I could paper a small wall with rejection letters.
◘Thanks for submitting STORY X, but …
◘Thank you for submitting your story, "STORY P", to FANCYPANTS. Unfortunately ….
◘Thank you very much for letting us see "STORY Y." We appreciate your taking the time to send it in for our consideration. Although ...
◘Thanks for sending STORY Z” to PUBLICATION Q. While it isn’t …
◘I got this one on my birthday: Thank you for sending us STORY T. We regret to inform you …
Most of these are form letters, crafted to sound simultaneously grateful, apologetic, and encouraging. Thanks for trying, buddy, but not this time. Maybe someone else will like it. Keep us in mind for when you write something good. If you didn’t know it was boilerplate, you might even be fooled and spend the rest of the day walking around with a contented smile on your face.
But the truth is, my story — my baby — probably didn’t make it past the intern. Happy birthday and, while we’re at it, Merry Christmas (Thank you for letting MONKEYPARTS consider your story. Unfortunately …”) and Happy New Year (Thank you for submitting HARD WORK & PAIN. While we won't …), too.
I could spend hours looking at that metaphorical wall, trying to puzzle out why certain stories keep coming home with their tails between their legs and attempting to summon the strength to keep writing. The Urban Dictionary calls it “rejectomancy”: The art of analyzing a rejection letter (particularly one received upon submitting a short story to a magazine) in order to elicit a positive or self-assuring message hidden therein.
I have two things going for me.
Every time I log into Duotrope, the site offers me encouragement: Congratulations! Your acceptance ratio is higher than the average for users who have submitted to the same markets. It’s cold comfort — and, fortunately, only uses two exclamation points — but it helps. Some poor guy has an even thicker rejection folder than I do? Drinks are on me!
But even better are the chinks that appear in the wall. Every once in a while, I get to peek behind the boilerplate. It’s like seeing the face of god and learning what he/she/it expects from me.
◘A simple postscript: P.S. The ending wasn’t as strong, for me, as the lead up to it. -- J & M
◘I’m afraid I found this SF horror story a bit too predictable, alas. – Gordon V.
◘The explanation of the technology threw me off - people who read sci fi KNOW what you mean when you say words flashed across someone's retina. We don't need to know how it's being done. – Lucy
◘We all very much enjoyed reading it, but in the end some of us felt that there wasn't quite enough tension in the plot, and it wasn't really speculative enough, to carry the story all the way. -- Djibril
◘We are going to pass on your story, even though I really got a kick out of the ending. –pc
◘It was interesting, and amusing, but it just isn't PUBLICATION, in style or tone. – Nicola
After a couple of boilerplate rejections, I usually sit down with the story and ask it to tell me its problems. Sometimes I make changes, sometimes I don’t. When personalized rejections come, I squeeze out every ounce of critique and advice I can. I revise, send the story out and cross my fingers.
My rejectomancy tells me I’m getting close.