Thank you for submitting a piece for the upcoming issue of [______]. We enjoyed some of the whimsical aspects of your piece. Unfortunately, we regret to inform you that we are unable to publish [______] at this time.
Please excuse my absence last week. I was processing.
Recently, I received a number of declinations in which the editor, after praising certain aspects of a given story, provided detailed feedback about what works and does not work, in their valued opinion.
In terms of feedback, the readers’ comments were all fairly consistent. Everyone agreed that it was excellently written but that it was difficult to engage with. I hope this feedback is helpful.
This got me to thinking about all the personalized rejections, or rejections with feedback, I have received over the past few years. Plenty has been written about the different types of rejection a writer will receive, the benefits of rejection, and how to respond to rejection. Yet, rejection notices that include specific feedback are peculiar things, quite rare.
What to make of them?
Flecks of gold
There are several things that work well in this story. It is well written and the concept is intriguing, but the execution of the concept itself doesn’t work for us. The vast jump in setting and time had something to do with that. It’s a device that ups a reader’s expectations, ad for us those expectations were not met. Of course this opinion is, as with all artistic works, subjective.
Ask most writers that submit work on a regular basis and they will tell you that rejection notices with feedback comprise a small percentage of the total number of rejections they receive. Personally, this type of feedback has not been forthcoming during the submission process.
Thanks for sending us your work again. I like Richie, and I like O’s Dickensian epistolary style. But the story’s personal stakes don’t feel as well-developed as its sociopolitical goals. Who is the narrator? He feels like a journalist reporting on a story from a great personal distance. How is Octavio singularly and disarmingly innocent? Do you really need to advertise this as “a story of privilege,” “a story of coincidence along the porous border of a country that doesn’t know how to decide about anything but war” ? The story may be these things, sure, but it’s better to let the reader decide (unless you’re going for ironic comedy wherein the story is precisely NOT what the narrator says it is). I’d recommend trying to restructure the plot to increase our emotional investment in the outcome, and thinking more about who the narrator is and what his relationship is to Richie and O.
Why? One answer is simple math. Editors receive, read, and respond to a large volume of submissions. Taking the time to consider each one with the thoroughness it requires to provide useful feedback (see the previous example), then compose that feedback and include it in a response to the writer, is unsustainable–response times that are already long would only further balloon. I have to assume that, when I receive feedback, the editor found my work worth considering and responding to–that my story distinguished itself from the rest of the slush.
As someone who does not hold, and is not pursuing, an MFA–who does not yet participate in local San Diego writing groups and critique sessions–I view these personalized rejection notices, with feedback, as bonafide writerly gold. Sometimes they hurt; sometimes I do not agree with everything the editor has to say. But overall, and almost without fail, this feedback has been most welcome and beneficial–of considerable fundamental value.
Thanks for sending us your work. Thanks for letting us read it. And congratulations, once more, on 50% of it getting picked up elsewhere. We liked that withdrawn piece quite a lot–albeit not enough to snatch it up as quickly as possible. The remaining piece of yours isn’t something we’re particularly interested in publishing. It’s good, but it grabs hold of us less than [______]. We’re sure it’s necessary and vital to you–that it means something to you–but it’s less resonant for us. Which is frustrating and subjective, but it’s also true–and you deserve the truth. Good luck placing it somewhere.
That being said, I try to stay disciplined and professional when considering this kind of feedback, meaning:
- I do not take all feedback at face value; I try to read these feedbacks with an objective eye, filter out the perspectives and pointers I disagree with, and move on (I worked hard on these stories, so with regard to throwing certain things out the door because one editor suggests it, I am reticent).
- When I do disagree, I resist the impulse to oblige the immediate outcries of my insufferable ego, scream foul, and respond accordingly.
- I use this feedback to consider how the reader, anyone not wearing my shoes, sees this text. I bring this with me when I return to the drawing board for revisions–when I set out on the fabled blindspot hunt.
Again: I could be wrong, but personalized feedback indicates to me that a writer is on the right track–that her prose is worth taking the time to consider. Editors are busy people. People are busy people.
And this story garnered a little bit more of their time.
I respond to feedback like I would respond to any person who has set aside time to spend with my creative work: with a note of sincere gratitude.
And then I get back to work.
It’s a really good story. It’s not right for our current needs, but I think you’ll have luck placing it. I wish you all the best.