We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity. Rejection slip from a Chinese economic journal, quoted in the Financial Times.

As writers we all experience rejection at one time or another – some of us more than others.

I personally have received a number of those lovely stock rejection forms. After some careful consideration, I’ve finally figured out the real messages behind the rejections. Here are a few lines, and their hidden meanings, from some of my own rejection slips.

  • Many thanks for your submission. Unfortunately, this one didn’t work for us.(Thanks, but no thanks, and don’t send any more.)
  • We were delighted (and slightly overwhelmed) by the 1,870 entries in our fiction contest this year. After much revising and winnowing we have determined the three winners .(You aren’t one of them.)
  • We are very sorry that we are not able to use your manuscript. Sincerely, the Editors. (Your submission wasn’t even good enough to warrant a real signature.)
  • It was very kind of you to send us this material. We regret that we are unable to fit it into our publication schedule. (In fact, we’ll never have enough time to fit this into our publication schedule, so please don’t try again.)
  • We are in receipt of your manuscript which we are holding for possible publication in a future issue. (Don’t call us ¾ we won’t call you.  Eight years later, I’m still waiting to hear back from them.)
  • W e are returning your manuscript because: check the box rejections. (There’s so much wrong with this one, that we don’t know where to begin!)
  • And my all-time favorite – We are returning your manuscript WITH OUT  thanks.(YIKES! Let’s take our name out of all the writer’s markets before we get anything else like this!)

I have to confess that I really took the least amount of offense to the very last rejection. The editor in me says it had to be an obvious typo. Their rejection actually left me sighing with relief and laughing my head off! After all, had I been accepted, who knows how they might have butchered my “baby.”

So just how do you handle all those rejections? The best way, in my opinion, to deal with rejection letters is drop them into a file until you get enough to compare. Then a few months later, pull them out, and assess those hidden meanings. Not the fun ones I gave you, but the real meaning behind the rejections.

Look for a pattern. Are you consistently being rejected because your manuscript doesn’t fit their needs? Do your rejections say things like, “We’ve already done something similar to this”? Then maybe you need to study your possible markets before you submit (something you should have already done).

Do the rejections say things like, “Doesn’t win in completion with others available” or “Has too much narrative or description” or “Lacks a strong plot” ? (All comments that I have seen on a standard rejection form.) Then you need to work harder and learn to write better so you can compete with other submissions to your chosen market.

Do you have handwritten editorial notes on any of the rejections? Things that might offer encouragement like, “Nice work, but we’ve just printed something like this” or “Do you have anything else that might fit our line?” or “Here are editorial comments we hope you will find helpful”.  Notes from editors that comment positively on your work are a sure sign that your writing is on target. They see hundreds of manuscripts a day. When they stop to comment on your rejection slip, you should take notice! Don’t let those opportunities slip by. Write something else that better fits those editors’ needs and send it back ASAP with a note that will remind the editors of their comments to you.

Finally, when you’ve been tipped over the edge by one too many rejections you could take the approach of a fellow writer who devised this lovely rejection-of-the-rejection form letter.

Dear Mr./Ms._______:

Thank you for your letter of February 17th.

After careful consideration I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to publish my manuscript.  This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters.  With such a varied and promising field of candidates it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.  Despite your agency’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time.  Therefore, I will initiate my representation by your firm immediately.

I look forward to working with you.


(letter courtesy of an email forward from Mary Ann Schenk via OVRWA email list)