The funniest thing about rejection letters is that they’re actually Good News! With more publishers moving to a “we’ll only respond if interested” policy, any correspondence from a publisher is good. Even a standard form letter is proof that someone somewhere took the time to read your story.
But just like in personal relationships, there are different levels of rejection in publishing. There’s the, “I will NEVER go out with you!” rejection; which is when the rejection letter specifically comments that your writing is not up to their standards. If you get this one, there’s no need to resubmit anything to that publisher. There’s the, “Talk to the hand!” rejection; which is a standard form letter. If you receive this one, chances are an editorial assistant rejected your submission before it ever made it to an editor. There’s the, “It’s not you, it’s me” rejection; which is when you receive a form letter, but it’s personally signed by an editor. That means the editor has no interest in the story you just sent, but they may be interested in something else in your style. There’s also the, “I don’t want to go out with you this Friday” rejection; which is when you receive a signed form letter with one or two handwritten sentences commenting favorably on your writing. That means the editor likes your style, but for whatever reason, it’s just not a good fit for the publisher. If you get this type rejection you should quickly send a new manuscript to that same editor.
And finally there’s the, “I can’t go out with you this Friday because I’ve already made plans” rejection; which is when you receive a personal letter (or email) from an agent along the lines of, “I liked your story, but we just released a similar story about tap dancing cats.” This means the editor really likes your style and would like to see more of your work. If you get this one -Congratulations! You’re on your way to building a relationship with an editor. You should contact that editor IMMEDIATELY. Thank her for reviewing your manuscript. Ask permission to send another one. And ask if she has any specific topics of interest that she is seeking. Then pick (or create) whichever manuscript of yours fits her wish list, Re-Edit it (with help from your writer’s group if possible), and send it to her ASAP.
Publishing is a business based on relationships. And if you don’t live in NYC, or can’t afford to attend 20 writer’s conferences each year, then your best way to build a relationship with an editor will be through that first rejection letter. In fact, my forthcoming picture book, With All My Heart, was acquired by an editor who rejected the first manuscript I sent her. So next time you get a rejection letter, remember; it’s not an end – it’s just the beginning!