Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Horror of the Form Rejection

Posted by LD Keach on Thursday, February 11, 2010

(Or, “Do you like me? Check yes, no, or go to hell.”)

There are few things more crushing than the dreaded Rejection Form.

You’ve already gone through the horror of Submitting. You’ve spent weeks editing your story, crossing your fingers and praying to your favorite dark gods that yes, finally, this time someone will say “What an awesome story! Thanks for sending it!” And then you spend weeks more, waiting, pacing, compulsively checking your email or your mailbox every ten minutes for that shinning gold note that says, yes, you are validated in your pursuit as a writer…

But then, the day comes, and you get a form.

Not just a note from an editor saying “This story doesn’t fit our needs.” Not just a “Thanks, but no thanks.” But a demeaning piece of fill-in-the-blank crap that lacks any semblance of soul or humanity. A Form Rejection.

The worst form rejection I’ve ever gotten read as follows:

Dear Mrs/Ms/Mr (Writer),

We were unable to accept your submission for one or more of the following reasons:

1. While the quality of writing and formatting was good, the mood and tone of the piece did not fit with our publication.

2. There was excessive and gratuitous violence/gore/sexuality, which does not fit with our publication.

3. We are currently closed to submissions.

4. Never in a million years would we consider publishing a story as abysmally conceived and horribly written as the piece of crap you just sent us.

Okay, maybe I’m embellishing a bit. But, the point is, many editors employ similar multiple choice, no-effort form letters. And some of the forms I’ve gotten weren’t even filled in! Seriously? Refusing to fill my name in the blank is one thing, but send a form, and then don’t even make the effort to check a box?!  We all know that editors are busy people, but does being “busy” give you license to be a jerk?

No, it doesn’t. I may have sent them an abysmally conceived and horribly written piece of crap, but it’s never okay—professional or not—to be a jerk.

So, instead of slinking into their offices under the cover of night and painting lewd penis graffiti all over their desks, a tough writer will just go “Oh, well.” “Oh, well” is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer’s arsenal. With a shrug and a toss, a jerkish form can be discarded, erased, exorcised from your desk, and then all you have to do is concentrate on the next place to send your story.

Sure, it’ll sting for awhile, but we’re writers. If it doesn’t hurt a little, you’re not doing it right. Okay, if it doesn’t hurt a lot…

Anyway, my point is; it’s useful to just get rid of your form rejections. Some people say get rid of all your rejections, or save them all, or use them to build a paper mache temple to Nyarlathotep in your living room—do what you want. But, I’ve found keeping the good ones, those nice personal notes from editors, and trashing the jerkish ones really help keep you going when the nights grow cold and nobody’s reading your stuff.

Of course, if you happen to be a writer who’s also a powerful Voodoun, then totally keep the form rejections. Pile them up on your altar to Somedi and wrap them around your little editorial-shaped dolls…

And, if you have editorial-shaped dolls, would you mind if I sent you a few of the form rejections I’ve gotten lately? Oh, not for any specific reason…but I’ll pay $50 cash for every mysterious herpes outbreak. Just sayin.


  1. I think I had the same form rejection once, I printed off a copy and used it to wipe my....

    And I never submitted to that particular publication again!

    Who da fool now, huh?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Chris! You're totally right; never submitting to a jerkish market again is also a great weapon in a writer's arsenal. (Plus, the market that sent me the above form rejection actually went under a few years ago...but it doesn't have anything to do with herpes. Oh, no; not at all.)

  3. I have an old Atari Centipede folder from grade school that's now full of my rejection slips. It's already tearing from the mass of its contents so I'll never be able to sell it on ebay.

    Here are two of my favorite rejections, both from Weird Tales. These are still better than form rejections:

    "We thank you for sending us "Virginia Pratt." Alas,it's not for us.We found the plot too simple. Also, we found the writing a bit cliched of phrase. We found eighty-seven bodies unbelievable. And people do not tear in two as you describe." - Jan Berrian Berends, Assistant Editor

    "We thank you for sending us "A Joinging at Teer." Sorry, but this one's not for us: as with the last story you sent us, the plot here is too impossible for us to believe, merely presenting a catalog of nasty events, not really a story at all." -Carol Adams, Managing Editor

    I was always impressed that Weird Tales seemed to respond with a personalized correspondence even when I submitted utter crap.

  4. Shane, I've gotten rejections from Weird Tales like that, too. They're awesome--always going the extra mile for writers despite how busy they are. They are totally a great example of Non-Jerks. And thanks for the comment! ^_^

  5. I did get the same rejection letter and being the first made me feel so down. The I reealized it seemed to be the norm, I am glad I came across this site and glad that I found these comments. Good writing people!

  6. As someone who works for a big-name publisher, and as someone who has started up their own publishing venture... I can understand where form rejections come from.

    Obviously, they should still be handled with tact (i.e. as far from the example you provided as they can be!), but it probably takes three times longer to write a personal rejection than it does to send out a form rejection.

    If the publisher has huge amounts of submissions to read and manages to read and respond to 30 a week with a form letter, they'd only be able to respond to 10 a week with a personalised response. So that triples the waiting time to ultimately find out the same thing: you got rejected.

    It's a toss-up between speed and quality of feedback. It's always nice to get a bit of feedback and know why exactly you were rejected, but if its feedback you want, post to a forum or take your work to a writing group etc and you'll get much more detailed comments (and faster, too, I'd imagine).

    It's a toughie. Pros and cons. Swings and roundabouts.

  7. I'm glad you brought this up, Sophie! Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you, and you've given me the opportunity to make some much-needed clarifications:

    1.I think there’s nothing wrong with a polite “Thanks, but no thanks” form rejection.

    2.I think here IS something wrong with IMPOLITE form rejections, because writers have rights, and a lot of people just starting out who get rude rejections time after time forget this, and they tend to prostrate themselves on the altar of seemingly infallible and celebrity editors. Writers are people, too.

    3.Editors are people, too. Nobody has a right to be a jerk to them, either.

    4.Writing hurts. A lot. But it’s slightly better than herpes.

    So, yeah; thanks again for bringing this up, because I have been made aware of some interpretations of this post floating around the internet that are counter to my original intent. And Baphomet tells me I should start writing for clarity rather than focusing on the herpes jokes. But, I'm probably going to keep making herpes jokes, anyway.