Wednesday, March 23, 2005


In Which I Reject Rejection...

Dear Writer:

Thanks very much for sending your recent submission to the Really Big Magazine.

Unfortunately, the piece does not meet our editorial needs at this time, or for some reason duplicates material we already have on hand.

We appreciate your letting us see it, and wish you luck placing it elsewhere.


The Editors

PS: If you're just going to throw this letter out, then by all means do so and don't let me stop you. If, however, you want to know why the story or idea you sent us was really rejected, read on. Just bear in mind that you may not like what you hear. Then again you might.

What you've just received is the standard form rejection letter. The actual language varies from magazine to magazine, but this one pretty much rounds the bases. It's also completely meaningless and almost--but not quite--worthless. It means that we got what you sent, and we're sending it back. That's it. That's all. It does not necessarily mean that we hated it. In fact, it may simply mean that we didn't have time to read it, but the slush pile of unsolicited stories and ideas was cascading out of the box and it was time to clean it out.

Of course, in your particular case, and assuming we did read your submission, this letter may just confirm your worst suspicions: that you suck.

There, I said it: you suck as a writer, you'll probably never make it as a writer and your submission to us was so putrescently awful that all you're getting is a form letter. Don't bother buoying yourself up by trying to read into the letter, telling yourself "Hey they addressed me as 'Dear Writer'! I'm a writer! They said so!" or concluding that you can re-send the same story in six months because we said the piece didn't suit us "at this time." When we say "at this time" we mean "for as long as homo sapiens are the dominant species on the planet." Trying to derive some positive meaning out of a form rejection letter isn't a sign that you're an optimist. It's just another sign that you suck.

I can say this because downstairs in my office, I have a box--and I mean a box so large and heavy that the movers had to carry it down there--filled with rejection letters, all addressed to me (well, addressed to "Dear Writer" but you know what I mean). I can say this because I suck, so I know what I'm talking about. I am such an awful writer that I once received a personal reply--a brief note scribbled at the bottom of the form rejection letter--essentially begging me not to send them any more ideas. That, my friend, is pure-D suck-ass suckage.

But it is possible to suck, and to succeed. I am living proof. How did I do it? I learned to own my own special brand of awfulness. I dug it. I embraced it, took full responsibility for it. And then I went into complete denial about it.

In the same box with the rejection letters is a small envelope filled with stubs of paychecks made out to me from places like Time Inc., ABC, Reader's Digest, Conde Nast, Gruner & Jahr, Wenner Media and more. I fooled them all (actually, the secret is to fool just one of them. Then you build on that). In fact, I did such a good job pretending I didn't suck that somehow I convinced someone who really doesn't suck to let me run 25 percent of editorial operations for her magazine. Part of my job now includes signing these rejection letters. But it also includes paying out tens of thousands of dollars in freelance writing fees per week to people who used to get these letters. Now, they get a check instead.

Yes, those checks go out to writers who suck too. These are people who started out considering themselves awful, unemployable, unpublishable. This is important. In fact, this formative situation is kind of critical if you want to write for me. Because if you didn't start out thinking you sucked, then you probably didn't have the right kind of engine to motivate you to get better.

People who start out thinking they're great writers--whether they actually are or not--are generally not the kind of people I want writing for me. I've dealt with too many of those writers, and to a man they have been nothing but trouble. This one won't work with an editor or an editorial team; that one scoffs at deadlines; this one needs his rocking chair from home in his office; that one needs to get loaded at lunch. I'm not running a gifted program. You've heard smarter people than I tell you how little talent counts compared to hard work and perseverance. I'd like to add that's it's also important to suck too. Those are the people who push to improve, to rise up. Those are the people who develop a skill to screw on top of whatever talent they have. Those are the people I want on my team, dammit.

So, are you going to pitch this letter and wallow in the fact that you suck?

Or are you going to stick this on your wall as a reminder to send me something else? And something else. And something else, until I stop sending rejection letters and start emailing you. Or calling you. Or even paying you money.

Then again, you might just suck so badly that I would be compelled to write a personal note on your next rejection letter, begging you not to submit to me again. And yes, that would really and truly suck.

But at least then you'd have a great story to tell. A great story that someone else might buy.

We'll talk more about this when I send out your next rejection letter.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Oh man, writers and actors - don't know how they take all the rejection.

Good post, as usual. Multiple giggles. :)

You know after reading a lot of Stephen King, I went back and read some of his really early stuff and... thought it sucked! If I'd read that first I might not have ever read any of the stuff that followed.
Wow. Something about this entry makes me want to submit to a magazine just to GET one of these letters. :-) Maybe it's the actor in me that misses constant rejection.
I can't act or write! Maybe I could get multiple letters.
I want a rejection letter!!
I haven't yet decided if this post will motivate me to submit unsolicited work for rejection ... er, publication, or if it has scarred me so deeply that the ill-fated thought of freelancing will never again cross my mind.

I will ponder this as I carry on with my data entering.
Recently from the Atlantic: "Though the manuscript you sent has not found a place with The Atlantic Monthly, we thank you for the chance to consider it. Best of luck placing it elsewhere." On nice paper too. I must be a genius.
Well I sure am glad I have never submitted written work for I'm sure I would have received one of those and never written again. Not a note for my the teacher nor a card for my kids or husband. LOL I'll just let my recipients say this to themselves and spare my feelings. LOL! Great post!
This is very timely for me: I'm ramping up for my first-ever set of submissions to literary magazines, to occur within the next two weeks.

I understand the need to use a form letter, but couldn't the letter include a little more info? How about checkboxes for "Talent" and "No talent," or "Please keep submitting your stories" and "Please keep submitting your scratch paper."

Would that be so hard?
As a member of Generation X, I have to make this point: trying can be overrated. By not trying, you won't shatter the false illusion that you don't suck. Which allows you to be judgmental and cynical in peace and with false confidence. Alternatively, not trying gives you hours of conversation with friends about how you should try, but it is so hard.
I don't need to receive a rejection letter to know I totally suck! It's a good thing too, that leaves only one direction to go in.
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