Every writer gets them before acceptance comes along. Numbers of rejection letters vary – sixty, one hundred, enough to paper the office. Really, one would wonder about the sanity of entering a profession with so much guaranteed gloom.
Pursuing a writing life necessitates development of coping skills. Even the most famous of writers tell rejection stories beginning with their early days and sometimes continuing long after their names have become bigger than the titles on their books. Managing mechanisms vary. Trying to avoid the temptation to give it all up when one refusal follows another, I’ve discounted the idea of papering my walls with rejection letters as too depressing. Instead, I’ve turned the tables on the senders without their knowledge. I’ve developed a point ranking system for editor letters and rate them from zero (low) to ten (high).
0. These actually aren’t letters at all. They fall in the category of “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” Think some version of “Due to the enormous volume of submissions we receive, we no longer respond to or return submissions in which we are not interested. If you haven’t heard from us in three months-six months-a year, feel free to send your manuscript somewhere else.” Zero response gets zero points.
1. A card, letter, or email with nothing handwritten on it that begins, “Dear Author,” “Dear Friend,” or “Dear Contributor” and fails to leave me feeling the “dear.” In the old days, this letter’s disfavor might be compounded by the realization they were trying to run one more copy before refilling the ink on the print drum. Today, it may be a copy-and-paste to an email.
2. A checklist with something marked on it indicates that someone somewhere gave the manuscript at least a little attention. Here I get a clue about why the editor didn’t accept it and an opportunity to decide whether to include the suggestion into a rewrite before sending it out again.
3. An improvement on the checklist has something written by a human hand – a sentence, a short comment, or a signature. My favorite sentence so far is, “Sorry, we just didn’t love it enough.” A real person on the other end, who would have thought?
4. Even better is the checklist with a meaningful note mentioning something in the writing that lets me know the manuscript was read. Maybe there’s a reference to a character, the setting, or a plot twist. With a real person on the other end who realizes there is a real person on this end, the rejection can almost be forgiven.
5. Moving up the scale is a personal letter addressed “Dear Mrs. Butler” or “Dear Virginia.” Somehow, I feel the “dear” when they use my name, probably much like the editors do. Aren’t they always telling writers to use their names and spell them correctly?
6. I can almost like a rejection letter addressed, using my name, and giving a reason for not publishing that is encouraging about the actual writing. Maybe they loved my research or character development. Maybe they even passed it on to another editor in their publishing house for whom it was better fit, but it fell a little short in the end. After a brief pity party, I find myself basking in the glow of the praise.
7. Nearing the top is an encouraging letter saying how much the magazine editor loved the article I sent, but apologizing because she had just bought a similar one and can’t use two. (Seeing that article in the magazine a few months later verified the truth of her rejection.) One such letter encouraged me to pitch that article somewhere else, where it was ultimately published by a different editor.
8. Closing in on the peak is the rejection from an editor, closed to unsolicited submissions, saying her door is open for me and giving encouragement to send other manuscripts. My philosophy is, “When Opportunity knocks, open the door.”
9. An almost perfect response is a letter saying the editor liked the first ten pages, (or first three chapters, or whatever sample they asked me to send) and wants to see the rest of the manuscript. I send these back by return mail.
10. Need I name number ten that technically doesn’t fit in this category? These bring a sight for the neighbors as I dance to the house from the mailbox. Just last week a letter began, “Dear Virginia: Guess what! Your manuscript “Missing Letters to the Folks” has been accepted for publication in the autumn 2017 issue of THEMA, The Missing Letters.” A perfect 10 for THEMA’s editor and a perfect 10 for me.
Do the editors care about my rankings? I think not. They are blissfully unaware that they are being rated – not even the editor who sent the worst letter of all. (It began, “Dear Mildred,” and corrected with a red pen what she took to be a misspelling of a proper name in my manuscript. She could easily have looked it up. She would have seen that I spelled it correctly.)
So, of what use is my ranking system? Simple: It gives me the illusion of having a bit of control of the process. I have little power over whether my work is accepted, but I get some satisfaction in rating the rejections.
The second is knowing to never again send work to someone who calls me Mildred – a fine name that doesn’t happen to be mine.
The third is knowing that improvement in rankings for my rejections means I am making progress and, perhaps, am moving closer to the top myself.