Colleges and universities long ago resorted to form declinations for applicants who don’t make the cut. Employers also send form letters to applicants who are not selected. Applying for a loan? These days, many people with great credit are finding loans difficult to obtain; only fair lending practice laws and regulations dictate that applicants be given the specific reasons for the denial of their loan applications.
In each case, there could be something that the applicant could learn, and change, in order to turn a “no” to a “yes” later on. However, in most cases, this type of information has to be learned from outside sources: counselors and placement officers, job coaches, financial and credit counselors, and other types of business specialists, such as those with the SBA or other similar organizations. The other great assister in this regard is life: as in experience, growth and improvement.
In contrast, the world of writing, especially in fiction, is a lot less formal. Writers may get a form rejection, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they did an awful job, or made some horrible errors that meant they should never have submitted their work in the first place. All of the chitchat regarding my post about “Todd” the Timid, Adam-Troy Castro’s correspondent who was afraid he’d gotten on some scary editorial blacklist just by having another story rejected previously, reminded me of the reason why editors of pro and semi-pro publications, as well as book publishers, use form rejections. Because “Todd” was thoughtful and considerate in his questions for Adam, if a little bit overconcerned and timid, I can tell right off that Todd is an unlikely choice for editorial blacklist, and also, he probably didn’t do a single thing “wrong.” His story was very likely rejected because it was not suitable for any number of reasons, none of them vaguely personal, and whichever editor responded that way so quickly seems, as I observed, to have been very on-the-ball about it.
The primary reasons that editors use form rejection letters are: 1) time (as in “saving” it); and 2) the form letter is much preferable to the risk they run in providing any type of individual feedback to an unknown author.
Risk? What risk? Well, Sarah Hoyt mentioned that when she ran a small press magazine, she did have “auto-reject” authors: “. . . people who called our home phone (which means they called directory to find it) the day after they mailed the story to ask why we hadn’t bought it yet and tell us we were “legally obligated” to buy it.”
Well, ja, and that’s a very mild example. You think “slush pile” stories are bad? Like, how horribly-written certain manuscripts were, how ridiculous they looked (crayon on bright green holiday paper), or how they were sent with “gift” items ranging from donuts and cookies to cash (apparently some people appreciate it – I can’t relate – NOT! <G>) or “saucy” photos and bold invitations to up-close-and-personal “special treatment.”
This parade of horror starts with death threats – phone, letter and email. Isolated incidents? Hardly – every editor I know has received them. Disgruntled aspiring authors have taken a hanker to critiquing their “critique” via the internet, in some cases launching net-wide firestorms that eventually ensnared almost everyone remotely connected to the field. Lawsuit threats? Pish tosh. I bet one comes at least every week to places that receive a lot of unsolicited submissions.
Then there’s the stalking. Phone calls, questions, demands for personal attention and time. Some people interpret a few scrawled words on the first page of a manuscript, such as “Nzce jb charctrs, send mor pls” as “I am your soulmate. I recognize you as lawful Master of the Universe. Let me share your cheese.” When the editor protests that wasn’t what the scrawl meant, the phone calls, emails, texts, tweets, and everything else just escalates, until finally . . . death threat, lawsuit threat, horrible package in the mail . . . you get the picture.
Male editors, female editors, young ones, old ones: it doesn’t matter. This stuff happens to all of them, eventually.
The one reliable defense that they have is the form rejection letter. While it may engender a brief crazy response, and doesn’t prevent some of the phone calls and the barrage of pestering of the clueless and tone deaf, it can be statistically shown to ward away the dangers inherent in writing even “Nzce jb plot, send mor pls” or tapping out a brief, semi-personal email.
So, to those of you who are still working hard, who feel your work may have been overlooked, or who feel you might not have a chance, because no-talents such as myself already took your slot because we HAD THE CHEESE (you knew it, didn’t you?) and we SENT THEM MONEY AND SLEAZY SEX PICTURES AND THOSE VENAL CADS . . . TOOK IT!! – be of good cheer. Keep working, keep reading, keep writing and send your work out. If the editor took the time to scrawl “Nzce jb grape jelly assassin, send mor pls,” it means they thought enough of your work to risk the potential hazardous attraction of the stalky, mad, one-percent club (I’m just guessing that 1% of slush submitters do the really crazy stuff – it could be more). If they went in depth with you? You’re an even bigger weenie than I’ve been on any of the several occasions on which I’ve “quit,” convinced I was wasting my time.
When I quit before, I didn’t have the advantage that all of you have today: a worldwide, vibrant internet community of like-minded dreamers, and all the advice, guidance and support imaginable, from peer and critique groups to long-time friendships with other writers, to discussion areas for many publishers and publications and also the SFWA website, for information, camaraderie and the latest in news of the field.