Building a career as a writer is always going to involve rejection and I’m no stranger to it. About mid-way through 2020 I decided I was going to start submitting properly to literary journals and websites which is a guarantee that I’d quickly find myself very well acquainted with ‘thanks, but no thanks’ emails. I’d sent off work before 2020 (as you can see by my pre-2020 publications), but this was the point I started keeping track of where, and what I was writing in a spreadsheet.
I was lucky. The first poem on my spreadsheet (Credit Card Gal) was published by The Fieldstone Review, the Daily Drunk then accepted ‘When Medusa Goes Shopping’, and my short story ‘For The Love of Jellyfish’ ranked as a finalist in the London Independent Story Prize. In total, I sent out 14 submissions to journals, prizes, and competitions, and got back three publications.
2021 saw 41 submissions and 2 publications, while last year I managed 29 submissions: two successful, and two which ranked but did not get any further. I’m still waiting on responses for a couple so those numbers could change just a smidge. On the whole the numbers don’t matter. I’m immensely proud of the publications I have, and I write because the words are going to come out no matter what I do. Learning to craft them into something beautiful has been a requirement for my own sanity. However, statistics (lies, damn lies and statistics) are not what I want to talk about in this post.
I want to talk about thick skin, or more specifically, the requirement for writers to have thick skin.
Personally, I’m relatively good at shrugging off that initial, sharp breath moment of rejection. You can often tell before you open the email if it’s going to be disappointing news. “Thanks so much for your submission” will immediately drop my heart through my ribcage, because I don’t think I’ve seen an acceptance yet that starts with those words. It’s a standard form opening for ‘thank you, but no thank you’ emails, and it does its job. My disgruntled musings do not stem from those words themselves, but the tone of the last rejection that I received.
Before I try to explain why this email rankled me as much as it did, I’m going to be very clear that under no circumstances should a writer ever respond to a rejection with abuse. An editor is well within their rights to pick whichever work they wish to for their publications. If you send work off for consideration, you do so in the knowledge that it might not get picked up. This I understand fully.
The part I can’t on board with, are the form rejections that come across a bit… well, rude.
The one I got today is three sentences long, and I know it’s a template job because it’s an exact match to the previous rejection I have from this press. I’m not going to name the press, and I will delete any comments that mention it, but here is the body of the email in full:
Thanks so much for your submission. We appreciate the chance to read your work, but unfortunately won’t be publishing it in our next issue. Best of luck with finding a home for it elsewhere.
It’s brief, it’s concise, and who knows, on any other day, at any other time, I might not have felt quite so hurt by it. But in this particular case I did feel hurt. I think it’s because it is an exact copy, which means someone is using a template and sending these out in bulk. Not an issue in itself, but if you’re going to create a template rejection for your press to use over an extended period (my first rejection was in 2021) should it not read a little less rushed?
Form rejections are a thorny topic, and not one I think I’m in a position to solve, but I would like to suggest this:
If you’re using a template for your rejection emails, and you’re not open for submissions all year but have set windows for certain issues, perhaps tweak the template for each window.
I’m going to leave this topic here. This is not a press I will likely submit to again because it appears my work doesn’t suit their style, or their tastes, and that’s fine. We all have different styles and tastes and part of sending out work is finding the journals that your work fits into. The initial disappointment of this rejection was somewhat mollified by my other half bringing home cheesy bites. In a couple of days I will sit down and send out more poems and maybe a short story or two for consideration with different journals, but for tonight I’m going to call time. Getting rejected sucks, but it shows I’m putting the work in. It’s still a step in the right direction.
Well done on the published ones.
As for the template rejection, it’s what it is; a shorthand for busy people.
It’s nice when you get one that looks a little more as if someone actually read the submission and had a reason for not taking it on, and shares that reason. The template provides a benchmark I guess.
The thing that worries me is if/when humans delegate AI chatbots to write individually tailored rejections.
What worries me more is when they start rejecting the work written by other AI chatbots.
What worries me even more is when they start accepting the work written by other AI chatbots.
Maybe evidence of good old human indifference is to be cherished?
Good luck with future submissions.
I’m perfectly on board with template rejections, they’re a necessity in publishing. My point was more along the lines that if you’re running a professional press, insuring the tone is right in that template rejection is important as it makes a statement about you as a press. Out of all the places I’ve rejected over the last three years, this one had to be the most abrupt rejections I’ve received.
I agree entirely with you. It should be done better. In my experience it’s a mix (and I have had shorter rejections) that’s all. The only thing to do is to do as you have done. Shrug, take heart in your acceptances and don’t submit where you feel that is appropriate. After all we may need them to publish, but they need good writing to have a job. Best wishes.