Sometimes people get a little obsessed with their rejection letters.
Thanks to the internet, you can find examples of how agents and publishers have responded to other people. And that means you can compare yourselves. Did you get a form letter? Did it include a sentence that sounded a little like they read it? Did other people get feedback like that? Maybe, if you just dissect every single word, you can figure out how much they liked your story and how close you were to getting a “yes!”
This road leads to madness. Avoid it at all costs.
A rejection is a rejection is a rejection.
A form rejection and a personalized rejection mean the same thing: the publisher or agent is passing. They don’t want to see revisions. That door is closed.
And even a personalized rejection isn’t oh my gosh so very close, because if an organization really loved your piece, they could have asked for a Revise and Resubmit (or R&R). Not everyone asks for R&Rs, but it’s as close to a “I would totally buy this if you made some changes” as you can get.
So a rejection is a rejection. And at that point, the difference between a near hit and a swing and a miss is a pretty fine distinction.
People pass for a lot of reasons, and you’ll probably never know why they passed on you.
Sadly, you’ll probably never know that much about an organization’s editorial process. They aren’t going to tell you, “Hey, I might have bought this if I hadn’t signed a contract for 3 exceptional pieces this month and you had tightened up the ending.” They wont tell you that your piece was in the “maybe” pile for a while. They definitely won’t tell you that they hated your piece, thought the premise was ridiculous, and stopped reading at the end of the first page.
So people guess. They lay out the 2 or 3 sentences of their rejection and read it like a pile of tea leaves. This agent said I should submit other works to them! Did they add that sentence because my submission was unusually good?! This publisher says they got so many good stories this month that they have to pass on a lot of excellent ones! Did they add that to my rejection letter so I’d know they still liked my work?!
(By the way, the answer is usually “no.” Those turn up regularly in rejections. Rejection emails can actually be really encouraging!)
But hey, even getting a personalized rejection doesn’t mean that you were one tiny detail away from victory. It can be helpful, and it’s usually a sign you did something right (particularly if you’re submitting to agents, who rarely give any feedback at all.) But on the other hand, getting a form rejection doesn’t mean your submission was terrible.
It’s like a job application. You never know why they’re turning you down. You can guess, and you can try to be better, but you’ll never know for sure.
Let’s be serious. Does any of this help you feel better?
It takes a lot of emotional energy to dissect a rejection letter.
And everyone’s different, so maybe this isn’t the case for you. But when I see someone asking a lot of questions about a rejection, I see someone who wants to know if they should feel completely crushed or tentatively encouraged. They want to know if someone was saying “I don’t want this story at all, ever” or “I didn’t want it, but it was really very good and I think it has a lot of merit.”
That doesn’t seem like an exercise that’ll leave you feeling happy and empowered.
So let it go. Resubmit. If you get a rejection that inspires you to make edits, do so. If not, then don’t worry. Rejections are a fact of life. File the rejection and keep going.