TLR’s editors have a label they can attach to poetry and story submissions that reads “Send Personal Rejection.” A check of our files recently showed that we have sent out 280 of those notes in our first two-plus issues.
Some writers prefer not to receive personal rejections. There are times when I feel that way. A rejection, after all, no matter how nicely worded, is still a rejection. But as a writer myself, I understand how tough it is to get a piece published. Even for excellent writers the acceptance rate is usually less than five percent. And just because a piece was rejected, doesn’t mean the editor didn’t like it. So we use the personal rejection for a variety of purposes.
You Got Close: TLR receives many submissions that are worthy of publication. Since we can’t publish them all, we do like to tell submitters that we enjoyed the read and that it was a contender. This is, frankly, a tricky practice, since to some it may appear we are just angling for another submission fee. Please trust that we don’t indulge in such scammery. We just want you to know that you impressed us.
Encouragement: There are an even greater number of submissions that show that a writer has promise. Although the piece may not be ready for publication, we often comment to point out what we liked about it. This is especially true when it’s obvious the submitter is a student or recent grad from a creative writing program. It’s even more difficult for beginning writers to find publication, and we think it’s important to let them know they’re getting closer.
Constructive criticism: This is one I employ, exclusive of my co-editors, and I do so sparingly. Occasionally a piece impresses me, but has issues that keep us from selecting it for publication. In my rejection note I sometimes comment, as an effort to help, where I thought the piece could be improved. Offering criticism to submitters is a bit of a risk, since the writer may be sensitive to comments. So when I do so I always include a note that the opinion is mine alone, and that other editors might disagree. So far, though, recipients seem to have appreciated the remarks.
Let’s work on this: Another of mine. Once in while a piece comes in that shows tremendous promise, but also needs significant revision. Usually it’s the voice or the theme that really connects, and I can’t help imagining the impact of the story if it were reworked. Although I’m no Gordon Lish, I sometimes (rarely, actually) offer substantial help in revising the piece, including detailed notes and several back-and-forth sessions to make it publishable.
Nearly 300 personal rejections in two issues may seem like a lot, but when the ways in which personal rejections can be used constructively are factored in, the number seems right to us. The editors at TLR believe that rejection doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing experience for writers. If you get a personal note from one of us, know that we thought your work good enough to take the time to acknowledge it.