If You Can’t Say Something Nice… Say Something Generic
I’ve got quite a collection of rejections in my email today (and one sale! whoo hoo!). I’m stealing some time to process them all – you know, update my submisions records, rat on you to Duotrope, that sort of thing. Happily, there’s a higher-than-usual number of nice ones – some personal notes with regrets and reasons, some well-crafted and still-encouraging form letters. But then there a few that make me shake my head, and some that make me want to find your address and come egg your house.
I won’t do that, of course – if I egged every editor who peeved me it would rake up my grocery bill, and I’m not getting paid enough for these poems and stories to justify that.
I would, though, like to ask you to please carefully consider the turn of phrase you use when writing rejection letters.
You’d think this would be obvious, since these letters are part of the triforce of impressions you make to the public – next to 1) the magazine itself and 2) your website/guidelines, rejections say a lot about who YOU are and to what extent you give a shit about the writers who make your magazine possible. But a lot of you seem not to realize how unfavorable an impression your letters are making to would-be contributors – and that should concern you.
For example, “your submission does not meet our criteria” is one I just received. Seems bland enough, at first glance, but think about that word, “criteria”. It means “conditions which must be met”, basically, or “the standard to which we are holding you up”.
We’re writers, see. Words have nuance. Words matter.
So while you may have meant “this is not what we’re looking for at this time”, it comes across to the rejected as either “you didn’t follow the guidelines” (which I did, indeed) or “you’re just not good enough for us.”
And that may very well be true, but for goodness’ sake, why would you SAY that? It’s elitist and rude. Don’t be elitist and rude.
Also? Also. Editors, suggesting that submitters read the magazine to “get a feel for our style and preferences” or to pay attention to the guidelines is perfectly reasonable IN THE GUIDELINES. Forewarning is fair. But saying it in the body of a rejection is just bad form. Please stop doing this.
Yes. Lots (LOTS) of submitters get it wrong. They send things that are inappropriate. They ignore the rules and attach their name when they’re not supposed to or send the wrong type of file or put all the poems in one doc instead of one for each, or vice versa, I KNOW. (I reject dozens of poems unread for breaking guidelines over at Devilfish – READ THE GUIDELINES!!)
BUT. When someone has studied the magazine and done their homework and made thoughtful selections, this kind of blanket finger-wagging is really just an insult. It alienates the writers who are behaving. It’s like scolding the entire class because someone in the back was passing notes and talking. It means you’re lumping the poet whose work you just didn’t prefer this time in with all the rule-breakers because you’re cranky.
Don’t be cranky in a rejection email. It’s just not professional.
I’m also not a fan of “I’m going to pass.” Maybe this one is just on me, but doesn’t it sound like something you’d say if an ugly person came on to you at a bar?
I’m not an ugly person in a bar. I’m a sensitive writer. I’ve written you a respectful query letter, entrusted you with my creative property, and opened myself up to your judgement. Is “pass” the best you can do?
I mean, really. “Thank you for your submission, but it’s not what we’re looking for at this time.” Is that so hard?