I got another rejection letter this morning (long story short but I’ll never be meeting Meryl). I’m disappointed of course, but “rejected” is the default state for a writer, so I’m used to it.
Since I receive so many rejection emails, I’m in a position to see certain trends and as a service to rejecting parties everywhere, I’d like to offer a few tips.
1) Get to the point. If the first word isn’t “Congratulations”, we know what’s coming. A long preamble about how many submissions you receive, and the thoughtful process you follow when making your decision isn’t necessary. We know you get tons of submissions. We assume you aren’t making choices on whim. You’re probably doing this to “soften the blow”, which leads to…
2) Don’t try to soften the blow. There are two options Yes, or No. “No with compliments” or “No with apologies” still mean no. Austin Film Festival, which I adore, takes softening the blow to such extremes that their rejection letters are a full page, in which they assure you that their opinion of your work is probably meaningless anyway, and practically beg you not to take it personally. The worst kind of “softening” is compliments, because they give false hope but…
3.) Don’t give false hope. I once received a rejection that was chock full of praise: “Hilarious, I laughed out loud many times”, “actors would kill for these roles,” “you have a gift for comedy”. Those seem like good things, right? I couldn’t understand why a script that garnered those accolades would get a pass, and I wasted a considerable amount of my time trying to find and fix whatever they didn’t like about it so they would change their minds. But they were never going to change their minds. Liking a script and thinking it’s hilarious is not the same thing as wanting to invest millions of dollars in it, or trying to get other people to invest millions of dollars in it.
That has been the hardest lesson for me to learn as a writer; that people can like your work, and think you are talented, and reject you anyway. It seems terribly unfair, because it is unfair. But people who want a career in the creative arts are generally prepared to accept this inherent unfairness so…
4.) Don’t tell us not to let your rejection discourage us. It’s just patronizing. That breezy “Keep writing!” at the end of a rejection email is the worst.
So how should you reject someone?
“Thank you for your submission, but you were not accepted/did not advance/this does not meet our needs.”
Simple, direct, polite.
So, contest organizers, fellowship directors, editors, readers, anyone who is in a position to reject writers, I hope you will take these suggestions in the helpful spirit in which they were given. I get a lot of rejections, and consider my reaction to rejections very carefully. There is much to be proud of in your current rejections, and I hope you won’t let this blog post discourage you from rejecting in the future.