Dear Writer Rejected,
Your blog is compulsively readable, and more than that, gives consolation and catharsis to other lost souls afloat on a sea of obscurity.
There's one thing I've always wondered about small lit mags, and maybe you or one of your readers will have insight into this. I'm virtually unpublished (published one short story, a couple years ago, in a volume that no one seems to have read), but I seem to get a lot of what I'm calling "nibbles." (Fishing metaphor.) I've gotten a lot of xeroxed form-rejections, but also a number of (mostly electronic) rejections which are much harder to decipher. They will call me by name and refer to my story by name, and then say vaguely encouraging things about my writing along the lines of "well written but not for us." Some of them have gotten me quite excited because they imply that someone at the journal actually read portions of my story, maybe even (imagine!) the whole thing.
But this may not actually signify more than the versatility of the rejection letter in the age of email. After all, how hard can it be to generate a form rejection that inserts individual names and names of stories? I keep imagining that journals have different levels of form rejections, and that maybe I've made it to one of the higher levels--but I have no real evidence for this, at all.
For example, I sent a story in to the SQ love story contest. Below is the letter I got back this week. It assures me that my entry "received close attention and positive responses." And a (desperate) part of me wants to believe that, at the same time that another part of me is sure that this is a 100% form rejection that everyone who did not win the contest received. It's a nice rejection letter (much better than many) but I can't help feeling that they're being extra nice because I coughed up the $20 entry fee!
By the way, It's very strange that Narrative took over Story Quarterly, and now runs it, but on a single site and in such a way that you simply cannot tell the difference between one journal and the other! Anyway, here's the letter:
Thank you for your entry in our recent Love Story
Contest. “[Redacted]” was carefully read and
considered by our editors in a very challenging
process of selecting winners and finalists from among
many strong entries. The judging involved many rounds
of reading, discussion, and decision making, in which
your entry received close attention and positive
responses. We regret that in the end “[Redacted]” was
not one of our winners this time. We’re very grateful
for your participation in the contest, and we hope
you’ll keep Narrative in mind for your work in the
An announcement of the winning stories will soon go
out to the magazine’s readership, along with news of
Again, many thanks for sending your work, and please
accept our best wishes.
Dude: It's natural to want to believe that every form letter is actually a personalized missive indicating that you're a good writer. We've all held that misguided belief at one time or another; some of us for years. But after you've been around a while, you get to know the difference between standard form and personalized rejection (not that the latter is much consolation). Here's a thought for you to mull today: Just because the above is a form letter doesn't mean you're not a good writer. You probably are. But, sorry, Virginia, it is just a form letter. Still, don't give up hope entirely. We haven't. Well, some of us have, but not all. I haven't. I still send my stories out. And sometimes, when I really need to get published to make myself feel better, I just aim a little lower in terms of lit mag quality.
Anyone else want to chime in?