What Makes a Good Rejection? (With Free Books for Prizes!)

forest avenue press logoOne of the unexpected consequences of starting a micro press and opening for submissions is needing to create a form rejection letter. We’re getting really wonderful queries so far, but since we’re only planning to publish two or three books each year, we’ll be making some very tough decisions in the next few months.

And in case you’re reading this and getting your hopes up, I’m only accepting queries from Oregon authors. (This is what I’m looking for.)

Our surge of popularity has a lot to do with the famous (and famously wonderful) Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, posting the Forest Avenue Press call for submissions to her Facebook and Twitter accounts last week. We had an exponential increase in interest, and a subsequent number of queries arrive in our submissions inbox.

And this is just the beginning!

The submissions period ends March 1, so I have some time. But I’m thinking about how to write rejections when the time comes, because from a numbers perspective, that’s going to have to happen. Being a very small press, I would like to give people personal notes explaining about taste, or a particular thing I like about a query, or the one sticking point. On the other hand, there’s something familiar and comforting about a standard rejection letter.

How do you like your rejections? Do you really want to know the story behind them if it’s presented professionally and (ideally) with a compliment? Or is more flat/anonymous easier to swallow? Would you be annoyed to get a compliment in a rejection and wonder why, if the editor really liked X about your manuscript, why it was an ultimate pass? Would you understand a rejection that explained that this is a very small organization and our choices are primarily based on personal taste?

This is what I love about communities of writers–the chance to ask each other questions, motivate each other, commiserate (as needed!) and brainstorm.

To encourage you to bring those rejection stories out of your own personal closets, I’m going to give away two copies of Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life. I have some seconds–copies with slight streaking on the cover, or light streaks along the bottoms of the pages. The cosmetic flaws are very minor, and nearly invisible. They certainly don’t impact readability or even the overall quality and beauty of the books. I ended up with these copies because I didn’t notice the flaws when buying them from the printer, and now I don’t want to sell them for full price when I have clean, crisp fresh copies to sell. So I’ll be giving two of those copies away Monday morning, Jan. 14, around 9 a.m. Pacific Time. All you have to do is comment on this post. You can comment as many times as you want–and each one will count as an entry. I’ll use Random.org to pick the winners, and then I’ll notify them in the comments. If I can’t reach a winner to get an address within a reasonable amount of time I’ll pick another winner.

If you don’t win and want to buy a less-than-perfect copy of Brave on the Page, I’d be happy to sell one to you for $10 plus $5 shipping and handling (for envelopes and postage and such). So that’s $15 for a $14 book including shipping. If you’re interested, pop me an email at laurastanfill at hotmail dot com. We can figure out payment arrangements privately; I take credit cards through my trusty Square device, but I’d want to do that over the phone so credit card numbers aren’t floating around in cyberspace. I have a limited number of these copies, so first come, first served–and of course if we get a bunch of requests, I’m reserving the two for this giveaway.

So have at it. What’s your ideal rejection? What advice do you have for me, a newly minted gatekeeper?

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Community, Contest, Fiction, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to What Makes a Good Rejection? (With Free Books for Prizes!)

  1. A reason about WHY it is rejected is always important to me. I don’t like the formulated letters that everyone gets. We need to grow as authors and when you turn someone down, I think it’s important they know why. I’ve never really gotten a “this is why your story wasn’t accepted” rejection, but that’s what I would’ve wanted. 🙂

  2. Judy Fleagle says:

    As a magazine editor for 21 years, I wrote many rejections. We did have a standard form, but I wrote notes on it for each story that I liked but couldn’t use. We had limited space in the magazines and could use only so many. When I marked only on the form, it meant I really didn’t want, like, or need that particular story. Many years ago, I seem to remember that Robert Frost once said something about some of his rejection letters being much more interesting reading than the acceptance letters. So I would write something even if you do use a standard form.

    • Judy, I love the idea of a writer opening a form rejection only to find something handwritten from you. I have the same trouble–limited time instead of limited space, but it’ll cause the same issue of me not being able to publish everything I want. Since I’m doing email I could certainly do a personal one easily.

      As a newspaper editor, I really didn’t turn anything away as long as it had to do with the community. So this is totally new to me!

  3. I’m probably the last person to ask, having only received one rejection letter in my life (from the New Yorker, personally written), but I think from a small press I would want something personal. Impersonal form letters seem more appropriate from impersonal corporations, in my opinion.

    • I’ve had a personal rejection from the New Yorker, too, Anthony, and it was my favorite! I still have it someplace. I don’t have a lot from magazines or editors–more from agents–but I appreciate you pointing out that the small press dynamic makes it more important to be personal.

  4. 4amWriter says:

    Laura, for months I was getting form rejections entitled “Dear Author…not a good fit…” with no explanation as to why. It was extremely frustrating because I am a serious writer. If I knew where my book was going wrong I would do what I could to fix it.

    When I hear authors say they received a personalized rejection, they sound so much more enthusiastic and revitalized than when they get a form rejection. It’s that little extra effort that tells the author so-and-so agent/publisher really read your material and really cares about where you go from here. An author feels respected, valued. When authors get that form rejection, it’s deflating and a bit demoralizing because you’re made to feel like you’re just another author to reject and that no one has time to give you a bit of help or advice.

    • Thanks for your perspective, Kate! I have to admit this question came about because I was imagining writers clicking on their messages from me and feeling totally deflated. (Since I have felt that way before… ) So the fact that I can honor their work by talking about it and responding to it makes me feel better.

  5. Thanks for all the responses so far, guys! I’m excited to have a unanimous vote (so far) but certainly welcome dissenters. One of my fears about writing personal rejections is having the writer feel upset or hurt by why I didn’t like their work. This tells me that feedback of any sort is better than vanilla form letter speak. Keep the answers coming! The giveaway closes Monday. And here are some more questions.

    I don’t want to give actual examples, but let’s say, for instance, I get a query that’s not close enough to my definition of a quiet novel. I could reject easily and understandably on that basis. Should I say anything about the work itself in that case? My gut reaction is no! I want to be as polite and tactful as possible so hopefully they’ll resubmit another time and/or become a follower of the press’ work. On the other hand, I have a manuscript in the queue that I love, and hope to publish, but it doesn’t fit the definition of what I’m looking for and it was submitted before the open period. If I rejected someone based on not meeting the criteria and then published this book, then maybe the writer won’t understand unless I have made a comment about the work itself having a major flaw.

    Here’s another situation. I have decided, personally, more about what I love about books, i.e. this epiphany I’ve been working through about literature as entertainment. Would you be annoyed if you got a rejection that said the editor just didn’t personally like that style or type of book?

  6. jmmcdowell says:

    Your last question there is a tough one. In reality, many rejections are probably based on the agent or editor’s personal taste. As a writer, though, I’d like to think agents and editors can see beyond their personal tastes and recognize that something they don’t like personally could still find a good audience. Of course, the submitted work should always fit what the agent/editor is looking for. I think if an editor said my work “didn’t click” with them, then I would hope for some encouragement to submit it elsewhere. That way I would know that the work has promise.

    • Once again I feel like WordPress ate some of my comments that I did straight from my notification window. I really thought I had responded to you! I love the “didn’t click” idea and wishing them good luck elsewhere.

      I’ve always known that the business is subjective, but now that I’m on the other end of wanting and needing to fall in love with a project, I understand on a different level.

  7. Laura, the best rejection is short and kind. State the reality of the limited nature of your publication and if you think it works, encourage some of them to try again. Rejection by its nature stings and leaves a bitter taste, so be nice and remember what it was like when you were at the other end of the process 🙂

    • I’m definitely going to enter this phase thinking primarily about how it feels to get rejections. (It’s not a nice feeling, although occasionally a good one can be a positive experience.) Short and kind are great watch words. Thanks!

  8. The best rejections I’ve gotten have been more a ‘how to fix it’ letter–deeper characters, plot wanders, that sort. Only a paragraph. I then have a To Do list of corrections should I want to resubmit. Sometimes just a sentence explaining I didn’t dig deep enough into a character’s motivation.

  9. Pingback: Marching Toward My Goal « jmmcdowell

  10. Head’s up. I think your blog is pretty awesome. I’ve nominated your for The Versatile Blogger award. Check it out. Here’s my link: http://dlfwriting.com/2013/01/12/the-versatile-blogger-award/

  11. Hello, guys! Thanks for all your comments. Emerald and David are the two winners of copies of Brave on the Page! Pop me an email at laurastanfill at hotmail dot com so I can get your addresses.

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