There is nothing more encouraging to a writer than a personalized rejection letter. When it includes constructive criticism, even better.
Nevertheless, there are times when the personal rejections, though helpful, make one think: “what was the editor smoking?”
A few examples below, together with my (never sent) responses…
“Thank you for taking the time to submit to our publication. Regretfully, we cannot accept your submission at this time. Unfortunately, it took a while to develop, and between points A and B, I found myself losing interest. It reads like the script to 1980’s B-movie, and that killed it for me, as well. Don’t let this discourage you, however. The amount of submissions we’ve received as of late has made it hard to accept as many, and we’ve had to pass on the good in favor of the really good. Your story was nearly there. Keep working at it, and please, keep us in mind as you send out submissions in the future. We’d love to read your work again.
Though your story isn’t right for our publication, don’t take it to heart. This is, after all, just our opinion. Other editors might think differently than we do. We do hope that our feedback has helped you, and we look forward to any future submissions you might send our way.”
Potential response: Was it a good 1980’s B-movie or a bad 1980’s B-movie? I’m an 80’s nostalgist.
“I just finished with [story]. I’m sorry but I won’t be using it in our anthology. I really liked the concept, but I got lost so quickly (and I’m a computer engineer in my day job) that I couldn’t see my way clear to publishing this piece.”
Potential response: Are you a good computer engineer?
Reader 1: “The only thing that I think the author could improve on would be to make elaborations to build up the realistic and detailed characterization of the setting ¹.”
Reader 2: “The story opens strong ²; the situation is clearly laid out and explained in few words. The world of the Cave Dwellers was explained in detail, and seemed believable ¹, from the baldness to the mushrooms, however in certain places it felt like too much explanation ¹.”
Reader 3: “I felt the opening lacked a strong hook ² to engage the reader, and the world building lacked ¹“
Potential response: How about this: increase and decrease the conflicting opening, minimize and maximize the conflicting detail, and expand and shrink the conflicting world building?
“This really does pack a whole lot into 32 pages…[but] the glaring lack of female characters that actually do anything is really disturbing. One thing that bugged me was how excessively, needlessly male every character was. The only time we see a female character she’s basically there as set dressing.”
Potential response: Forgive me. I didn’t realize I had submitted my story to Cosmopolitan.
“My only real problem with the story is the second to last line. It seems out of place. It doesn’t seem like Ixel’s POV, rather it reads like someone is observing him. Also, we know that Ixel was kidnapped from that time period, but without knowing which memory, or what he wrote, the line seems pointless. In my personal opinion, the ending would be stronger without it, with “No vortex ever opened” right after Chuck claims his uncle rights.”
Potential response: Phew! I’m glad that was your only real problem. You see, I carved the story on stone so removing that problematic sentence would be… …problematic, to put it mildly. Are you sure that was the only real problem?