Recently my writers’ group had an email discussion about rejections. One of my friends said she’d been encouraged by a well-known journal, and she shared this email she’d received:
Greetings! Thank you for sending your work to _____________. After careful deliberation, I’m sorry to report that we have decided not to accept it for publication. However, we wanted to let you know that we did read this submission with more than the casual amount of interest, that your work in some way distinguished itself from many of our other submissions.
We wish you luck in placing this particular submission in another venue. We also hope that you will consider sending more work our way in the future.
That note struck a chord with me, and I did a quick email search through deleted messages. Sure enough, I’d received the exact same message from the same journal a year before. The first-person approach and casual tone had fooled us both into believing an editor wrote the note just for us, and made us both want to resubmit. But now we both felt a little cheated. The personal rejection was not so personal. It became an oxymoron—a personalized form letter.
Granted, whether it was boilerplate text or not, the editors must have felt our work had merit enough to invite additional submissions.
Or did they? Could it be they just wanted more submissions? A writer has to wonder, especially in the case of a journal that charges a submission fee.
Read this one I got in the past week carefully:
Dear Mr. Ponepinto:
Sorry for the delay. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you personally for participating in the ________ Award. Although you were not the winner or one of the runner-ups, we appreciated the opportunity to read “Afterlife.” It is noteworthy that the final judge of this year’s competition, _________, declared he was very impressed with the variety and creativity of this year’s submissions overall. We screened hundreds of excellent manuscripts written by people throughout the U.S., Canada and around the world. The range, sophistication and diversity of expression were truly wonderful. This year, for the 3rd time, we were able to offer $100 dollars to each of the runners-up, in addition to the $1000 first prize. Our only regret is that we could not have more winners. If we had, you might have been one of them.
I love that line, “you might have been one of them.” Do the contest organizers moonlight for Publisher’s Clearinghouse? When I first received this, my unthinking reaction was that I had been close to placing in the contest. But it doesn’t say that. It’s merely more boilerplate text with some variables coded in so my name and story title appeared. That reduces the message to cleverly worded marketing crap. The organizers want the recipient to believe it, and submit to the contest again next time.
How many journals use this tactic? What kind of business are we in when even so-called personal communications are fake? Writing is supposed to be about truth and openness, but some of the publishers in the business seem to have forgotten that, and prefer to operate like sleazy hucksters.
I think I might take this issue public. Use social media to see if other writers feel as I do about phony personal rejections. If we can expose the practice, maybe we can convince some editors and publishers to make the personal, personal again.