How to Write a Good Rejection Letter

I’ve been writing fiction for a number of years now, and I’ve sent a fair number of stories off to literary journals. Most, but not all, of those submissions have been met with rejection.

So I at this point I feel like I have a pretty solid sense of what makes a good rejection letter, and I have some thoughts to share. Let’s look at a few examples.

Above is an image of a rejection I recently received from the Paris Review. There’s nothing terribly considerate about this rejection, but at least they don’t beat around the bush. Also, they get points for being old school and sending actual paper, even if it is cut in a way that suggests they didn’t want to waste any more paper than absolutely necessary. What’s that, like 1/8 of a page?

Okay. Onward.

Here’s an email I got from the editors at n+1

Dear Ms. Davila,
Thank you for your submission.
Unfortunately we don’t feel it’s a good fit for n+1, but thank you for thinking of us, and we wish you good luck in finding a home for it elsewhere!
The Editors

I recognize that this is a form letter, but it’s nice. “It’s not a good fit…” Yeah. Okay. I can accept that. And they end with some encouragement (with an exclamation point no less). My soul is not crushed by this response. It just makes me want to write something even better and send it to them ASAP.

Then there’s this one, my absolute LEAST favorite form of rejection. Hold on to your hats, this is brutal.

Dear April Davila,
Thank you for your entry to XXX’s 20th Annual Literary Contests. Though your work was not selected as one of the winners or finalists, we wanted to let you know we enjoyed reading all the entries from a very strong group of submissions.

Okay, it’s a super form-letter-y response, but it’s not terrible. Then they go on…

We are pleased to announce the winners and finalists… (insert detailed list of every writer who won any recognition in their contest — it’s long)

And here’s where they kick you in the teeth:

All three winners will each receive $2000 and their winning entries will appear in the 2017 issue of XXX, which we hope to have out by June. Also, the finalists will be announced to our readers in this issue and each finalist will be offered publication in the issue with a payment of $500.

I try not to be a jealous person. I really do. But to accompany my rejection with the list of winners and a detailed description of the wonderful prizes that await them, just feels like rubbing lemon juice in a paper cut.

Ouch. Seriously.

If I were in charge (and yes, I know I’m not), I would have simply said something like: “winners will be announced at xy venue on xy date,” thereby allowing me to politely ignore the winners and go about my business.

Is that too much to ask?