Ah rejection letters, how I hate thee. Who doesn’t? We all want to be perfect and have all our pieces sell first time out. Chances are that if I was writing in the 50s I would be selling most pieces, but then probably some of my stuff would be banned since mindsets have changed since then.
One thing you can usually depend on when writing and submitting work is that you’ll receive back some indication as to whether your piece is rejected or accepted. A rejection might not be more than a boilerplate email, where the same message is sent to all rejectees. It might be a short personal note, with even a brief indication of why the editor didn’t accept it. Sometimes rejection letters are a combo of boilerplate with a personal note. And some editors have different degrees of rejection letters, from no thanks ,to no thanks but send us your next.
There are a few magazines that don’t send rejection letters, such as AdBusters. Personally, I find this rude and if I can go to the effort of sending my work in they should be able to go to the effort of hitting reply to send a response. I find I don’t really tend to send to magazines where I can’t gauge when they’re done with it, or I might simultaneously submit (sending to more than one publisher at the same time).
Interesting to note that as I was recently throwing out old rejection letters I found long talky rejections from editors. These were
from the 90s when the internet was still a youngling and letters actually came in the mail, and I guess, editors had time. I didn’t even remember being on first name basis with some of the editors who took time to tell me what worked and what didn’t. Maybe some day I’ll do a post with the best of those letters, because you know, I had keep those ones.
But, I ran into another area of rejection that turned out to be grey where I thought it was black and white. Some publishers will do reprint anthologies. A regular anthology might be all unpublished fiction, a mixture of published and unpublished or all published pieces. The reasons for a full-on reprint anthology could be it’s the best of starfaring giraffes or the year’s best bizarro fiction. It might also be done because the publisher can’t afford to pay high enough rates and reprints are often paid at a lower rate, or because the topic is small enough there just might not be enough material without having old and new, or as a retrospective. There are different reasons but reprint anthologies are handled differently.
In some cases, such as the Year’s Best that Ellen Datlow edits, she will have read a galaxy of stories already (I think she might be cloned). If you have a piece you think she might not have seen you’re encouraged to send it in to her. For other reprint anthos the onus is on the author to send the piece. With Ellen’s it could be either the publisher or the author. They run the gamut.
I’ve had some honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and the Year’s Best SF. In those cases, either the publisher submitted or Ellen had already read them. I found out about the honorable mentions in most cases from the editors, though once, for my story “Hold Back the Night,” which received mention in both Year’s Bests I only found out about three years later when I was doing a google search.
With other topic specific ones I’d send in my story and get either a rejection or an acceptance. This year I’d submitted to a couple of others, and in one case I received no letter. I just happened to see the list on another group. I sent an email, since it was a friend and said, “What, not even a rejection letter?” To make the long story short, the editor believed one doesn’t send rejection letters for retrospective anthologies, like Ellen Datlow’s, but then I don’t know if I sent her a story if I’d get a note or not. I was under the impression that if I submitted work I’d get a notice, even if only a group email of those in the antho. The editor was under the impression that no notice was necessary.
We actually both had reasonable expectations of what we thought was standard. Neither was really wrong. I suggested though to save on time and annoyance for everyone that it would help to clarify guidelines so that people aren’t emailing constantly wondering if they missed the notice. Making guidelines clear and succinct helps writers know the rules for each publication. So saying, “Do not respond before four months have gone by. If you have not heard from us until then, please query.” Or “Due to the volume of submissions we will not be sending out rejection notices. Table of contents should be listed by X date.”
So there you go. Just when you think you have it figured out, some new twist let’s you know there’s still room to grow. Now if I could only have it all figured out on how to be a millionaire in my writing. 😉