When I started out as a writer, I went to work with short stories.  There are tons of markets to share my stories with.  When I got my first form letter rejection, I wasn’t surprised.  I’d known rejection was part of the game and I had been warned that most markets use the Form Letter for rejections.  The question no one could really answer clearly was: Why?

I’d first been told it was because of the sheer volume of submissions.  Which I wasn’t sure about since I didn’t think it took but two seconds more to tell me why I was rejected.

I was told it has to do with editor policy.  Which is true, but doesn’t really answer the why.

I was told it was just the industry standard.  Again true, but not really why.

The point is, every writer danced around the topic because frankly none really knew why.  We just accepted it as the way of the writing world, and went with it.  After all there really isn’t anything any of us can do to change it, unless we all just stopped sending in submissions.  But I’m not going to stop sending in submissions over the type of rejection I get.

I’ve been running Plasma Frequency now for five months and we’ve put out two issues.  And up until yesterday we offered personal rejections on every submission.  Even as our large volume of submission came in, we continued to provide personal rejection letters.  Why did we do that?  I thought that was what writers wanted.  They wanted to be told why their story was rejected.  They wanted to learn from the rejections.  They wanted to know if the editor even finished manuscript.  And if not, why.  So I thought, lets tell them. 

The problem is this.  Authors don’t really want to know.  Not truly.  When they find out from the editor that the opening was boring, it upsets them more than the form letter did.  When an editor say the manuscript wasn’t formatted and submitted correctly, they get aggravated they were rejected on a technicality.   When the editor says the story was great but doesn’t fit the publication, they get mad that the publication doesn’t accept “great” stories.

I realize this is an over generalization.  I get upset at personal rejection from time to time, but I really appreciate that they took the time to tell me why.  And in the end, like most writers, I just move on.  I fix the problem, or don’t, and send it off to the next place.

The problem is that there are a significant number of authors who are not professional enough to move on.  They have to say something back.  Those authors should read my blog post, “Inside an Editor’s Mind (Tips for Writers)”.  The problem is they are rarely correct in their anger, and it is almost always misplaced.

My staff and I have been threatened, cursed at, CAP LOCKED, and cyber bullied.  I already nearly lost one editor because of it.  Here are some of the things we’ve gotten back from authors.

“Well you would know about “overly sexual” you whore.”

“I will find everything any of you have ever written and I will ensure everyone I know rates it as poorly as possible.”

“You can suck my dick!”

“I consider myself above your petty opinions.”

“You must be sleeping with the Lead Editor to get your job.”

“I will tell everyone about your lack of professionalism.”

“YOU CAN ALL EAT SHIT!”

“You are by far one of the UGLIEST people I’ve seen.”

“I will find you and you will regret rejecting ME.”

Your first thought might be that we are doing something wrong.  That we are rude in our personal rejection.  But I discovered I am not the only one getting this behavior, we just rarely talk about it.

John Joseph Adams, editor for Lightspeed, and in my opinion one of the better editors in the business recently tweeted: “This week, have been both called a “tool” for rejecting someone & had a writer reply “FUCK YOU!!!” Still so surprising when people do this.”

While he is one of the only ones I know to publicly say so, many other editors have privately shared the same types of stories.  Writers who complain about how unprofessional we are, while writing to us in an unprofessional manner.  Frankly it is embarrassing to writers as a whole, and if we editors wanted to be truly unprofessional we’d share with you their names so you could rise up against them.  Because the fact remains that the main reason editors stop providing personal rejections is because of the abuse that writers like these give us.

The problem here is the professional divide.  There are many websites warning writers of bad editors.  Editors that take advantage of writers.  There should be.  There are also plenty of people who take to the internet in persecution of an editor or a company simply because of a rejection letter.  That is not right.  I personally have yet to find a website that warns editors of unprofessional writers.  Writers who say things that I’ve mentioned above.

Why?  We have to take the high road.  We have to be professional and accept that is is part of our job.  We are trying to give our opinions to help you understand why your story didn’t make the cut.  They are our opinions.  We are then persecuted, bullied, and abused for giving those opinions.  We just wanted to help.  It makes many editors quit.  And as their boss, I can’t really allow it to happen.  We can take limited steps to protect ourselves, such as switching to form rejection.  That is why we, at Plasma Frequency, stopped providing personal rejections to first read rejections.  We hope to continue to provide them to second and third read rejections.  Hopefully the writers at that level can handle our opinions.

Once again, I recognize that most writers don’t behave this way.  This might come off as a bit of rant.  And in a way it is.But the point is, it is my opinion that many publications use form letters simply because of the abuse the get if they used personal rejections.

Of course, as an editor I still very much respect writers.  I am thankful for the submissions we get.  I couldn’t run my magazine with out them.  I’ll likely still send out a few personal rejections to those who might appreciate the opinion.

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6 thoughts on “Form Rejections

  1. Criticism in any form is difficult to take. It’s difficult to adapt to, especially if you’ve gotten little of it in the past. You’ll have to do a sequel, I would be interested to know if form letters cut down much of the “feedback.”

    1. I’ll see how this goes and certainly follow up with if this cuts down on the harsh feedback. I hope that it does, as it isn’t fair to my staff which are all volunteers.

  2. After ten years editing a small literary publication here in Australia I’ve also come across a few writers who don’t appreciate the personal touch. I always try to ‘do unto others’ and love getting feedback on my work so try to return the favour. Fortunately, I haven’t had as many crude responses, at least not that I know of…perhaps my ears should be buring sometimes!

    1. Like I said, I don’t think some authors really want to know why it was rejected. And as J.S. said, some just haven’t had the exposure to criticisms of their work. This is another great reason to join a writers group. They will help you with your work and give you a lot more criticism then your friends and family will.

  3. Sorry to hear it got so crazy for you and the rest of the Plasma Frequency staff. I’m always excited when I find a market that offers personal rejections. I feel like it provides writers with priceless insight into what an editor is looking for. Probably naive, but it never occurred to me that anyone would respond in such a way. I wanted to say thank you for the time and effort you and your staff put into being an extraordinarily writer-friendly magazine. I have very much appreciated the feedback you’ve given me on my stories. Hopefully moving to form rejections will cut down on the abuse you all have to put up with. Keep up the good work!

    1. It is an unfortunate thing to have to cut out or change a policy because of a few bad eggs. But I am already so extremely short staffed that to lose editors over this isn’t worth it.

      Thank you for the positive feedback. It takes an huge amount of what little spare time I have to put out Plasma Frequency every couple of months (not to mention the cost). So the positive feedback reminds me why I keep doing it.

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