Because I am lucky enough to be in a position where my living is not dependant on writing, I've always taken the attitude of aiming high since the worst that can happen is that you get rejected from a place where you figured you would have been rejected anyway.
Using that kind of perspective, you can still bathe in the smugness of knowing that you were ultimately right in what was going to happen; and if you do happen to succeed, well then, that's just pleasant all around. My first ever attempt at some serious non-academic science writing involved detailing a trip I took to Lagos, Nigeria. A trip where I was to teach a molecular genetics workshop. Originally, the essay was more an excuse to collect my thoughts, for a number of public talks I was to give, but I thought it turned out pretty good - so full of optimism, I sent it to the New Yorker. You always hear that that particular establishment is the Holiest of the Holy Grails in publishing, so I figured, "why not?"
This is what they sent back to me, about 6 months after the original query.
This, I think, is a great rejection letter. Not only is the letterhead nice, (in a manner that exudes "New Yorker" charm/pretention), but best of all, it has actually been hand written and speaks of Henry Finder "passing it on." So in these respects, the letter is a bit of a novelty, since it suggests that an otherwise legendary editor was aware of the piece I had sent. I mean, throw in an ink spill from Art Speigelman and you would've had me doing somersaults.
Anyway, the grade for this one is an A.
(BTW, Does anyone know who the signature is from?)
Finally, blogging that matters (at least to we, the frequently rejected)
The letterhead is impressive. Perhaps, when SCQ goes to print you could copy this letter and distribute it as your rejection letter. I think an extra paragraph to the effect that the genius of the letter was not likely to be duplicated combined with the aesthetics of the letterhead made it best for all to not bring another form letter into the world...
I don't know whose sig it is, but I read it as "Li Carey". Interestingly, the Publisher is David Carey and the Associate Publisher is William Li. Maybe it's some kind of 'nym? Whatever, it's way uber-WASPy and would look good framed.
He is Leo Carey.
That is the pinnacle of rejections. Respectful, human, honest. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing.
My pet peeve rejection phrase is "can't find a place for your work." I imagine junior editors literally measuring the margins with rulers. Or sizing up your story with one eye closed, a thumb out for spatial reference. Or repeatedly rearranging the furniture of each issue (the sofa by the poetry, no, no, try it next to the bios). Whatever happened to "No Thanks"?
Heh, my favorite rejection letter is for slightly different reasons.
In 1994, straight out of high school, I sumbitted a completed 8-page comic book story to a small alternative publisher, as the first part of a 6-part story.
In the years that followed, I dropped out of biology, focussed on art and animation, and graduated from an animation school. In 1999, after moving back home, I recieved the official rejection letter. :)
Holy shit! That like 40 years in Fox years.
I have so happily stumbled upon your blog--serendipity!
As the daughter of a mathematician who weaned me on Harper's AND Scientific American, you don't know how thrilled I am to find this site.
I feel whole.
p.s. I will be submitting a batch of poems to the New Yorker in August--after I take the Illinois bar.
Of course, I'll share the rejection letter with you! Maybe Updike will do mine, 'ya think?