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The Rejection

Dear Liza,

Thank you for sending us “TWO NOVEMBERS: A Memoir of Love ’n’ Sex in Sonnets.” We enjoyed reading your manuscript, but it did not quite make it to the finalist round . . .

The Hurt

I receive emails like this on a regular basis. It’s part of being a writer. Yeah, it hurts. But it’s starting to hurt less and less, as I get used to it. I’m not sure if that last sentence is true. But I like to pretend it is.

The Interpretation

But, hang on a sec. There’s something about this particular email that’s different from the rejections I usually receive.

Do you see it? One little word that’s imbuing a certain peculiar significance?

Did you notice the word quite?

So my manuscript did not quite make it to the finalist round, . . . but it almost did?!

I missed it by the skin of my teeth? I was the runner-up to the finalist round? If one of the finalists happens to write in, “Apologies, but I must withdraw my manuscript from the finalist round of this esteemed poetry contest, even though there’s no conceivable reason why I would do this; still, I must withdraw.”—then my manuscript would automatically be shooed in as a finalist?

And thus, I can rightly declare myself a . . . semifinalist??!!!

I’m def going to add this semifinalist credit to all my bios, asap!

The Comparison

But, hang on a sec. Am I overreacting? Let’s examine this question. To illustrate just how different this email is from other rejection emails, here are the opening lines of all the other rejections I received in the past four months:

Dear Liza Achilles,

We are sorry to report that your manuscript was not chosen as a finalist . . .

Dear Liza:

XXXX has selected XXXX by XXXX as the winner of the XXXX. While TWO NOVEMBERS: A Memoir of Love ’n’ Sex in Sonnets was not selected, we’re grateful to you for sending it and wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Dear Liza Achilles,

Thank you for sending us your poem(s). We appreciate the chance to read your submission(s).

Thank you so much for entering the XXXX! We had over 600 entries this year.

The judge, XXXX, has read every poem and selected the winner and finalists:

Winner – XXXX

To read the winning poem and see the list of finalists, please visit our website at XXXX.

Please join us in congratulating the winners.

Dear Contestants,

We would like to thank all of you for sharing your work with us. Your participation helped make the XXXX a big success. Although many of the manuscripts we received were eminently publishable, we had to limit ourselves to selecting only one. However, we enjoyed reading every entry, and the choice of finalists was a very difficult one.

The winner is: XXXX

XXXX has selected XXXX as the winner of the XXXX.

We hope you will consider submitting again to XXXX, and we send you all the best.

Some of these messages veer toward kindness, while others veer toward bluntness. But none manages to imply that I was skin-of-my-teeth close to being a winner or finalist.

The Memory

But, hang on a sec. The language in question, with that little word quite, reminds me of something from my past.

About ten years ago, I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, which must be the friendliest place on earth. I don’t recall ever meeting someone in a perpetual bad mood there. Not grocery store clerks, not bus drivers, not police officers, not random strangers: no one seemed unhappy or moody. Everyone smiled at everyone else. It was truly wonderful and amazing to live there.

And then I was hired by a company in rural Wisconsin, where the friendliness factor seemed to be amplified, as compared to the city experience of Madison. Rudeness was simply not a thing there. And speaking from my own limited personal experience—it was even the case that people hesitated to say anything at all negative about anyone else.

This, as I say, was wonderful and amazing—but it could lead to misunderstandings in communications with me, a nonnative Wisconsinite. I used to receive emails such as this from my boss:

The XYZ task is in need of being done.

This sort of language produced in me great confusion, until I finally realized that she was trying to tell me to do a task, without actually being so rude (rude in this particular culture, that is) as to tell me to do something.

The Reinterpretation

With this memory in mind, I wondered to myself, Where is this particular contest based? I entered so many contests in the last year that I can’t keep track.

So I looked it up.

The answer?

Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Conclusion

Alas, I suppose I cannot count myself a semifinalist, after all. I have to assume that the word quite, in this cultural context, is the editors’ way of politely expressing that everyone’s manuscript is worthy in its own way. While not everyone was chosen to be a winner or a finalist, everyone is a flower.

Including me.


Do you have a rejection story to share?