have become bigger than the titles on their books. Managing mechanisms vary. Trying to avoid the temptation to give it all up when one refusal follows another, I’ve discounted the idea of papering my walls with rejection letters as too depressing. Instead, I’ve turned the tables on the senders without their knowledge. I’ve developed a point-ranking system for editor letters and rate them from zero (low) to 10 (high):


These actually aren’t letters at all. They fall in the category of “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” Think some version of, “Due to the enormous volume of submissions we receive, we no longer respond to or return submissions in which we are not interested. If you haven’t heard from us in three months-six months-a year, feel free to send your manuscript somewhere else.” Zero response gets zero points.


A card, letter, or email with nothing handwritten on it that begins, “Dear Author,” “Dear Friend,” or “Dear Contributor” and fails to leave me feeling “dear.” In the old days, this letter’s disfavor might be compounded by the realization they were trying to run one more copy before refilling the ink on the print drum. Today, it may be a copy-and-paste to an email.



A checklist with something marked on it indicates that someone somewhere gave the manuscript at least a little attention. Here I get a clue about why the editor didn’t accept it and an opportunity to decide whether to include the suggestion into a rewrite before sending it out again.


An improvement on the checklist has something written by a human hand – a sentence, a short comment, or a signature. My favorite sentence so far is: Sorry, we just didn’t love it enough. A real person on the other end…who would have thought?


Even better is the checklist with a meaningful note mentioning something in the writing that lets me know the manuscript was read. Maybe there’s a reference to a character, the setting, or a plot twist. With a real person on the other end who realizes there is a real person on this end, the rejection can almost be forgiven.



Moving up the scale is a personal letter addressed “Dear Mrs. Butler” or “Dear Virginia.” Somehow, I feel the “dear” when they use my name, probably much like the editors do. Aren’t they always telling writers to use their names and spell them correctly?