Put yourself in the position of an editor at a respected literary magazine. (Nice, isn't it? Now stop fiddling with your smoking jacket and pay attention.) Say you received a submission from a writer a while ago and decided not to take it, but encouraged him to try again a few months later. You're feeling generous, maybe. Time goes by and, like magic, a new submission appears. But eh, you're not so excited this time around. You decide it's not publishable. Now the question is, having spurred this writer's hopes, having extended the literary magazine equivalent of a come-on, are you obligated to respond with anything more than a standard rejection letter?
That's the question I'm pondering, having received this email from the Kenyon Review yesterday:
Which is obviously about as generic as you can get. So, Editor, do you owe me anything more than this?
I'm really not sure. On the one hand, as a human being, I'm offended that I got diddly in the way of follow-up. Not even a "sorry, thanks for trying again but it just isn't going to work out." On the other, I realize that it's impossible for editors to invest the time that would be necessary to keep up a meaningful dialogue with their submitters, and I wouldn't want editors to hesitate to offer encouragement to writers for fear of signaling a kind of commitment that they aren't prepared to make. It's complicated.
In absence of a clear answer, and in absence of any sense at all for the editors' actual reaction to my work, I'm forced to return to my usual criteria. Let's have at it.
Rating Summary: It's an email message. There's little or no sign of an actual person behind it, and no individual's name at the bottom. Finally, as ranted-about above, there is clearly no acknowledgment of the fact that I had submitted before or that I'd been invited to try again. In appearance it is woefully plain. All in all, an efficient little dart that highlights the worst of email-based submissions systems. Efficient it is, however -- the Kenyon Review spat it back in just under two months.
The Grade: D. That's what I said the earlier one would have deserved, were it not for the editor's encouraging words. This time around, the only thing saving it from complete failure is the Review's relatively rapid turnaround time. If you're going to inflict pain, at least make it quick.
Click here for more about the Rate the Rejection series and links to other rejections I've rated.