Trials of the slush pile

More on rejection… Teresa Nielsen Hayden of Making Light discusses what it’s like to be responsible for reviewing unsolicited manuscripts. I agree with her: It’s not as easy as writers seem to think. She talks specifically about the comments at, where writers send and react to the rejections they’ve received.

(Thanks to Inner Bitch for the link.)

A few years ago, I needed to create a template for rejection letters from Inkburns. I had been trying to respond to each submission individually but as the volume of submissions grew, individual and unique responses became impossible.

And depressing: There is no joy in telling someone, even a stranger, that I am not interested in publishing their work. I never want to quash any writer’s hopes or to deny talent, and I often doubt whether I’m making a right choice. What if I’m missing a true gem? What if I’m not well-read enough to see a work’s value? Are my biases limiting my appreciation?

All the same, as editor I have to make the decisions, and at heart I do know what I want to publish and support. So I checked out to see what most of the writers there wanted from a submission response.

What writers seemed to want was this: To feel loved and wanted.

Obviously a submission response, and in particular a rejection, is not going to help the writer feel loved. So there’s a limit to what even the most personal submission response can do.

I settled on trying to demonstrate that the work had been considered and given full attention. I mention the writer and the work by name to show we were paying attention. I then say that the work doesn’t fit the needs of the publication at this time, but that we appreciate the writer’s interest and want to see more in the future.

I try to avoid establishing too personal a tone, as I don’t want to give false hope or leave the writer thinking that I’m looking to make friends. At the same time, I sincerely appreciate every submission and the effort each represents, and want the writers to keep writing and submitting, to Inkburns and elsewhere.

It’s still outrageously hard to reject writing. I do it, but each one is painful. I’ve thought about saying so in the rejection letters, but I think the writer is more focused on his or her own pain when reading and is more likely to be insulted to hear how I feel. So i just keep it to myself.

(Except for mentioning it here. Actually, I feel a little better having done so.)