The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly on Rejection Letters

Positive Rejection Letters: Is there such a thing?

The answer is Yes! Writers are masochists. Well, we’re sadists, too. Lord knows, we love to torture our characters and sometimes even murder them, but that is for another blog post.

Masochist? Why else would you submit to journals and magazines who inevitably and assuredly reject you? I can’t even fathom how many times I submitted to Glimmer Train before they called it quits and left the depot forever, quite possibly because I never relented. I had it my head that if you can make it there, then you’ll make it…You can fill in the rest, and yes, it should accompany Frank Sinatra. Never mind if Glimmer Train was right for me! For fifteen years I received one to two rejection letters annually from GT.  If you are expecting a happy ending to this story, there isn’t one, unless your definition of fun is moving rejection letters to your rejection folder. Ow.

I can’t say that I have ever received an ugly rejection letter, but I hear they were common back in the day. Redefine ugly. I think I’d be happy to receive a rejection letter from The New Yorker, but with the amount of submissions they receive you must assume no news means no thank you. So, what is a bad rejection letter? One that does not encourage you to resubmit.

I always assumed that the editor and/or staff were being kind by encouraging me to submit again, but recently I attended a lecture by the editor of Five Points Review, and she stated that if the you get those “kind” words then the journal actually means it. Now, I am revisiting all the journals I poo-pooed because they failed to publish me the first time around, and in doing so have received what I consider to be positive rejection letters. Below is a sampling of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Here is what I would classify as a “bad” rejection letter:

Dear Dawn Major,

Thank you for sending us “Saint Damien of Molokai.” We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.
Five Points

Notice there are NO comments encouraging me to submit again? Listen up. I’m not implying the editor was mean when I use the term “bad.” I will submit to Five Points again, but I will use this information to understand what appeals to them.  You should also read the journals to see what they are into.

Here is a standard rejection letter to compare:

Dear Dawn Major,

Thank you for allowing The Greensboro Review to consider your fiction submission. We have read your work carefully but must decline to publish. We regret that the volume of submissions we receive and the small size of our staff prevent us from giving a more personal response, but we hope that you will submit to us again.

We wish you the best in placing your work elsewhere, and we thank you for your support of The Greensboro Review.


The Greensboro Review

This one was not good, but also not that bad. I would categorize it as a basic rejection letter. They did, after all, encourage me to submit again.

Here are two examples of positive rejection letters. The first one is from The Missouri Review. See if you can spot the differences between positive verses bad or just so-so: 

Dear D. Major,

Sincere thanks for sending us “White Trash” for consideration. Our staff especially admired the clear, direct narrative voice in this essay. Though we’ve decided not to publish this piece, we are quite interested in seeing more of your writing and hope you’ll send other work in the near future.


The Editors


Dear Dawn,

We really like reading Nov/Dec 2017 Family Matters contest submissions because of the many views they offer about the intimacy and challenges and importance of family. “Nativity” did not place this time, but it was a good story, and we’re glad to have read it—thank you!

Warm regards,

Susan & Linda
Glimmer Train Press

If it isn’t clear (and some of you will think I am reading between the lines), the difference is the editorial comment and the encouragement to submit again. I received another rejection from The Missouri Review that was equally encouraging, but with editorial advice which was that they thought the story was funny but lacked a theme or purpose. I agree with that statement. I thought the same thing, but the story was a classic Christmas tale and the theme was rather superficial. I’m okay with that. Those sorts of comments are helpful and also require someone actually typing in individual notes other than a simple form rejection.

The moral of the story? PERSEVERE WRITERS. PERSEVERE!

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