My Favorite Rejections

July 2, 2020 § 27 Comments

gossBy Erica Goss

My favorite rejections start with “Dear Erica” and end with “sincerely.”

They explain that regretfully, unfortunately, after close review, even though it was lovely, even though it sparked interest, even though they were impressed, even though they enjoyed reading it, even though there was much to admire, even though it stood out from the rest, even though they appreciated the opportunity to read it, my work does not fit their needs.

They often seem disappointed. After all, they read my work with care, with pleasure, with interest, with gratitude, and with the closest attention. I almost feel sorry for them. I certainly feel sorry for myself.

Once in a while, the rejection comes with the explanation that they received so much high quality work it made their selection process extremely difficult. This is hard. I understand. I assume, of course, that my submission was part of the high quality work they refer to.

There is often a fee for rejection. This is also called a reading fee.

After I receive my rejection I’m frequently asked to buy something else. I’m invited to make a donation, buy a subscription, enter a contest, contribute to a tip jar, and recommend that others do as well.

Of course, due to the volume of submissions, they cannot respond personally.

It makes me happy when I’m asked to submit again, even if it requires another reading fee.

I keep track of my rejections. No rejection is ever forgotten. It lives forever as an entry in my spreadsheet.

I don’t like to see the word “rejected” in my spreadsheet. I prefer “declined.” It’s easier to see “declined” over and over, page after page, year after year.

I look back at my spreadsheet. I calculate my acceptance rate. From my figures, it seems I have mastered this rejection thing.

When I’m bored, I’ll see if the rejection email from a particular journal has changed. Some journals have sent me the same rejection email, word for word, for years.

There’s a thing called a “tiered” rejection. From a menu of rejection emails, the journal chooses one based on how much they liked your submission. From the rejection emails I have received, I can see that I’ve gotten rejections that range from terse to encouraging and back to terse again, from the same journals. This is true of journals that have accepted my work, as well as the ones that have rejected me over and over.

I try not to send my work to a journal that stipulates, in words similar to these, “If we haven’t responded in x number of months, consider yourself unchosen.” I want an actual, emailed rejection to seal the deal.

However, for reasons that aren’t always clear, those rejections might not come. Fairly often, the journal goes under and fails to inform the writers. When that happens, it’s hard to know what to put in my spreadsheet. “Never heard back?” “Ghosted?” “Crickets?”

I’m never sure if I should consider my work rejected if I haven’t heard back in a year. You’d be surprised how often a year goes by before you hear from a journal.

Sometimes, like curses or wise men, rejections come in threes, on the same day, in the same hour. Sometimes, this is how the day starts.

Rejections have a special look to them. The subject line almost always starts with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”

I’m an editor as well as a submitter, and much of the above applies to me when I receive submissions of other people’s writing. If I have to decline a submission, I try to inform the writer as soon as possible, and in as kind a tone as possible. If I liked their work, I invite them to submit again.

Every time I send a rejection, I remember how it feels to get those emails that start with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”

My rejection might be that writer’s third in one day.

Some days are like that.

Erica Goss is a poet and freelance writer. She served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA from 2013-2016. Her essays, reviews and poems appear widely, including in Lake Effect, Atticus Review, Contrary, Convergence, Spillway, Cider Press Review, Eclectica, The Tishman Review, Tinderbox, The Red Wheelbarrow, and Main Street Rag, among others. She is the founder of Girls’ Voices Matter, an arts education program for teen girls.


§ 27 Responses to My Favorite Rejections

  • Julie McGue says:

    Your post could not come at a better time. In one day I received a rejection from a writer’s program I felt certain I was a shoo-in for, and an unexpected acceptance to something else that I felt certain I would be rejected. Thanks for sharing all the right words to encourage and console others of us in the trenches! Your words matter.

  • I love this: Rejections have a special look to them. The subject line almost always starts with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”

  • fritzdenis says:

    I read a story about an artist who kept getting rejections. He responded to a particularly cruel response with a rejection-rejection. It read something like this: “I’m sorry to inform you that your recent rejection did not meet current standards. Your explanation that you’ve received many fine applications does not seem credible given your history of rejecting excellent (my) work. However, I see potential in your efforts and invite you to reject my future applications. Yours sincerely…

  • mimijo3795 says:

    Then there is the legendary Chinese publisher’s rejection letter: “We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”

  • Cindy says:

    Oh I love this! Just got a rejections after a long discuss that I felt sure that I would be accepted. What a nice word to console. Wonderful sharing!

  • Perfect.

    [Also the rare rejection that seems to be addressed to someone other than yourself: a kind fiction rejection sent in response to poems. Yes, that one went under.]

  • SANDY KLINE says:

    I loved your post! I’m thankful wise Brevity editors did NOT reject it!

  • Nina Gaby says:

    Uh, yeah, yesterday was a three-fer. Hmmm. What a coincidence!

  • Liana Joy says:

  • A balm! I, too, have re-named “rejected” as “declined” on my spreadsheet. I offered the editors the opportunity to publish my work; they declined. Feels like less of a blow when I think of it that way, and easier to consider offering the same opportunity to another publication.

  • lgood67334 says:

    As you can tell from all these comments, this rings true. Like you I am both an editor and a writer. Thanks for reminding me that I am doing the right thing by responding personally to everyone’s subscription.

  • African Canvas says:

    ‘I try not to send my work to a journal that stipulates, in words similar to these, “If we haven’t responded in x number of months, consider yourself unchosen.” I want an actual, emailed rejection to seal the deal.’ I concur. I’d rather get some feedback even if it be a rejection , than none at all. At times a rejection, though unpleasant may lead one to the right place, where you are most needed. It hurts but I usually tell myself “maybe it wasn’t meant to be” and I move on with my head erect.

  • Bruce Parker says:

    What vexes me is a contest that won’t give you a reply. You wait for the winner to be announced and still your Submittable account lists your entry as “In Progress.” I use Duotrope’s “Never Responded” more and more. And I never understand why an editor accepted my work any more than why it’s rejected. Thanks, Erica!

  • […] this year. I published a guest blog post for Trish Hopkinson and one for the Brevity blog, and both of these resulted in more subscribers. I also made an e-book, Erica Goss’s Guide to […]

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