When I first started my gig at Grain, I was more than sensitive about sending out rejection letters. We have a standard template, the same sort that most journals use: We thank you for your submission but… best wishes with your writing. I know this is the standard template because I get rejection letters for my own work every few months and it’s depressing as hell. And since I am familiar with just how fucking depressing rejection letters can be, I do not enjoy this part of my job. It’s my least favourite thing to do.
I would often get so upset on Rejection Day (I would save them all up for one big sad afternoon, usually a Friday) that I would flee the office and drown my sorrows at the pub. My sympathy for writers in my first few months was maybe a bit unhealthy. Maybe. I discussed it with my colleagues and we worked out a new template with a checklist of the many, many reasons for why we reject pieces and thought that would encourage writers to submit different pieces that they felt didn’t have the flaws we saw, or maybe something of a different style. This was short-lived: not only did I underestimate the time it would take me to fill out that form letter for hundreds of rejections (yes, hundreds), but the responses I would get were problematic. They said either, “Thanks, I’ve got a good idea of what to send you next;” or, “You condescending piece of shit. You wouldn’t understand good work if it hit you in the face.” Paraphrasing, of course. We returned to our old standard, which garnered no responses of that sort. Call me a coward, but I’ll avoid hate mail if I can.
So, as I collected my own rejection letters, I would often have a moment, Hey! That magazine says the same things to their writers that we say to our writers, and I would feel a kinship with whoever stuffed my envelope. If they didn’t say what we said, I looked at it with my [condescending piece of shit] editor’s eye and thought about what worked and what didn’t. My favourite rejections were the ones that had a note about what worked: “You submitted five poems. We thought this one was the best, but…” (Thanks, Fiddlehead!)
If a form letter took too much time, a personalized letter for every submission was unrealistic. The good Associate Editors and I agreed, though, that we would write critiquing/encouraging rejections for the submissions that made it past my desk and onto theirs. To accommodate for their extra time, I’d make sure less work made it past my desk and onto theirs. On the whole, that means I personally reject more work than ever, but every now and then, it’s worth it. My favourite reaction to a rejection letter thus far: “BEST REJECTION LETTER—EVER!”