Like Cups of Coffee: The Art of Rejection

Rejecting w/ Style (or Something)
Rejecting w/ Style (or Something)

If you followed my twitter the other day, you would know that I had back-to-back (practically!) rejection letters from two publications (technically it was three rejections – two poems, 1 prose piece).  For the most part, they were good rejection letters (yes, there is such a thing as a good rejection).  But having received a double dose of it today in the great game of “getting published”, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the art of rejection.

If the bitterness of rejection is like cups of coffee, most of us drink cup after cup without seeing much sugar.  To use the coffee analogy further: the act of rejection presumes that you will get a cup of coffee, the art of rejection is in how that cup of coffee is prepared.  While every person takes their coffee differently, there is a certain amount of general ground rules that can probably fit most people’s taste buds.

“5 packets of Raw Cane Sugar to 1 cup of coffee…”

Dear Jane Doe,
We loved your story and it had great character development.  We think it rocks.  We’re writing to let you know that we don’t want it…

Sorry folks, a lot of sugar ruins a cup of coffee.  I think it’s the sugar that has made a lot of negative children of today – coddled, expectant, and demanding.  You might as well have published the unpublishable story because you gave them that much sugar.  You’re trying to serve a cup of coffee, not a cup of sugar with coffee.

“Venti drip coffee, no room for milk.”

Bad Example:
Dear Jane Doe,
We don’t want you.  Your submission “Cougars R B Rockers” stinks.  Get a job.

Coffee is often served black with the option of creme and sugar, but sometimes it’s best to just serve it black – some prefer it that way.  In the art of rejection like black coffee, the success is in simplicity.

The above – very exaggerated example – is like putting in 4 more tablespoons of coffee in the filter to say what you need to say.  You probably also don’t want anyone to never drink a beverage again – er, write a story.

Better Example:
Dear Jane Doe,
Thank you for submitting your story.  We regret to inform you that we won’t be able to use it in our publication.

While the writer might ask, “why not?”, no room for creme or sugar means the message is very clear.  The “Thank you” and “regret” aren’t necessarily sugar.  Politeness is just a good sign of fine coffee.

“Creme and sugar, please.”

The masters of rejection – I guess in this post, they’re almost baristas – however, learn how to use just the right amount of all possible ingredients.  A great rejection is actually one that provides critical feedback, but this is often hard.  I think the trick here is understanding the difference between conveying your point versus conveying your reaction.

“Cheesy lines” doesn’t really describe what the writer can do to improve themselves; as opposed to “the language is one-dimensional in some parts, you should focus on cleaning up some of the text and providing more depth to what you are trying to say.”  It doesn’t mean the language isn’t cheesy, you are providing the suggestion on what they need to focus on: why you think the language should be changed from the present state and how.

“What coffee?”

This is probably my worst rejection experience (in writing, anyway…).  I submitted my story to a publication that had me use an online system for submittal.  I knew there was a date when they’d make their decision.  So I kept on checking in the system.  Eventually I found out I wasn’t accepted, which was fine.  What was not fine?  I never received anything on an email of any kind.  All I know from this publication are the words “not accepted” in an online submission form.

No coffee?  That’s just rude.

Beyond Writing

Finally, the art of rejection can apply to other life scenarios.  Rejection – like acceptance and compliments – are all about how you communicate.  You don’t want too much of one extreme or another.  If you’re gonna lean to one extreme, I’d say black coffee is always best.  Just like in life, it keeps you wide awake.  Too much sugar can leave you too caught up in the stuff that dreams are made on.  (Like how I’m gonna ding myself now for referencing Shakespeare in my closing…)