There is a sad thread in the Poets & Writers Speakeasy labeled “Encouraging" Rejections? I am naturally drawn to sadness so I like to read it. Maybe it's the quotation marks that get me. Or the question mark. One thing is for sure – sometimes it's hard to tell if a rejection is also encouragement to resubmit, or if the lit mag is Just Not That Into You.
For example, Crazyhorse:
We are sorry this particular manuscript (with emphasis on "this particular") was not selected for publication in Crazyhorse. We hope you will send us another soon, though.
Could they mean? Do they? But then…
We could not publish Crazyhorse without the fine writing we receive.
Meaning the editors didn’t notice anything especially fine about my writing in particular, they simply need “writing.”
C. Michael Curtis, long-standing fiction editor of The Atlantic Monthly, has a great essay How to Read Rejection. Among topics such as why-cutsey-cover-letters-brand-you-amateur, he discusses how editors must sacrifice kid gloves for the sake of clarity, because there’s deluded psychos out there. The Atlantic Monthly apparently had to stop typesetting their rejection letters in italics, because people read too much into it.
Curtis confirms that encouraging rejections are legit. Traditionally, these have manifested as a handwritten postscript. Now there’s this new trend, the encouraging rejection form letter. The Speakeasy Forum has determined AGNI sends these. Maybe this development has to do with the oft-discussed “MFA proliferation,” meaning there’s more work circulating that shows promise, but isn't quite seasoned. At Cutbank. we debated adding the "try us again" form letter to our repertoire. Having read for a lit mag I can vouch there is a huge difference between the "no way" and the "not bad" pile. Although it seems to me if you can’t be bothered to write a short note, then the work can’t have been that compelling.
Last week I received two encouraging rejections, one Xeroxed and one handwritten. My gut reaction to the form letter was that I would submit the same piece somewhere else, but not resubmit a different story to that lit mag. The handwritten, of course, will recieve another story stat.