Friday, December 05, 2008

the art of the rejection letter

Writing a rejection letter in response to a pitch is rarely a pleasant experience. As Jean Hannah Edelstein says in a post on the Guardian's Books Blog, "[I]t is not easy to achieve and balance the two central goals of a truly accomplished rejection letter: trying not to make the writer feel distraught whilst also discouraging him or her from ever contacting you ever again."

Edelstien's comments come in response to the call for submissions of rejection letters for a new book, "Other People's Rejection Letters"(perhaps you have your own to contribute). While Edelstein points out that the purpose of the book is likely to provide comfort to rejectees (of every sort, not just writers), it has potential to be an excellent teaching tool for editors. I suspect it will be filled with the most crass, ill-thought-out letters out there, essentially making it a what-not-to-do guide.

I'm curious, though: rejection letters were never covered in any of my schooling; have you ever been coached on how to craft one?


Anonymous said...

these days it's rare enough just to get a return voicemail or email... usually we are just left hanging out to dry wondering...

* editors (and art directors) need to be reminded that they misrepresent the entire magazine and the mother company when they act mannerless.

Briony said...

As a writer, my one suggestion to editors is to always include at least a brief explanation as to why it's not a good fit (even a sentence or two will do).

That way, they can know what not to do for next time.

I've had a couple of pitches get rejected, but I've been very lucky to have awesome editors who (usually) go over why it's not a good fit.

You try and research a pitch and what mag (and mag section) it would go best in, but there's some things newbs might know, or simply the ins and outs of a particular pub's editorial strategy.

I think it actually saves editors time in the long run, as they get better pitches from everyone.

Anonymous said...

I've been coached. The lesson was: Stick to the form letter. As an intern at a high-profile magazine (I won't name) I used to write the rejection letters for pitches.

There was a basic template to use, but I always tried to personalize it a bit, out of respect for the writer's effort.

However, in writing lots of rejections in succession (usually at the end of a long day) I was doomed to make a mistake, mixing up a name or a pitch subject, etc. I ended up really pissing off a writer by making it look like we didn't even consider his pitch.

I shoulda stuck to the template.

So the next time you get a form-letter rejection, it's not necessarily a bad thing!