Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rejection letters - you're doing it wrong!

The title is actually a bit of a spoof of a series that has been appearing in of late. They claim that they have the only correct way to prepare a recipe or performing some household task and everyone else has been doing it wrong!

While I certainly don't think I have a foolproof way of generating rejection letters, I have noticed a really disturbing trend of really unhelpful rejection letters.  I suppose this comes from a combination of factors:

1) Times are still quite hard and there are far too many people going after the same jobs, the same leads, the same opportunities, etc.*
    This leads those on the receiving end to feel they don't have to worry at all about the feelings among the rejected. 
2) Whether this is precisely a function of being overwhelmed by applications (including a lot of very good ones) or being overworked because employers have cut so far back on staffing, employees in service and quasi-service positions are just more curt these days.
3) The big casualness has crept in and standards are just lower these days.
    (Insert standard Gen. X bitching about Gen. Y -- and the Millennials!)

The rejection letters I got 20 or so years ago were often a bit more helpful, and in one or two cases, they encouraged me to try again or even to submit to other journals that might be a better fit.  This has not been the case for anything I've sent out over the past 10 years.  Indeed, I've gotten quite a few (job) rejection letters over the past few years, most saying something like "there were 100+ applicants for this position" and "this has led to many qualified applicants not getting full review of their files."  In other words, don't take it too personally.  While this being treated as a number is fairly painful, it is honest -- and these employers don't string you along forever.  I've hung onto a few of these letters, mostly to keep me grounded when I start thinking too highly of my abilities.

However, I really have a problem with potential employers -- or in this particular case a publisher -- who string you along until the very last moment, making you think that you have passed the first round(s) of screening, and then being rejected without any meaningful comment or suggestion(s) for improvement.  I think that is unfair.  Fortunately, I never held out so much hope on a long-shot job that I didn't go after other positions, though some people have done that.

In the case of my manuscript (a poetry anthology), I am upset that they held onto it for 9 months, which is really quite a long time, then rejected it saying it wasn't suitable.  I could definitely have shopped it around elsewhere during that time, so that was a real opportunity loss for me.  Frankly, I don't think it was unsuitable as it was very much in line with anthologies that this publisher used to publish.  Perhaps the economics of the industry have changed, but that would have been a more helpful response than what I got from them.

What I am calling for is for companies to stop wasting others' time (and certainly to not treat it as worth so little, the way they are doing now).  If you are overwhelmed by submissions, do triage early and send out mass rejections (with the "not suitable" line) within a month or so.  And if you hold onto a job application or a manuscript for over 6 months, then really you owe the rejected parties at least a paragraph of why they (or their manuscript) didn't make the cut.  Holding onto something for 9 months will lead authors to think they have a chance and have made it past a hurdle or two.  If so, they should be told (even if that doesn't change the fact of rejection).  But if they weren't suitable from the getgo, don't waste their time (and yours, since authors tend to call or write in, even if instructed not to).  I've tried to live up to this standard on my end and certainly have never left anyone on the hook longer than absolutely necessary.

As for the poetry anthology (on the theme of transportation), as much as I would love to just recreate it on-line (and not worry about being paid), I just don't have the rights to do so.  It really would have to go through a traditional publisher who could negotiate for those rights with the various poets (and their estates!).  I think I'll regroup for a while and then approach another publisher who still publishes such anthologies.  It would be a shame for the work I did (mostly last summer -- a full year ago now!) to go for naught.

* As an aside, we certainly seem to live in an era where you can give away as much as you want to on the internet, but if you want to be paid as a creator of content you probably are not going to be discovered as a true unknown.  Having connections (and schmoozing) and outright nepotism always mattered a lot, but now they seem to be the only things that matter, sad to say.  It's a pretty high barrier even to find a literary agent willing to take you on today (not that I've tried) and without that, you have low chances of breaking in.  The motto of Chicago politics is more apt than ever -- we don't want nobody that nobody sent!

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