It’s Not You, It’s Us

Now that my little writing room is set up, I decided to sort through my files and clear out anything I didn’t need so I could make room for new story ideas, new first drafts, and all the other scraps of paper I collect.  It’s my favorite thing about moving – the purging.

As soon as I started, though, I got hung up reading my collection of rejection letters.  Yep, I keep all my rejection letters.  Though I rarely get rejection letters anymore.  Oh, I get rejected all the time, but with online submission managers, the only feedback I get these days is “declined” typed in a little box on the computer screen.

I miss those letters.  They were tangible proof that I had been doing my job.  Submitting.  But more than that, in losing the rejection letter, we’ve lost an occasional human connection with the reader.  There’s no longer any hope of those prayed-for handwritten comments.

In going through my little scraps of “no thank yous,” I found dozens and dozens of, “Thank you for sending us your work, but it’s not right for us at this time. This isn’t a reflection on your writing.”  Well, it sure felt like it.  And “We regret that your manuscript does not fit our current editorial needs.”  What the hell does that even mean?  Oh yeah, it means I was rejected.

But in going through all these “it’s not you” form letters, I found some that I remember thrilling me at the time.  Like the one from the late Jeanne Leiby when she was still the editor of the Florida Review.  “This came really close – and the only real reason we’re not taking it is because we already have too many child narratives for our current issue.  But please send again.”  Or the next one from her, when I sent another story:  “Thanks for sending again.  This came very close.”  Cream City Review sent one that offered other markets that might be better suited for the piece of flash fiction I had submitted.  South Carolina Review sent a letter that said, “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read… Though it does not suit our publication needs, one of our readers found an interest in your work and would like to encourage you to submit more of your work to our magazine.”  And Lunch Hour Stories, now sadly gone, sent a full page printed with all sorts of reasons listed for possible rejection, with little boxes for them to check.  And mine was checked, “The narrative is strong, but not quite what we’re looking for.”  And then circled, “Send us more of your work.”

All of those rejection letters were sent in response to stories that have since been published.  Which is one reason I keep them.  They remind me that possibly it’s not me after all. Maybe sometimes it really is just them.  I also keep them so I remember that there is kindness out there in publishing land, that some editors send little scribbles on the printed forms that make a writer euphoric.  Thanks to all of them, and also to the ones who’ve toughened me up by just out and out rejecting me.


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