That letter in your mailbox looks promising- your first acceptance!- only after you open it, you read the old familiar lines, "We regret to inform you that your work does not meet our needs at the present time." What are your needs, you want to yell back. When is the right time? The generic "no, thanks" rejection letter is just that; generic. Stuff that manuscript in another envelope- after doing some research on appropriate markets- or hit 'send' again. If that manuscript keeps getting generic rejections, maybe it's time to rewrite, revise, or at the very least, get the objective opinion of someone preferably not related to you as to how you can improve what you've got.
If the rejection is accompanied by anything handwritten, something suggesting, "Please try us again," then you do that. Send them something you haven't sent them before. Anything handwritten or personalized is a wink, a nod, something that should be interpreted as the reader having seen something they liked, if not in your piece, at least in your style. If the reply offers constructive criticism, that parlays at least into a stand-up double. Heed what they suggest. Like cream, your work has risen to the almost-top. Sometimes even a handwritten note isn't what you want to see, as was the case when I got a reply from a top editor at a literary magazine years ago who asked me to send more work and included postage, only to reply to my follow-up with a succinct, "Not good." Ouch. I sent the same "not good" story to another magazine and received a reply that said, "Unfortunately we have ceased publication, but your story was really good." No matter what the reply, you keep trying.
Agents and editors change houses often, sometimes it seems as if they're walking through revolving doors, so it pays to keep track of who is where and capitalize on any positive feedback before the person who connected with your work moves on and you're starting from scratch with someone who dashes off those "We regret to inform you" letters. Get the names straight- and spelled right, send off carefully proofread prose formatted as requested in the guidelines, and keep trying. Publication rarely happens to the writer who becomes discouraged and gives up after a handful of “We regret to inform you”s and keeps his manuscripts in a desk drawer or zip drive.
Susan Israel lives in Connecticut with her beloved dog, but New York City lives in her heart and mind. A graduate of Yale College, her fiction has been published in Other Voices, Hawaii Review and Vignette and she has written for magazines, websites and newspapers, including Glamour, Girls Life, Ladies Home Journal and The Washington Post. She's currently at work on the second book in the Delilah Price series, Student Bodies.
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