There used to be a web site where writers could post rejection letters they’d received and append their own comments–a kind of critique of a critique. Ostensibly this was to help editors craft better rejection letters. Of course, it turned into a forum for juvenile ranting.
I don’t remember what the site was called, I don’t know if it still exists, and I don’t care to find out. But I did just receive what might be called a dream rejection letter, if there is such a thing:
Dear Mx. Wolven,
Thanks so much for sending us XXXX. We kept this story much longer than most because we thought it warranted a second look, and our first readers had some trouble reaching consensus.
Unfortunately, now that I’ve had a chance to read the story, I don’t think it’s quite right for us. As I mentioned, our first readers liked it, calling out the voice in particular, and the explorations of gender and identity. They really got invested in the character.
Unfortunately, the ending didn’t quite hit for us. It felt like it ended one beat too early … And maybe that’s the point, but it wasn’t satisfying for us, and because of the investment in the character we really wanted better closure.
That said, despite my reservations about the story, it was certainly a close call, and we would be happy to look at anything you choose to send us in the future–and hopefully do it much more quickly next time around. Thank you again for submitting to us!
It’s personalized without being overly personal, it offers clear reasons for the rejection without trying to rewrite the story, and above all, it’s apologetic but not defensive (nothing bugs me more than those “this hurts me more than it does you” rejections).
I don’t think many writers expect editors to take this kind of trouble, but it’s always nice when they do.
Addendum: My own view on rejections is that a slightly personalized form letter usually strikes the best balance between efficiency and courtesy. E.g.:
Dear [Author’s Name],
Thanks for sending us [Story Name]. Unfortunately, it’s not quite right for blah, blah, blah, standard boilerplate follows.
It doesn’t take much effort to paste in the author and story name, but that little concession somehow makes the difference between being dismissed as an amateur and treated like professional.