Tiered Rejection Responses

I often see discussion about whether or not there really are tiered rejections at literary magazines. There are! Since I received a rejection letter this morning, I thought I’d share what I know as an editor. For ours, we use a simple content management system that allows us to collect and respond to submissions. It’s called Submissions Manager. I do not know how easy it is to customize the replies, but in our case we have four levels of rejection. Agni and One-Story also seem to use Submissions Manager (looks like One Story’s webmaster actually developed the software.). If a literary magazine’s submission page is plain with a small login in the top lefthand corner, and a registration page in the center; you are interfacing with (a/the/Mr./Ms?) Submissions Manager.

After I download and read a story and decide what I think about it, I have to switch the story’s status. I have four choices if I want to reject it, otherwise I can ‘accept’ or ‘withdraw’ it. (I don’t know what the accept button does!)

A standard rejection looks like this (ours is worded slightly differently):

Dear James McGirk:

Thank you for sending “The Godling of Greater Kailash.” Your work received careful consideration here.

We’ve decided this manuscript isn’t right for us, but we wish you luck placing it elsewhere.

Kind regards,

The Editors

That was from AGNI. I use this letter for almost all the submissions I read. Doesn’t mean anything really, just that I can’t use the story. Could mean it’s terrible — although most stories I get aren’t, and seem like they’ve been workshopped. Usually just means that the text didn’t grab me. More taste anything else. But if there is some horrid flaw, i.e. if the story is missing an arc, or it’s written in a different language I will send a standard rejection. But it really is almost always taste. (Or the aforementioned missing arc – and this can be emotional, or language based– the text just has to do something to me.)

The next stage is a second tier ‘nice’ rejection. I send more second-tier rejections than I should, the big difference being that we encourage these people to submit again (we are enormously backed up, so wanting to see anything more should be taken as a compliment). If I send one of these it means I enjoyed what I read. The story might not be perfect, but something about it was exciting. Here’s an example one from One-Story I received this morning (or at least I think it’s a 2nd tier rejection — these damn things stir up such conflicting emotions):

Dear James McGirk:

Thank you for sending us “The Godling of Greater Kailash”. We really enjoyed this piece, but we didn’t feel it was right for One Story.

We hope that you will continue to send us your work.

Sincerely,

The Editors of One Story

Now, I have neither sent out nor received a “very nice” third-tier rejection. These really are the same as the second-tier rejections, only more encouraging still… I don’t really know why I would send one of these instead of a “personal” 4th level or encouraging 2nd. Here is ours:

Thank you for sending us your work.

Unfortunately this particular manuscript was not the right fit for Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, but we were very impressed by your writing. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else.

We look forward to reading more.

Sincerely,

The Editors of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art

I guess if we actually did want to see more, I could send one of these. But I would still rather send a fourth-tier rejection. These are just plain empty fields. I have used this feature to personally respond while rejecting a story. I basically said the story in question was great but it was too long, and I would love to see a shorter story. I published the second story he sent me.

Dear XXX

XXXXXX

Sincerely,

XXXXXX

And so there you have it… the four tiers of rejection….

23 Comments »

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carinthia, EMB Flip. EMB Flip said: Tiered Rejection Responses: I see plenty of discussion about whether or not there really are tiered rejections at … http://bit.ly/9ydGkX […]

  2. Jamie says:

    I fixed a few typos! Thanks for the link, LROD

  3. I have received all of those rejections from various lit mags, and I’ve often assumed #2 is actually the baseline standard rejection (and maybe it is for some journals). I guess I try not to assume it’s a tiered rejection unless I’m sure of it. Sometimes, for example, a journal will send me rejection #1, but then my next story will get rejection #3 from them, so I can safely assume it’s tiered.

    Interesting that you so rarely or never choose the third option…I have gotten quite a few of those this year.

    • Jamie says:

      Definitely could be the baseline for other journals. Maybe other, more polite journals, have ‘nice,’ ‘very nice,’ and ‘personal;’ or perhaps don’t have personalized rejection letters…

      Certainly sounds like you’re doing something right though! Good luck with your submissions.

  4. D. A. Hosek says:

    I did a quick search, my One Story rejections don’t feature the second paragraph you had, so that’s definitely a second-tier rejection. I’ve gotten tiered rejections from Fence and Crazyhorse (or at least had two different rejections come in), along with a handwritten please submit again on a paper rejection from Missouri Review.

    • D. A. Hosek says:

      I just spent a bit of time digging through my e-mail rejections in my newly cleaned and organized gmail archive from my writing e-mail account. I turned up another apparently tiered rejection from Boston Review. This brings up that particular story’s record to 8 form, 2 second-tier. I had pushed that story into my give up on it pile before I found the first of the two tiered rejections. I think it clearly deserves another look.

      • Jamie says:

        Those standard rejections are so taste-based, I wouldn’t ever throw them out if I were you… it’s just the default ‘no,’ it could mean anything.

        I wonder if it would be better if people responded with a rating out of 10. That would hurt feelings, but might convey more information

        • D. A. Hosek says:

          I really don’t know why I was so down on this particular story. I’m still fine with other stories which have gotten nothing but form rejections. Actually, this story was something that I pulled out of my archives and rewrote after realizing that I had trunked it after a single rejection—a personalized one from Story Quarterly, no less.

          On the other hand, a story currently getting some revisions has to be cursed. Prior to this round of revisions, I had 10 form rejections plus the only three non-answers since I returned to writing four years ago.

          • James (not signed in) says:

            Sounds like you must be getting close. You ought to try writing a novel and pitching it to agents, they have a financial motive for hunting down and accepting new work. It might be easier than selling a short story to a lit mag.

  5. cheeseburger says:

    i got one of those 3rd tier onces from third coast.

  6. cheeseburger says:

    great blog by the way- as someone who spends hours a week, reading the tea leaves of duotrope and rejection letters – your explanation is manna. anything that helps us understand whats going on behind the curtain is much appreciated.

    you should link this page to the Poets & Writers, Speakeasy forum. people there are always asking about this stuff.

    thanks

    e

  7. cheeseburger says:

    im hoping to get a 4 tiered one from columbia: 😉

    speed it up mcgirk

    • Jamie says:

      My reign is over (and has been for all practical purposes since December) but they’ll get to it! (You could also try submitting again at the start of the school year)
      I

  8. tracy says:

    Yes, Columbia takes a while. I’ve had one there for over 400 days…is that a good thing ? or is it lost ?

    🙂

    I’d really love to know.

    TC

    • Jamie says:

      It could mean a) they liked your story and it’s being held onto b) they rejected it and your spam filters caught the message c) somehow it slipped through the cracks. I wouldn’t worry about any one magazine’s judgement. Better to submit broadly and simply ignore any rejections or ambiguous not-rejections. A successful writer pal read this and told me: ‘they either want your story or they don’t.’ I’ve also heard – and my experience as a freelancer bears this out – that ‘good news travels quickly’.

      Sorry about the delay!

  9. tracy says:

    well i’ll hold out hope for the former. i.e. its being held.

    according to the submission manager its still in ‘received’ status.. so i hope that means its not lost.

    and i sent them a query over a week ago with no response… i have no idea what that means.

    😛

    • James (not signed in) says:

      Everyone is on summer break now, so followup is sloppy. If it’s been over 400 days, I would write it off. My trick is that for rejection I get I send out two more submissions! You can’t fixate on any one publication. Lots of times issues are all spoken for in advance (i.e. all of the fiction slots have been filled) so you’re sunk before you even submit. Just keep trying and never ever take rejection personally. The way to read these levels is that if you get a pattern of 2s and 3s, you’re probably writing something that a literary journal might want. En masse they’re useful, but the opinion of any one editor is worthless. It’s worth hanging in there, I just ‘sold’ my first story!

  10. tracy says:

    wow ! congrats on that acceptance!

    and thanks for the advice.

  11. A says:

    Thanks. This was really helpful.

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C.V.

N.B. for privacy reasons this is usually out of date. Contact me for the latest version.

EDUCATION

Columbia University School of the Arts, New York, NY
MFA, Writing, Fiction, Oct. 2011.
Thesis: Fly the Black Flag of Himself.

Columbia University School of General Studies, New York, NY
BA, Cum Laude, May 2007.
Major: Literature/Writing
Thesis: Indian Made Foreign Liquor

TEACHING EXPERIENCE

2018 Guest Lecturer, University of California Santa Cruz
Lectured on journalism for a Kresge Core Class.

2017-2018 Public Fellow, Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
Homelands Seminar.

Instructor in English, Northeastern State University
Fall 2015-2017 (as instructor)
Fall 2014-Spring 2015 (as adjunct)
Courses include: Teaching Travel and Adventure Writing (ENG3013) – an upper-division writing class focused on nonfiction; Intro to Creative Writing (ENG3043); Composition II (ENG 1213) and Composition I (ENG1113).

Workshop Instructor, Oklahoma City University
January 2015
Taught a one-day graduate workshop called “On knowing when to steal and make things up.”

Adjunct Professor, University of Tulsa
Fall 2014
Taught two sections of ENG1033, Exposition and Argumentation. 

Adjunct Professor, Bacone College
Spring 2014
Teaching two courses of English 1113, Composition I.
One section of SPCH1713 Speech and Critical Thinking.

Teaching Assistant, Columbia University
Fall 2010
Worked with Prof. Heidi Julavits to develop curriculum for Fiction: A Primer, the introductory graduate survey course for Columbia’s graduate fiction students. 

Fiction Editor, Columbia University
Fall 2009—May 2011
Edited the fiction pages of Columbia University’s premiere literary journal, Columbia Journal of Art and Literature. Solicited authors and edited manuscripts. Four direct reports.

TEACHING COMPETENCIES, INTERESTS

Contemporary fiction
Contemporary non-fiction
New media / Internet
Publishing / communications
Writing fiction / non-fiction
Journalism / editing
Globalization
Fine Art / Contemporary Art History

PUBLICATIONS

Novel/Book-length CNF

A Grand Theory of Everything, Amazon Publishing, Sept. 2015.
American Outlaws, Amazon Publishing, Oct. 2014.
The New Flesh in progress.
Indian Made Foreign Liquor. (2013) Sold to Chiasmus Media.

Anthologies

Forthcoming collection of 3quarksdaily essays.
“The Op in the Expanded Field” &Now Vol 3: Innovative Fiction Awards. Lake Forest College, NC: &Now Books, April 2015. Anthology.
Various pubs. A Voice Was Sounding 3 & 4. Tulsa, OK: This Land Press, November 2014. Anthology
“Claire Accelerates.” Todos Somos Migrantes. Eds. John Washington and Daniela Ugaz. Mexico City: Sur +, forthcoming 2013. Anthology.
“Dominion.” Thesis Anthology. New York City: Columbia School of the Arts/Writing, 2011. Anthology.

Magazines and Journals, Fiction.

“The Plastic Ship.” Under submission.
“Through a 3D Scanner Darkly.” 3quarksdaily.com
“3 Buboes.” 3quarksdaily, Aug. 2013. Online.
“The Godling of Greater Kailash.” Manhattan Magazine Jan/Feb 2013. Print.
“The Op in the Expanded Field.” NNATAN. Issue 0. Nnatan.org, Aug. 2012. Online.
“Memory Scraped onto Landscape with Smell.” 3am magazine.
3ammagazine.com, Jun 2012. Online.
“Kim Jong-un contemplates his failed launch.” 3quarksdaily.
3quarksdaily.com, Feb 2012. Online.
“Armour Brand Desiccated Thyroid bottle (C. 1900).” Gigantic. Issue 3. “Gigantic Indoors.” Thegiganticmag.com, Sept. 2011. Online.
“The Tramp Steamer.” The Drum. Thedrumlitmag.com, May 2011. Audio Magazine.
“The Garbling.” Fence Magazine, Winter 2011. Print. 

Magazines and Journals, Nonfiction.

“Has Satoshi Vision of the Future been Corrupted?” 21Crytpos.
“Predicting the Next Bull Market” 21Cryptos.
“The Future of Blockchain – Predicting the Future” 21Cryptos.
“Bitcoin in Venezuela” 21Cryptos.
“Vaporwave” Angeles Review.
“Oklahoma’s Class System.” This Land Press.
“Growing up as an Expat.” Oklahoma Humanities Magazine. Forthcoming.
The Horror of the Ouachita Mountains” THIS LAND PRESS
“Restaurant Reviews: Muskogee, Tulsa, Tahlequah.” Oklahoma Today. Forthcoming.
“Art, Literature and All the Crude in America.” Lithub.com. May 2015. Forthcoming. Online.
“My Grandfather’s Imposter.” Roads and Kingdoms. Aug. 2015
“Oklahoma Beards.” Oklahoma Today. April/May 2015. Print.
“Profile: Jenks Football Coach.” Oklahoma Today. January/February 2015. Print.
“Beauty, Purpose, and Preservation.” This Land Press. Nov. 15, 2014. Print.
Satan Comes to Oklahoma City.” The Paris Review (daily). Theparisreview.org. Nov. 1, 2014. Online.
“Tulsa Modernism.” Oklahoma Today. November/December 2014. Print.
Heavy Heart, Empty Heart.” Columbia Magazine. Fall 2014. Print.
“Ancestry Days.” Oklahoma Today. August/September 2014. Print.
The New Nepal.” Roads and Kingdoms. Roadsandkingdoms.com. August 2014. Online.
Google’s John Hanke.” Wired. July 2014. Print.
The Surprisingly Strong Case for Colonizing Venus.” CITYLAB. The Atlantic. Online.
How-to Campfire Cooking.” Oklahoma Today. June/July. Print.
“Beauty, Purpose, Preservation” This Land Press. Print. Forthcoming Aug 15. 2014
“The New Nepal” Roads and Kingdoms. Online. Forthcoming Jul/Aug.
“Kickstarter Equation” Wired. Print. July.
“Inside the Studio: Troy Jackson” Art Focus Oklahoma. Print. May/Jun 2014.
“Indian Country’s Neuromancers” This Land Press. Print. Mar. 2014
“Datastream” Wired. Print. Mar. 2014
“Petrostate” This Land Press. Print. Dec. 1, 2013.
“An Ethnography of the Elite.” Forthcoming. Print.
“Manhattan and the Mephistophelean Mind.” 3quarksdaily. Nov. 2013. Online.
“When the Rodeo Clowns Came.” 3quarksdaily. Sept. 2013
“Moving Down Yonder to the Indian Nation.” This Land Press. Sept. 15, 2013. Print.
“Doomsday Preppers and Reddit Pizza.” Wired. July 2013. Print.
“The Metropolitan Trilogy.” 3quarksdaily. July 2013. Online.
“The Dazzling Debut is Dead.” Newsweek-DailyBeast. Forthcoming June 4, 2013. Online.
“The Cherokee Nation Constitutional Crisis.” This Land Press, May 2013. Print.
“Remote Viewing in the Sooner State.” The Paris Review. Theparisreview.org, May 2013. Online.
“The Great Spy’s Dream.” 3quarksdaily, 3quarksdaily.com. May 2013. Online.
“Inside the Abbatoir.” This Land Press. April 15, 2013. Print.
“Remembering Life in Arcosanti.” Wired. Wired.com, Apr. 2013. Online.
“The Game of (Not) Life.” 3am magazine3ammagazine.com, Mar. 2013. Online.
“The State of Cherokee Nation.” TIME. Time.com, Mar. 11, 2013. Online.
“Destination: Oklahoma.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Mar. 2013. Online.
“A Battered Bag of Memories.” Chronicle of Higher EducationChronicle Review, Feb. 25, 2013. Print.
“Silicon Valley: Literary Capital of the 21st Century.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Feb. 2013. Online.
“Writing and the World of Tomorrow.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Jan. 2013. Online.
“A Universal History of Online Iniquity.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Dec. 2013. Online.
“Jesse Ventura Suspects a Conspiracy Against His Show About Conspiracies.” The Atlantic. Theatlantic.com, Dec 17, 2012. Online.
“M.F.A. Madness.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle Review. Nov. 12, 2012. Print.
“Art World Apostate.” Oxford American. Oxfordamerican.org, Nov. 2012. Online.
“A Libertarian Paradise in Honduras.” Los Angeles Review of Books. Lareviewofbooks.com, Nov 2012. Online.
“A Republican Literature of the Americas.” Newsweek-DailyBeast. Thedailybeast.com, Nov. 5, 2012. Online.
“Literary Magazines: Read All About It.” The Economist. Prospero blog. Theeconomist.com, Oct. 2012. Online.
“The Q&A: James Ellroy.” The Economist. Prospero blog. Theeconomist.com, Oct. 2012. Online.
“The Smug Technocrats who will Rule Tomorrow.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Oct. 2012. Online.
“Common People: Class and the ’80s.” The Awl. Theawl.com, Aug. 2012. Online.
“A Requiem for Roscoe.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Aug. 2012. Online.
“Google on the L Train: Sci-fi, Wifi and the MTA.” The Awl. Theawl.com, Jul. 2012. Online.
“The Romance of Mayhem and High Explosive.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Jul. 2012. Online.
“Our First Expatriate President.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, May 2012. Online.
“Translit is Neither New nor Subversive.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Jun. 2012. Online.
“Nobody Wins.” The Economist. Prospero. Theeconomist.com, Apr. 2012. Online.
“Diabolical Women.” The Economist. Prospero. The economist.com. Mar. 2012. Online.
“Solving the Inequality Equation.” Columbia GSAS SuperScript. Spring 2012. Print.
“The Different Dialects of Serial Murder.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Feb. 2012. Online.
“Will the Maine Coon Become an American Icon?” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Jan. 2012. Online.
“Thing Writing.” 3QuarkDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Nov. 2011. Online.
“Gripes and Halloween Horrors.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Oct. 2011. Online.
“Marco Polo in Boulder, Colorado.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Oct. 2011. Online.
“The Last MFA Essay I Will Ever Write.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Sep. 2011. Online.
“A Dose of Bile.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Aug. 2011. Online.
“The Thirty-Third Internet Connection in New Delhi.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Jul. 2011. Online.
“Writing for Machines.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Jun. 2011. Online.
“Imagining an Expat Aesthetic.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, May 2011. Online.
“After the Internet was Shut-off.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Apr. 2011 Online.
“The Starter Gallery.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarkdaily.com, Mar. 2011. Online.
“An Attempt at Unraveling Ridgewood, Queens.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Feb. 2011. Online.
“Could Student Loan Debt Spark Insurrection?” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily, Jan. 2011. Online.
“Spark Gaps and Circuits.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Dec. 2010. Online.
“Baptism by Soda.” 3QuarksDaliy. 3quarksdaily.com, Nov. 2010. Online.
“A Brief Reflection on Czar Guiterrez’ Bombardier, HTML Giant. Htmlgiant.com, Oct. 2010. Online.
“The Q&A Tom McCarthy.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Sep. 2010. Online.
“The Q&A Lorin Stein.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Apr. 2010. Online.
“Whitney’s Tepid Biennial.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Mar. 2010. Online.
“Can You Really Rank Writing Programmes?” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Dec. 2009. Online.
“Strange Breeds.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Oct. 2009. Online.
“The Q&A: Kurt Kauper, Artist.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Sep. 2010. Online.
“Art And (Gauche Breaches Of) Etiquette.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online.
“Another New York Peep Show.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online.
“A Bandit On The High Line.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online
“Harlem’s Rising Artists.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online.
“Charles Saatchi Has An Addiction.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online.
“CIA Assassinations,” The L Magazine. Aug. 2009. Print.
“The Life And Death Of A Hipster King,” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Jul. 2009. Online.
“What Is An Alien Artist To Do?” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Jun. 2009. Online.
“An Artfully Disjointed Venice Biennale.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Jun. 2009. Online.
“Iggy Pop’s Ambient, Literary Jazz Album.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, May. 2009. Online.
“The Q&A: Sasha Grey, Performer.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, May 2009. Online.
“Why Attack Hotels?” Culture 11, Dec. 2008. Print.
“Ironclad Closet.” Long Island City Magazine, 2008. Print.
“The Madness of the Upperclass.” The L Magazine, Jul. 2008. Print.
“Cyberpunk Is Not Dead.” The L Magazine, Jul. 2007. Print.
“Ben Jonson’s Rebus.” Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism, May 2007. Print.

Art

Art 365 Artist Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition 2016-2017
“Faculty Show” 2014, photography display at Bacone College in Fall 2014.
Photo Essay, Stevehuffphoto.com, July 2014.
“Untitled (Over the Void)” 2012, video stills from a 6 min 35 second video. James McGirk and Jaret Vadera.

Public Events

American Anthropological Association, Nov. 2018
Art 365 Events, various, May 2017-Jan. 2018
Readings, NSU Writing. Dec. 2017
This Land Press, July 2017
Chickasaw Literary Festival 2017
This Land Press, July 2016
Art on the Hill, Roger State University, Sept. 2015
Arts on the Avenue, Nonfiction Panel, Jun. 2015
Readings, NSU Writing. Dec. 2014
Bumpkinitis 12, OSU Creative Writing, Nov. 2014
Tahlequah Writers Club, Aug. 2014
“Literary Death Match,” Tulsa. Judge. Oct. 2013
“Columbia Faculty Selects.” KGB Bar. Jan. 2013. Reader.