Rejection Slips

27 Mar

Some rejection letters are treasures, some are trash. I just got a treasure in the mail.

Someone once challenged me to get to one hundred rejection slips and they’d buy me coffee. I’m notoriously frugal so I immediately set out to spend a ridiculous amount on stamps and envelopes so I could get a free cappuccino. I never got to one hundred. I never got to twenty. All I got was published. She bought me my coffee anyway.

I’m easy to trick like that.

I teach my students to send in their work. Anywhere and everywhere. What’s the worst that could happen? Rejection. The odds are against them but what is the cost for failure? Not even stamps, in some cases. The most it can cost is some time well-spent learning to revise and reformat.

And if a piece is accepted? Time to look at what the editor has said about your work. What did they suggest? What do they want? Changes. And with any of their suggestions you can do one of four things:

One: Just make the change. Sometimes the editor is right and when you see the comment you slap yourself in the head a la the V8 commercial and wonder how you missed such a bonehead, obvious error.

Two: Make the change. This is not a repeat. You think you are correct but you make the change anyway. Why? Is your writing making you money or bringing you fame sitting in your computer? Probably not. Is the edit one that changes the meaning of your work? Does it damage or degrade it? No? Then why not change it to the likes of the magazine and get it out into the public?

Three: Don’t change it – fix it. Explain why you are correct and the editor is not but that it is your fault. It happens. The editor suggests a change, perhaps one of word choice or punctuation and you believe it affects the meaning, feel or sound of the piece. Explain why it needs to be the way it is and take the blame for the editor’s confusion. Take the blame? Yes. Explain that if you were clear in your meaning it would have been clearly communicated, clear to the editor and clear to the reader so, if the editor did not get it, it must be your fault.

Why? The editor is your gateway to being published, for one. Don’t yell at your editor. Be kind. Also, it probably is your fault. If it read in a way that a word seemed wrong or another word seemed better, you are probably not getting your meaning across. Isn’t that what you want? To be read and understood? So, explain why the word or phrase needs to be there and then tell your editor you re-worked the section so the purpose and meaning were clear. Take the blame and make the fix but not the change.

Four: Tell her to take a hike. I don’t suggest this one. Your editor is the gateway reader. They stand in for the general reader of the magazine and, if they are any good, they read it the way their readership would. If they think a change should be made it is most often for a good reason. Think about it seriously.

Have your own copy of the work. In that, make editorial changes you agreed with and, otherwise, leave it alone. That way you have a solid, improved copy just the way you want it for publication later.

And the rejection letters? Print them out. Post them on the wall. They are your proof you are active. Richard Bach got rejected and so did e e cummings. Hemingway and Orwell. You too can be rejected. It means you are submitting. You are active. Celebrate every rejection slip.

I celebrated this one:

March 3, 2007

Dear Adam,

Thank you for your submission, “A Day at the Beach,” to Literary Liftoff. Unfortunately, however, its subject matter and its style are not suitable for our magazine. Because we are oriented toward a general audience, we are looking for stories and essays that are more conventionally structured and more suitable for family reading.

Because of its unconventional, free association style, I think you might be more successful in pursuing literary markets that are looking for more experimental work.

Thanks again for your submission, and I wish you luck in placing your manuscript elsewhere in a more suitable publication.

Revisions editor, Literary Liftoff

I love it. I sent this reply:


I LOVE that rejection letter. I sent it to six people and they immediately wanted to read the essay. If it doesn’t fit, I don’t mind a bit. I fully understand. In the meantime, it’s great advertising.

Thank you,


And, if you go here, you can read it too.


Posted by on March 27, 2007 in Books, Education, Writing


2 responses to “Rejection Slips

  1. Sewa Yoleme

    March 27, 2007 at 4:19 PM

    I just re-read “A Day at the Beach,” and I suppose I can understand an editor’s fear that nude beaches and same-sex marriage might not be “suitable for family reading,” though I firmly believe that all parents should teach their children body acceptance and equal rights for all. In fact, I think that’s the very definition of “family values.” But never mind that.I’m a bit more puzzled over the “unconventional, free association style” comment. It seems like a coherent, straightforward narrative to me, and is certainly not “free association” in any conventional use of the term.But you’re right: the best course is to say Thanks, submit something else that will be a better fit for them, and find a new outlet for the rejected piece. I hope this one finds a very broad audience.

  2. womynrev

    April 13, 2007 at 12:56 PM

    this is really great. I love the way you frame things.WR


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