As I’m in the process at this writing of reading through dozens of submissions for several upcoming Clarendon House Publications anthologies, I am gearing myself up for the writing of the rejection letters that are an inevitable part of that process.
This got me wondering whether or not there’s a better word for what actually happens. The world ‘rejection’ brings with it all kinds of unpleasant connotations. ‘Reject’ comes from late Middle English and originally from Latin reject, ’thrown back’, from the verb reicere, from re- ‘back’ + jacere ‘to throw’. So writers submit stories and they are not simply politely returned, but ‘thrown back’ at them. This is what rejection feels like, even when the letter that announces it is gently written and not thrown at all.
I’ve written elsewhere about editors’ rejection letters, and how for most editors in most situations a rejection occurs simply because the story submitted is not appropriate for the publication at that particular time. It’s not that the work was rubbish, or needed to be ‘thrown back’: it just didn’t meet what might have been very strict requirements at that moment. Often editors are working on a ‘mix’, a collection of items which together achieve an overall effect on readers; sometimes this mix is designed to appeal to quite a narrow audience with specific and defined tastes. A particular story may not just fit into this jigsaw.
Sometimes, stories are rejected due to quality issues, and sometimes editors’ letters are savage about this - quite unnecessarily so, I believe. No one really helps anyone by being negative. There are ways of indicating that a story needed to improve without being devastating to its author - in fact, a truly professional editor will have mastered the skill of spotting exactly what needs fixing in any piece of work and communicating that exactness in such a way that the writer agrees and gets to work at once to repair it. Brutal, sometimes cruel criticism of stories is usually an indicator that the editor isn’t really being a professional editor and has other issues.
Anyway, the point is that, rather than writing a ‘rejection letter’, I’d much rather communicate that a piece of work needs to be ‘reassigned’. With the advent of the world wide web, the world is full of publishing opportunities. For a story to not be wanted in one place should not be seen as a door slammed shut, but rather as a closing valve, leading that story in a route to its true home.
So I think from now on I won’t write ‘rejection letters’ at all - I’ll write ‘reassignment letters’, letters which indicate why a particular story was not a good fit for a publication at a particular time and which point the story in the right direction, either suggesting that it be sent elsewhere, or worked on so that it fits better at some future time.
‘Reassignment’ contains less sting than ‘rejection’. ‘Reassign’ comes from Middle English, from Old French asigner, assiner, and ultimately from the Latin assignare, from ad- ‘to’ + signare ‘to sign’. Which sounds altogether more promising.