Rejection made easy

This exciting new tutorial provides quick, clear, step-by-step instructions on how to tell hopeful writers that their chances are hopeless.

Published March 17, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Dear Editor:

Most of the rejection letters I receive come courtesy of my own hand-printed SASEs, but increasingly the envelope is being used as a medium in which to stuff promotional and subscription materials from the publication that has rejected my work. Often I end up owing exactly 6 cents. Because my writing operation is small and struggling, even 6 cents is a budgetary burden. In the future, please assume I already subscribe to every literary journal and commercial magazine in the free world. Assume I am so busy reading your excellent contribution to our culture's canon that I don't even have time to feed the cats or the cockroaches.


Lately, your rejection letters have been too short, lacking sufficient reason. I am hereby requiring a two-page, single-spaced explanation, which must include attributions and three signatures by fully bonded notary publics. You must also clearly tell me what a notary public is and how to become one. While you're at it, define "Martinizing."

Cover letter

Please do not send me sad narratives about how you are barely surviving, how last month you could barely pay the printing costs on the 200 copies you produce twice a year, how your spouse (and/or your young, adoring MFA graduate student named Heather) is beginning to doubt your dreams and how just last Saturday you had to purchase an inferior Idaho chardonnay. Trust that I am sympathetic to your plight.

Do not use the following phrases: "Best of luck in placing this elsewhere." "Not quite right for us." "I don't know why I'm rejecting this essay. I just am." "I'd like to publish this but ..."

And to the professor who inquired about a possible reading of his work in my area and a place to stay that allowed smoking, large dogs and "robust, but legal drinking": I was greatly moved, but, of course, I have never heard of your book of poetry titled "Twelve Ways to View French Cheese."

Your name

Please ensure that your name is on the rejection letter, along with your home address, phone number, fax number and the names of your children and pets. Also helpful would be your schedule: when you are home, what hours you usually sleep, where your children attend school and if your neighborhood is a member of Block Watch. Rejections without these items will be returned to you at your own expense.

Do not list in-house awards that you either have won or would have won if not for a jealous colleague who envies your teaching schedule.

Previously sent rejections

We will not consider previously sent rejections. We want fresh, original work. Be creative. Have fun. Multiple rejections make us mad. Very mad.

Some reasons we might return or dislike your rejection

1. Your rejection lacked sincerity.

2. Your rejection was not signed.

3. Your rejection letter was illegible because of coffee or wine stains.

4. Your letter did not include the word "luminous."

5. You signed your name with the title Dr. (We reserve the title doctor only for those individuals who work within a hospital setting, not those who toil in an English department and who have a doctorate in American literature with a specialty in "Alaskan contemporary writers.")

6. Your letter was signed "Poetry Editor" or "Fiction Editor."

7. You never thanked me for sending you my work.

8. Your letter contained misspellings and a cruel use of exclamation marks.

9. You used the word "sorry."

10. Your letter was written by someone named Allison, Amber, Brandy or Tiffany.

11. Your letter was written by someone who was born after 1980.

Checking on the status of your rejections

Allow 10 to 14 months to hear from us regarding the status of your rejection. If a burly man dressed in leather named Vinnie has not "contacted" you or a close member of your family within that time, please feel free to resend. If you never hear from us, assume Vinnie has had trouble with a bail bondsman or the "three strikes, you're out" law. Be patient. The best things in life are always worth waiting for -- and your time is coming.

By Stephen J. Lyons

Stephen J. Lyons is the author of "Landscape of the Heart," a memoir of single fatherhood. He lives in Washington state.This week he received a rejection letter that described his writing as "unfocused and full of broken glass." It actually made him feel good.

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