Rejection – Does No Really Mean No?
When I first started submitting stories and articles for publication, I got rejected – a lot- but some of those rejections were so encouraging that they made me feel almost as elated as I would have been had they been acceptance letters.
The operative word is almost.
There are three different types of rejection letters you are most likely to get back with your submitted manuscript. Sometimes you might not receive any reply at all; guidelines might tell you to assume rejection if you haven’t heard from them in X amount of time. This seems especially the case with e-submissions in the 21st century. E-submissions have almost rendered moot the practice of trudging to the post office to mail a manuscript and receiving your self addressed stamped envelope a few weeks or months later, but there are still journals and publishers and agents who request snail mail and the replies you should expect to get back from them generally fall into three camps:
1) The “We Don’t Want Any” letter
It’s succinct and void of any indication that your submission was ever read. It basically says: “This does not meet our needs at the present time.”
“Okay, so what do you need and when will you need it?” Yes, you might start talking to yourself after a few of these. Providing you’re not blindly sending sci-fi stories to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and feel you know your market well, after a few of these, you might want to get a review from a fresh pair of eyes, someone who is not your best friend from high school or a relative, someone who is qualified to give constructive criticism. Try the same story on other magazines. Send other stories to the same magazine. Editors change.
2) The “We Don’t Want Any” letter but with actual handwriting
Well, maybe not actual handwriting in the age of e-everything, but something personal, a salutation, “thanks for submitting to us” or “I enjoyed reading this” is a definite step up from “this does not meet our needs, yada yada.” If it comes from a high profile magazine, you might even want to frame it (I have!), at least until you get that coveted acceptance letter or a rejection letter that is the closest thing to an acceptance letter which is:
3) The “We Don’t Really Want This, BUT…” letter
The editor or agent addresses you personally in this letter and might suggest that she’d be willing to take another look if you did a rewrite (this led to a published essay in The Washington Post) or invites you to “submit something else you might have handy.” Get to work! And by all means, feel free to frame it. You can then use that frame for your first acceptance letter, your first check, your first book contract, your first fan letter, all things you are now working toward. No doesn’t necessarily mean no. A lot of times it just means “try harder.”
Susan Israel lives in Connecticut with her beloved dog, but New York City lives in her heart and mind. Her first novel, OVER MY LIVE BODY, was published by The Story Plant in 2014. 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 third book in the Delilah Price series.