Reading the Tea Leaves of Rejection

So I received another rejection letter yesterday. I know, I know, rejection is part of becoming a better writer, so I should try to embrace it. But that doesn’t mean rejection doesn’t hurt. And upon reading this letter, I was hurt. What do you mean my story didn’t “hold your interest”?

But (for whatever reason), I started to google that phrase and that magazine (I won’t name it here, but you can figure it out easily with a little Google-fu) to see what others thought of the rejection letter. And it turns out that this magazine uses a tiered system of rejection letters. The first, and lowest tier, contains the phrase “didn’t grab my interest.” This translates roughly to “I didn’t finish reading it.” The second tier contains the phrase “didn’t hold my interest,” and this translates to “I did finish reading it, but I’m not interested” (it dragged in the middle, the characters fell flat, etc.). The third, and highest tier, contains the phrase “not right for this magazine,” and this translates (roughly) to “This is a good story, but it isn’t a fit for our editorial style” (which could mean it’s too modern/urban, that they just bought a story like this, etc.).

In my experience, this sort of tiered rejection style is rare these days among genre publications, so I wasn’t familiar with the code or having to interpret rejection letters. Honestly, most rejection letters are form letters or e-mails these days, so there’s no need for interpretation. It’s usually a straight up yes or no, unless you see a personalized note (which can be a wonderful thing). And I know, I shouldn’t whine. Considering most slush readers devote 30 seconds to a story, I’m lucky that mine was read all the way through. I’m doubly lucky considering my story began with a line of dialogue (a classic no-no).

But here’s the thing. I didn’t have to research what it actually meant. I could have gone about my evening, sulking all night long. But I didn’t. I learned something (technically, this is probably the 387th time I’ve learned this): there is still so much I don’t know about writing and the publishing industry. But I won’t let that stop me. I will keep learning. I will keep getting better.

And maybe, someday, if I’m very lucky, and I keep at it, I’ll receive a letter that reads, “I’m sorry, but your story is not right for this magazine.”