Thank you for sending us "A Mother's Life". We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not quite right for us, but I would encourage you to submit again. As well, given its strength and subject matter, I would point you to a journal called Intima.
Thanks again. Best of luck with this. Sincerely, Editor's Name Souvenir Lit Journal
Yes, it's a rejection, but the fact an editor appreciated my piece enough to take the time to direct me to another journal says a lot. I immediately looked up Intima and discovered their deadline to submit was at midnight that very day. Otherwise I would have had to wait months to submit. So, I quickly read their guidelines, formatted my story to fit, and shot it off. They got back to me fairly quickly that they'd like to run the story and also requested I submit a guest blog for their Crossroads section, where you pick another piece in a past issue and comment on it alongside your own.
I, of course, took the time to thank the editor that had given me such a nice rejection and the pointer to the more appropriate journal for my story. This built up enough of a repertoire that when I emailed to notify the Souvenir Lit editor of my acceptance, I also felt comfortable enough to ask her advice on acquiring blurbs for The Strangeness of Men. She's going to take a look at it for me and hopefully contribute a blurb for the back cover. All of this success came from a personalized rejection notice!
This is a great lesson on connections and building them with other writers and editors in the business. Karma is not a joke in writing circles.
Maybe you're not yet to the personal note phase of interactions with editors. Yes, they can be scary, but they are people who love the craft of writing just like writers do. Heck, most of them are writers themselves and know how rejection and acceptance both feel. So, how do you read between the lines of an editor's rejection note?
There are a few basic types -
Standard form not for us, wish you luck placing it elsewhere - maybe try back again their next reading period, but doesn't seem like they were very interested in your style. Try another piece that varies from the one that got rejected.
We liked your voice, but couldn't take this story for this issue. - Try again their next reading period. If you're still in the middle of their reading period and their guidelines do not state to only submit one time per period, AND you have another strong piece you think they may be interested in, you can send it...but don't do this more than once, you don't want to be remembered, not because they like your writing but because you're annoying.
The request to submit again - Submit again! Do not put this note in the same bin as the others. It means they liked your style, or something about your writing enough that they believe they can run you in a future issue. Send a story similar in style to the one they liked, and hope it fits in with the feel of their next issue.
Specific advice - on the piece you sent or advice on where else to send it. Okay, yes it's still a rejection but it's the best possible rejection. It means they were hooked enough to be interested in not just the story, but you as the author. Take the time to respond to these. Do not, I repeat not, get defensive. That will kill any goodwill feelings you just earned with the editor. Do tell them you appreciate their personal response and advice. If they gave a critique of the piece and it sounds like they may take kindly to you editing and resending, do it. Do it with a polite - I agree with your critique of my story. I edited the beginning and (however you edited it based on their comments) hope you will like this version, it strongly improved the theme...or whatever it did for the piece.
If you get no response, then submit a different story their next reading period. If they direct you to a specific journal, reply back with a thank you. Submit that piece to the journal they recommended, and submit another strong story to the first editor making note in your cover letter that you were requested to submit additional pieces. Remember, rejection is a badge of honor for any writer going about the business of getting their work out there.