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Not All the Same
Rejections are not one size fits all. While it's true rejection letters all mean the same thing at the core (your work wasn't accepted), not all rejection letters deliver the news in the same way.
A generic or form rejection letter is usually sent to countless writers and offers no clue as to why your work was rejected. Impersonal and vague, hundreds of other writers just like you have received the exact note with similar phrasing included therein: "[Your article] does not meet our needs at this time."
With this type of rejection, you should keep pitching your idea (querying) the publication until you receive a more personal reply. However, before you send out that second, third, or fourth follow-up query letter, be sure you've studied the publication in even more detail and familiarized yourself with its voice and style. Don't simply send blind queries nail down the specifics!
A more personalized rejection letter means the editor took extra time to let you know your work is getting closer to what the publication wants and needs. Personalized rejections may take the form of a handwritten sticky note attached to the standard letter, or the editor may write a specific response at length about your submission and why they liked your piece but had to pass this time around.
When you graduate from impersonal, form rejection letters to more personalized, specific rejection letters, this means that your writing is becoming sharper, your queries are becoming stronger, and you're getting closer to publishing success!
Contrary to popular belief, editors prefer to accept good work; they don't love to pass out rejections willy-nilly. Whether your work is accepted or rejected (for the time being, anyway), always remain gracious with all editors and open to working with them. Take suggestions and comments under consideration and, if asked to rework your piece, do so with a positive, can-do attitude.
A Beginning, Not an Ending
The prolific inventor Thomas Edison once said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Likewise, regardless of how many rejections you've received thus far, the past doesn't equal the future. Just as Edison used his failures to spur him onward to create successful inventions, you should also view rejection as a beginning, rather than an ending. You may have discovered 1,000 ways not to write an article or a story, but there are still countless other paths to follow that will work.
Once you've received a rejection letter, ask yourself a series of questions about the rejection. Take notes if need be. Give yourself time to assess and analyze the rejection letter and the query or submission you presented to the publication.
For instance, did you follow the publication's guidelines in every way, including keeping the correct word count, formatting your manuscript as required, and submitting the correct genre of work? Did you catch all potential spelling and grammar errors? Finally, if you're submitting a science fiction story to a publication that only accepts romance, then you're sure to garner a rejection, so be sure to submit only the material they're looking for!
If you're pitching an article, aim for a one-page query letter. You'll only have a short amount of space to sell your idea, and sending a three- or four-page query letter will decrease your chances of a sale. Shy away from vague, ambiguous query letters. Use specific facts and details just enough to whet the editor's whistle and be up front about why you're the perfect writer to tackle the article.
By figuring out, the best you can, how you can improve query letters and submissions using clues from your rejection letters, you'll come to realize that those letters you once viewed negatively can be utilized as a valuable tool in your writer's toolbox to move you forward in your quest for publication. Ask the right questions in the wake of a rejection and you'll reveal priceless answers you need to increase the odds of getting a "yes" the next time around.
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