Nobody likes rejection. But it's part of the writer's life. The vast majority of rejection notices are generic and might apply to any of hundreds of submissions, disappointing but part of the job. The writer reads them quickly, updates her submission list and moves on.
Then there are the "personal" rejections. After a long spate of generic ones, these can feel as good as having a piece accepted. Almost. The writer is grateful that someone took the time to read her work and craft specific feedback. They may high-light some aspect of her story, poem or essay that resonated. Perhaps they provide a helpful comment on where it fell short. They might encourage the writer to submit again soon. Though the underlying message is "no thanks," these are gems. The writer cherishes these missives and puts them in a special file.
The personal, negative, rejection is another beast entirely. It's a double rejection, slamming a door when shutting it would do, shouting when it isn't necessary to getting one's point across, saying I hate you and your little dog too, the use of exclamation marks in any circumstance. The overtly disparaging rejection is rare, and memorable.
Here’s one example. The editors began with the usual stock phrases. Thank you for submitting to our journal . . . we regret to inform you . . . not a good fit for us. Then it got more pointed. Weak characters . . . senseless chronology . . . wrong title . . . wrong beginning. Then it got even more specific. The writer "either submitted the wrong file version or decided not to finish the story."
Then came the editor's terse summation: "None of the characters held my interest, and the basic situation is tired: impoverished rednecks, cartoonishly depicted, behaving badly." Followed by the confounding: "If you choose to revise and resubmit this story, please include a note letting the editors know that you have reworked the submission pursuant to editorial feedback."
A conscientious writer might be left to wonder, how would I revise my half-baked, piece of crap story to address the myriad short-comings noted in the editorial feedback? "Um, you're right, I forgot to finish my story. Thanks for noticing . . ."
A cynical writer might suspect the bit about revising and resubmitting was boiler-plate intended for submissions with which the editors found some shred of merit. Perhaps the negative personal rejection was a rare beast for the editors as well and they were at a loss for stock phrases with which to sign off.
Once the sting of rejection has subsided, the writer might feel a little pride creep in. Surely such a strongly and specifically worded response means that the story struck a nerve, perhaps several. It resonated. Not in a good way, but still. The writer may begin to parse the hurtful rejection for meaning.
“None of the characters held my interest, and the basic situation is tired: impoverished rednecks, cartoonishly depicted, behaving badly.”
It occurs to the writer that the editor has made a pretty brilliant observation, one that could be applied to so many circumstances. Open any newspaper or tabloid. Eavesdrop on any conversation in the grocery store check-out line. So many situations, so many characters might be transposed with the offensive "impoverished rednecks" and the observation would still be entirely apt. The writer begins to see it as a catch-phrase for the times; tack it onto any topical situation or public figure, or even one’s own family members and intimates, and it sort of works. She envisions an entire collection of stories featuring cartoonish, misbehaving characters and makes a note of it in her “idea” book.
Evil stepmothers. Stick-thin sisters. Writer friends who get published all the time. Misogynistic tycoons with bad combovers. More rednecks, impoverished or otherwise, because there are so many of them and they tend to misbehave.
The story that inspired the zinger of a rejection likely deserved it. Yet the hapless writer suspects it wasn't the trite situation, cartoonish characters or bad behavior that were at fault. Because, really, that's a rich and endless vein. It's what's happening right here, right now. She just hadn’t done it justice.
Or it could just be thin-skinned, and very sour, grapes, another painfully sensitive writer, herself a cartoon walking, writing badly, about impoverished rednecks.
The writer is now inclined to view the impersonal, we regret to inform you . . . brand of rejection notification more kindly.
Dorothy, author of GRAY IS THE NEW BLACK, blogs about the challenges and opportunities of being a woman and a writer of a certain age in a youth-centric universe.