The lost art of the rejection letter

Over at The Millions, novelist Bill Morris has an interesting article on the declining quality of rejection letters in the publishing business, and how important the exceptions to this rule can be for aspiring writers.

Long ago, I wrote a number of heartfelt and extremely convoluted short stories. Crouched in the damp basement of the little rented house where I lived, I would send out little packets of query/story/SASE to the addresses listed in Writer’s Market like the message-bearing bottles of a shipwrecked castaway, hoping against hope that a few of my missives would find their way into the hands of a kindred spirit.

After dozens of curt rejections, I was at the brink of despair (not for the first or last time) when I received an unusually thick response envelope from a small literary journal. Inside, I discovered a typewritten (!) letter from the journal’s editor, David Castleman, who — he wrote — was himself a poet, lived alone in a shanty with his two cats, and labored in a lumberyard north of San Francisco to support himself. Mr. Castleman went on to offer his encouragement, and a brief friendly correspondence between us followed.

Although I lost touch with Mr. Castleman years ago, I still think back fondly on his letter. The sense of camaraderie in shared aspirations and struggle that his words provided helped me to continue the slow, arduous process of becoming a writer.

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