How To Interpret Your Rejection Letters

Seth Fried

As a writer I have received my fair share of rejection letters. Though, I have also received many exciting, sexy acceptance letters — acceptance letters that are not only filled with the praise of well-respected editors, but which often smell as if they have been spritzed with fine perfumes. I have received acceptance letters in which the editors have included thank-you cards and gift certificates to Cracker Barrel. I have received acceptance letters in the corners of  which are scribbled romantic overtures from the magazine’s nubile interns or the abrupt, half-insane sexual propositions of the editors themselves. I have received acceptance letters in large, over-stuffed envelopes that contain rare gem stones, magical poultices, and dramatically reduced subscription rates. I have received acceptance letters that have been engraved onto gold plates, the happy news appearing in a long, loping script that proclaims proudly, “We are pleased to accept your work in The Central Idaho Review.”

However, as I mentioned, I do have some experience receiving rejection letters as well. Granted, it is usually some sort of misunderstanding. I might receive a note informing me that I accidentally left the submission envelope empty or that the story I sent was so astounding that everyone at the magazine who read even one sentence of it ended up spontaneously ripping their own heads off. In this second scenario, I am usually contacted by the executor of the editor’s estate, who will also admit to being a big fan of mine and express an interest in reading the story, and then the letter abruptly ends…

But these examples are obviously as extreme as my creative gifts are unique. In this column, I would prefer to focus on the sort of rejections that you, an average to below average writer, might receive. Let’s begin:

1) Text of rejection letter:

“Thank you for your submission. We regret that we are unable to publish it, but we appreciate your interest in [name of journal].”

How to interpret this rejection letter:

Try to imagine a giraffe on roller skates slowly rolling toward the edge of a cliff. The giraffe has been drinking and maybe as it’s rolling toward the edge it’s even wearing one of those beer helmets with two cans of Budweiser in it and straws leading down to do the giraffe’s mouth. The giraffe hiccups once or twice and then plummets to a senseless, idiotic death. The reason you should try to keep this image of the giraffe in your head is because it is a perfect metaphor for what has just happened to your submission. Your writing is the giraffe, the cliff is the journal you sent it to, and the giraffe’s beer helmet is every nice thing your mother has ever said about you.

Figure 1 – A mental image

2) Text of rejection letter:

Same as the form rejection above but with a brief, handwritten note that asks you to send again soon.

How to interpret this rejection letter:

Due to the long hours and often nonexistent compensation associated with running a literary journal, most editors eventually become so mentally unbalanced that the only way they can relate to other human beings is through sporadic displays of sadism. This invitation to “send again” was most likely written as the editor howled with laughter in the journal’s small, cluttered office where your story has been pasted all over the walls and lewdly graffitied. It goes without saying that you should never send to this journal ever again.

3) Text of rejection letter:

We really enjoyed your story. However, we felt that the ending needed a little fine-tuning. If you would be willing to work on that aspect of the story with us, we would be excited to accept it for publication. Please feel free to call the number below, as we would be happy to discuss the matter with you further.

How to interpret this rejection letter:

If you receive this type of rejection letter, you should immediately call the journal and ask to speak to the editor or staff member who wrote it. Once you reach that person, introduce yourself and say to her or him very clearly, “Fuck you.” Then hang up. After all, if you’re going to start letting editors make “helpful” little “suggestions” about your work, you should just do yourself a favor and quit writing altogether. You might be saying to yourself, “This is actually really valuable feedback. The ending is something I struggled with while I was writing this piece and it would be a phenomenally cool experience to work with the editors of a journal I admire in order to make my writing the best it can be.” But the fact of the matter is that it’s your writing and you shouldn’t let any interlopers mess with your creative vision. After all, would you let those same editors sleep with your spouse just because they’re better at it than you are? No, you wouldn’t, unless you’re some sort of crazy swinger who got to this post by Googling the phrase “sex swing” which I just now had to add to this sentence thanks to you.

Figure 2 – Another standard form rejection

4)Text of rejection letter:

Thank you so much for your submission! Everyone on the staff loved it and we would be honored to accept it for the upcoming issue.

How to interpret this rejection letter:

This is your classic fake acceptance letter. The staff of the journal probably hated your submission so much that they are sending you this letter in the hopes that you will respond to it and thus confirm that they have your current street address. If you do confirm your address, they will all hide in front of your house and wait for you to come out so they can humiliate you with water balloons and paintball guns. Obviously, you should not respond to this letter. You might even consider relocating.

But no matter how many rejection letters you receive, no matter how harshly editors try to discourage you from your natural creative impulses, no matter how many water balloons they whip execution style at the back of your head while you try frantically to unlock the driver’s side door of your Toyota Tercel so you can escape the angry mob of lit mag staffers who have gathered in your front yard, you should remember that it’s all subjective. And as those staffers inevitably overpower you and wrestle you to the ground, only stopping to drop your car keys into a nearby storm drain, you should take comfort in the fact that you had the courage and/or lack of self-awareness to send out your work in the first place.

Seth Fried’s short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Tin House, One Story, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, and Vice, and have been anthologized in The Better of McSweeney’s, Volume 2 and The Pushcart Prize XXXV: The Best of the Small Presses. His debut short story collection, The Great Frustration, was published by Soft Skull Press.

Images created by Julia Mehoke.