Vague Rejection Letters

I received a very vague rejection letter today. “Thank you for submitting [My Wonderful Novel]. Unfortunately, it does not fit our needs at this time.”

What the heck does that mean? [Sorry. Unless it was my letter, I have no idea what that really means. You’d have better luck asking a magic 8 ball.]

If my novel stinks, why can’t they just come out and say so? [Because we want you to keep writing.] Or if it’s for one of the other reasons you discussed previously on this blog, why can’t they tell me so that I don’t like, go off and do irreparable damage to my laptop or something? [Because we don’t want you to go off and do irreparable damage to us!]

And would it really kill them to offer just a couple of sentences of feedback? [There are days when it almost does.] Sometimes I wonder if they even read one sentence of my submission. [Uhm, we’re in the business to find manuscripts. Trust me. We always read the first sentence. Unless you’re a flamer (see last paragraph).]

Ticked Off

As a submissions editor faced with an unpublishable manuscript, I’m caught between a rock and a hard place here. On the one hand, I love authors and I want to give you as much information as I can to help you get that manuscript published. On the other hand, there are only so many hours in my work day and I need to spend most of them on tasks that will earn the company money. If I don’t, we go out of business and nobody gets published.

I’ve been asked why I can’t create a form letter that says, “Your manuscript was rejected for the following reasons…” then check all that apply, or leave a space and insert 2 or 3 sentences. I’ve tried. It doesn’t seem to make the process any easier for me or for you.
In my experience, specific feedback ticks people off. (Funny, no one got mad when I gave specific feedback as a free-lance editor and charged them $40 an hour for it. But when it’s free, they don’t like it.)

A personalized rejection takes a lot of time and thought to create, and it usually comes back to bite me. When I sent the more personalized rejections, a lot of the authors would call to argue with me or send flaming e-mail messages.

But guess what. Nobody argues with a vague rejection letter. Maybe 2% of the authors who get the vague letter call or e-mail back. Interestingly, those who do are generally very grateful and respectful of both my time and my opinion when they ask for additional feedback, and so I generally oblige.

So if you want more specific feedback, first cool down. Then send a very short and polite e-mail asking for it. I’m guessing most editors will respond if the tone of your message is respectful and not argumentative. In our company, we keep a log with brief notes on every submission. It’s not too hard to copy and paste those notes into a reply e-mail.

Or if you’ve sent a full, include a large SASE and ask the editor to send their notes. When I read a full, I keep my pen handy and put notes in the margins of changes that need to be made if the manuscript is accepted. I don’t send these notes unless I’m asked for them because they’re really honest. Most people do not want to read, “Give me a break!” written in the margins of their masterpiece. So if you ask for it, be prepared to accept it.

When you get the feedback, you don’t have to agree with it. And you’re more than welcome to rub my nose in it later if you want. Just file it away and bring it out to show all your friends after you’ve become a rich and famous author, while I’m still a little podunk publisher. That’s fine. But please, please, please, don’t argue with me about it. I won’t change my mind. It won’t earn you any points if you try to submit another manuscript to me in the future. I note these follow-up communications in the submissions log. If I put “called 10 times to argue with me” or “sent 17 flaming e-mails” in that log, you better believe I’ll never read another sentence of anything you send me.