The Highlights of My Week – Rejected Again

My latest rejection letter came from a new source. I had never submitted to Highlights before. Knowing they probably receive hundreds of submissions every day and  am not surprised by the result. What did surprise me is the format of the rejection letter.

I’ve seen many types of rejection letters over the years. The worst are the over copied, barely readable forms that look as if they were printed two to a page and torn in half before being stuffed into envelopes by angry interns.  The best ones use my name in the greeting and include a bit of information as to why my work wasn’t accepted. A bit of constructive criticism is always appreciated as well.

The one from Highlights is addressed “Dear Author” and it’s clearly a form letter but it’s far from the disastrous epistle described above. It reads in part:

“All editors have preferences. Our wisdom and judgement are limited. What we reject here may be eagerly accepted elsewhere. many a noted writer has climbed to success on steps built by early rejection slips. Don’t get discouraged!

We are returning your manuscript because:”

Under that is a list of eighteen possible reasons why the editors didn’t select my submission. I take a great deal of satisfaction in what they didn’t check, things like:

It lacks a fresh approach, or, it lacks a tight focus, or worse yet, we do not believe that the subject would appeal strongly to our readers.”

 What is checked on my letter is: “It’s not suited to our present needs.”  Yes, it’s very generic and it could be interpreted a number of ways but I’ll take it as a positive in this case.  I even sent them the following response.

 “Thank you for considering my manuscript and for the informative rejection letter. As a longtime writer I get them often. It’s part of the business I’m in. Not everyone does it as well as Highlights and I appreciate your approach. Perhaps one day I’ll hit the right note on the right day. Until then, I’ll keep trying.”

Very soon after I received as response. And it was addressed to me.  By name.

“Dear Bobbi,

Thank you for taking the time to write. We’re happy to hear that you will not let rejection discourage you. You might be interested to know that we receive approximately a thousand manuscripts every month and can purchase fewer than one percent of those.

Best of luck with your writing!

It was signed by a real person. Not the generic, “The Editors”  on the original rejection.  Now someone at Highlights knows my name and has reason to think of me in a positive way. That’s a big step when seeking publication in a new market and I will be submitting to Highlights again very soon and addressing my submission directly to this editor.  I hope she remembers me. I hope she accepts my submission but if not, I will keep trying.

This isn’t the first time I’ve used rejection to get my foot in the door with an editor. I often target a publication,setting a goal for acceptance within a certain time frame. Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes I never get there. But it works often enough that it’s always part of my overall strategy.  To me “no” means “not yet.”  Wish me luck.

What do you do when you receive a rejection letter? Do you have a rejection to publication tale to share? I invite you to post it here.  

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2 Responses to “The Highlights of My Week – Rejected Again”

  1. E. Harvey Says:

    As the Acquisitions Editor of a company, perhaps I can shed some light on the “form letter” responses and maybe give you some insight into why they’re used.

    Unfortunately, we use them at one level as well. If a query comes to us and blatantly doesn’t follow the query guidelines or is just plain something we are uninterested in or it’s really not something publishable we will send a form letter that basically thanks the person for sending us their submission etc. (all of these are in electronic format, by the way). The reason for this is if we give reasons it leaves room for an exchange – often an exchange that we don’t want.

    The exchange that is most often the case with manuscripts rejected in the query stage is one of the author becoming angry, rude, and defensive of their work – regardless of the tone, quality, or content of the rejection letter. Not only is this behavior unprofessional, I just don’t have time to delete angry emails and I don’t want to sit down at my desk to hate mail every day.

    However, if we request (and review) a manuscript we will give a rejection letter that details where improvements might be made (each of these is written specifically to the author with detailed information about their manuscript, it’s not a form letter other than the opening and closing paragraphs). The reason is that if the author took time to follow our guidelines and sent us a work that was interesting enough that we wanted to read the manuscript, they deserve a chance to understand (and potentially improve upon) what they missed the first time around.

    As a company gets larger and ends up with a growing pile of manuscripts, however, the time required to write a detailed analysis dwindles somewhat and thusly large companies often simply stamp out form letters as a means of ensuring that things are as expedient as possible in any way they can be. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily right, or fair to the authors, but I’m just trying to give you insight into the reasoning behind the form letter from the point of view from a person who writes responses to queries and submissions.

  2. schizophrenicwriter aka Bobbi Carducci Says:

    Thank you for the detailed information. To have someone in your position repsond is a gift for new writers.

    Writers who stick with it know that having our work declined is not personal. It’s part of the business we’re in. That said, sometimes it helps the emerging writer to hear from someone who is able to find the positive in the forms we get.

    I teach a workshop titled, NO means NOthing, to encourage beginners to keep working to improve their writing and accept the challenge of getting a piece published where they’d like to see it.

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