I have a file called “The ‘Good’ Rejections.”
It was especially helpful to me before I’d had a lot of acceptances. It helped keep me going. It told me that even if I hadn’t reached the end zone, I’d gotten close.
Agents and editors are busy. They see a lot of pitches, a lot of manuscripts. Most of those submissions get turned down with no answer or a form answer. But when editors see something they want to encourage, they take the time to go beyond the form letter and jot an extra note. Such as:
“Keep us in mind for future work.”
“We would be glad to see more of your work.”
“I hope you try us again.”
“Came very close.”
"Made the final round."
“Some very strong writing here.”
Yes, sometimes it’s even more frustrating to get this close and still not make it. But mostly, it’s gratifying to know that we’re on the right track, at least. We’re not kidding ourselves—there is something here; it’s just a question of its finding the right home.
When I was feeling especially discouraged, I would leaf through this folder, and the collection of so many different editors responding to so many different stories would reassure me that I did have potential, that more than one person saw it.
There are no guarantees. One literary magazine sent me many encouraging notes in response to many short stories, but ultimately never accepted anything. One of my short stories garnered praise almost everywhere I sent it, but never cleared that final hurdle. On the other hand, several journals that turned me down at least once said yes on other occasions. One story of mine got published more than ten years after I’d written it. Sometimes it takes a while to find a story’s “home.”
Rejection isn’t always a “no.” Sometimes it’s, “No, but ...” or, “Not yet.”