One would think well-educated, literate people, such as those who are attracted to and working in book publishing, would be able to write a rejection letter without using the dreaded “alas” word.
But it’s always there, in letters written by veterans and rookies alike. I’d like to suggest we break the pattern and either use form rejection letters that say nothing or try and write a meaningful response to those writers slaving over every word on their pages.
I mean, where else do you encounter this quaint word in modern usage to the extent we find it in Big Publishing rejection letters? Despite its common usage by publishers as “woe is me, if only I could, but now I must stab you in the heart, oh little one,” it actually means weary, stemming from the Latin word lassus. As in lassitude. Is that how you want to present yourself to potential customers, even though it may well be true? Do you really want agents and writers to picture you asleep under your desk like George Costanza? Alas, methinks not (therefore I am).
Why does it matter, you ask? Think about it. Every writer wants to work with an intelligent, open-minded editor, who can appreciate and form unique expressions, same as they ask of them. Seriously, as a writer you can’t get away with using hackneyed words like plethora, impactful, and no-brainer — unless you’re a sports announcer, which you ARE NOT.
It’s like—literally—unbelievably basically so absolutely not totally AWESOME.
Or compelling (ugh).
One of my favorite rejection letters goes something like this: “Thank you for submitting Honking Donkeys, which we loved! Someday we plan to read it.” I like it because it’s both funny and true.
I receive and write rejection letters at Publerati (which Word wants so badly to re-spell as Puberty). Writing them isn’t easy and evaluating subjective works of fiction is especially difficult. But I know most editors understand there are common problems facing writers, and pointing these out via a standardized rejection letter might serve everyone better.
For instance, most submissions I read are reminiscent of some popular book already done better than anyone else is ever going to do again. Why bother? So try and write something unique to you. Do you have a voice of your own? Can you develop one with work and time?
Only the best writers are able to come up with metaphors that stand out from the crowd. As seen by the recovering alcoholic gazing at the ocean: “The sea looked like a giant Tom Collins.”
There are many common areas for improvement for writers, so at least offer some meaningful help.
Instead of pelting writers with a million hopeless alases, put together a helpful form rejection letter for each category you publish and send that instead. And whatever you do, don’t let your occasional personalized rejection letter make you sound like an antiquated stiff perched upon a high horse snoozing beneath a mahogany desk.
As you were. (Nap time yet?)