The Rejection Ladder

Moving Up the Rejection Ladder

By Margaret Terhune

A few weeks ago, I received a great rejection letter from a literary journal. It was almost as exciting as when I got my first paying contract. While other people raise an eyebrow when I refer to a good rejection letter, my writing friends smile knowingly for they are familiar with the hierarchy of editor responses.

The letter began in the usual way: “Thank you for offering your work to…we regret that we cannot use it at this time.” Oh well, I thought, another one for the “no” box. Then I noticed the hand-written note at the bottom. I’ve learned to appreciate any personal touch: an editor’s signature, a post-it note with a few encouraging words, a note scribbled somewhere on the page. These are all excellent indications that your work has been read and considered by at least one person.

A quick side note on rejection letters: my husband thinks it’s bizarre that I keep these letters but they’re actually a great source of satisfaction. Not only are they proof that I continue to write and send but they are also an excellent way to refer back to editor’s names and addresses. I know of people who have papered walls with these letters; I prefer to keep mine together in a box.

“I enjoyed your poem and wish you luck in placing it,” the note read. “I’m sorry we can’t use it… please consider us again. Keep writing.” Please consider us again – these are the magical words, opening the door just a few inches wider. This particular journal only reads submissions for a short period each year, so I shall have to wait before resubmitting. Normally, I would send something else out within a few weeks, while the favorable impression is still fresh in the editor’s memory.

I still get plenty of generic rejection letters, ranging from curt notes to longer letters. Some are polite and encouraging while others give the impression that the work was thoroughly unworthy of being read. I particularly dislike the ones which contain a checklist of reasons for rejection ranging from “not suited to our present needs” (I invariably get this one) to “poorly written” (I wonder if they ever use this one?).

In the midst of all this banality, a personalized letter makes me feel that I’m still headed in the right direction. The fact that an editor took the time to jot a note is a great motivation to continue sending out my work.