Rejection letters are a dreaded topic among writers. Either you've experienced them or you're so afraid of them you're second guessing submitting your work anywhere. Well, hopefully I can calm any fears you may have. I also want to note that this will focus mainly on short story rejection letters from editors.
Let me start by saying that EVERY writer experiences rejection. Even the greats got tons of rejection letters! Many times, when an editor rejects your work, it has little to do with you as the writer. Most of the time, it's just that the story didn't quite work for their magazine or anthology, despite how well it was written. I've had stories rejected from an anthology simply because it didn't flow well with the other stories. Good story, just doesn't fit.
Here are the different types of rejection letters:
1) Form rejection letter: In which they will thank you for sending the story but will unfortunately have to pass. Form rejections give no feedback on why it was rejected.
There are some very kind form rejection letters out there that encourage you to try them again. I find those to be overall pleasant even though I know it's still a letter that goes out to anyone else getting rejected by them.
2) Personalized rejection letter: This is of course preferred by writers, but many editors who are swamped by submissions may not have time to do this. If you get any kind of feedback of why your work was rejected, pay attention because this can be very helpful to you to improve your story.
It's also nice when they explain why your story didn't quite work, but direct you to a place that might accept it. Or encourage you to submit to another upcoming submission call they are having.
3) The silent rejection: This is the worst honestly, when you just never hear back. Thankfully, a lot of places will tell you in their guidelines that if you haven't heard back in X amount of weeks/months then consider your work rejected.
So what can you do after receiving a rejection letter?
Take away from it what you can and move on. That's right. Just accept that your work wasn't meant for them and keep in mind that it will be right for someone else. I know (oh, trust me, how I know!) that this is easier said than done. Keep submitting elsewhere and maybe try that publication again with a new story.
Do NOT email the editor back arguing with them that they were wrong to reject you. Also, there is no reason to reply to the rejection letter (unless they ask you to), even to thank them for their time. Always be respectful and professional when dealing with submissions... period.
A sure fire way to get rejected is by not following their guidelines! Or completely ignoring the type of work they accept. Or submitting outside of submission windows. Always read the submission guidelines, and actually follow them.
Now, if your story keeps getting rejected, it might be time to have another look at it and edit. Or pay attention to who you're submitting to and make sure your work fits. I cannot stress enough how IMPORTANT it is to read some of the stories they have published to get a feel for what they like. I was guilty of not doing this in the beginning.
I have been submitting stories for over a year now and have gotten my fair share of rejection letters. They absolutely devastated me in the beginning, but the more I submitted and got them, the more I learned. In the writing world, you need a thick skin and getting rejection letters helps you develop that. There have been times I got rejected only to land my story somewhere better. Or the publication that rejected me closed shortly after. What matters is that you don't give up!
Bottom line is that there is a home for your writing. You just have to do the legwork to find the right fit. Aside from reading what stories they publish, try writing a story specifically for their publication. I've been published many times by doing this.
I hope this post helped banish whatever fears or reservations you might have had before. Remember that editors are people, just like you. Rejecting your work probably isn't easy for them either. If your story gets rejected, it just wasn't the right fit. Just keep at it and remember that everyone gets a rejection letter. But it didn't mean they should quit.
Happy writing, my loves!