Pearls Before Swine

It doesn’t mean you’re a total loser.

It doesn’t mean you’re a total loser.

Years ago, I applied to Rivoli, a four-star restaurant in Albany, California.  Of course, I had delivered my résumé to several restaurants, but I was very interested in this job, as I had eaten there several times, and it was genuinely deserving of its reputation as one of the finest Mediterranean restaurants in the East Bay.

The chef thanked me for my interest, but told me that she had decided not to offer me the job at the time.  Of course, I had to respond.

Dear Chef Wendy,

You’re an idiot.  If you can’t see the value I would bring to your third-rate eatery, maybe you should go back to cooking school.

At any rate, I was hired at Bucci’s, so obviously they know quality when they see it.

Good luck with your little Italian chuck wagon.


George Wells

You are now horrified that I would do such a thing, aren’t you?  Why would I do that?  Why would I insult this chef, throw it in her face that I got another job, risk any chance of working with her in the future—indeed, anywhere in the East Bay, given how people in the same industry tend to run in the same circles and tell these stories?

The answer is I didn’t.  I wouldn’t.  Would you?  Have you?

I am Writer Liaison at Spark: A Creative Anthology, which means I’m usually the guy giving you the bad news if you submitted to us. The above letter is actually a rewording of several responses to our rejection letters to submitters.  Now, we’re not perfect, but we do offer personal feedback and do our best to make sure that it’s constructive and encouraging.  I’m sure that we’re closer to that now than when Spark started.  However, just as opinions on a story or poem are subjective, so are writers’ reactions to those opinions.

We’re not swine, and those pearls need a good polishing.

We’re not swine, and those pearls need a good polishing.

But here’s the thing: you are better off keeping those opinions to yourself.  Nothing good will come of telling the editorial staff of any publication that you disagree with their assessment of your writing.  Those notes are offered to help you make your writing better, to improve that piece and hopefully future efforts, or at least find another market more suited to your style and vision in your writing.  It is not an invitation to open a dialog.

That last statement sounds a bit harsh, I know, but please keep in mind that we are volunteers.  We don’t get paid for this, it takes time away from other activities, such as family obligations, hobbies, cleaning the house, scratching our bellies while we eat a jumbo bag of chips during a Twilight Zone marathon, whatever.


Or even worse, we can’t watch the Twilight Zone marathon due to circumstances beyond our control.

So what do you say to that rejection?  If you want, a thank you would be just fine. Most people don’t respond at all, but some reply with, “Thank you for the feedback.  While I was hoping for an acceptance, this is the next best thing.”  And we’re always happy to hear that.  We probably won’t respond, but it does bring a smile to our faces.

Because many of the writers who have had work accepted for publication in Spark have also had work rejected by Spark, yours truly included.

But nobody has been accepted after responding to us with anger and insults.

Food for thought.*

*Speaking of food, if you find yourself in the East Bay Area, Rivoli in Albany and Bucci’s in Emeryville really are amazing restaurants.  You should check them out.


In the spirit of the post, today’s song is You Don’t Love Me Yet, by Roky Erickson.

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12 Responses to Pearls Before Swine

  1. Jim says:

    Did you get a particularly nasty one to prompt this post?

    I like what you did with the picture! That song was playing on the radio when I got my car wrecked and lost my business, life, etc etc back in 2010.

  2. A string of them, actually. I must give most people credit for either not responding or responding with a quick note of thanks, but we get hate mail a couple times a month, too, some of it directed at me personally, as if I’m the one making the decision. There are several readers for each piece, and most of the time I haven’t even read the submission I’m rejecting. I mostly just compile the notes. One writer suggested to the editor that I be fired on the spot.

    I’m glad that somebody finally found one of my Easter eggs. That’s a great song to lose everything to, I suppose. A few years back, some friends and I almost got in a really bad accident going too fast on the freeway and “Don’t Worry Be Happy” was playing on the radio. I was doubly happy that we didn’t die, because what an awful thing to be listening to right before you’re killed.

  3. Spark Editor says:

    Reblogged this on Spark: A Creative Anthology and commented:
    Writer Liaison George Wells shares his insights on responding to rejection.

  4. CJ Jessop says:

    I couldn’t imagine making such a response to a rejection. Why would anyone think that they would get accepted after such an outburst. Sure, we might feel that way for a moment or two, but step away from the internet until you feel able to take it like a writer.

    The only one I ever responded to was because I had made one of those horrendous mistakes and submitted a story to a market that it had already been rejected from. Worse, they remembered and sent me a note saying that changing the title wasn’t going to get them to change their mind (or words to that effect). I had to respond and apologise and assure them that I hadn’t done it with an intent to deceive. I’d somehow neglected to log the initial sub and so had no memory of subbing it to them in the first place. And somewhere along the line I’d changed the title. I just didn’t want them having this awful impression of me, and thankfully the editor kindly accepted my apology.

    But to respond with an angry email to a rejection? No. Bad form indeed.

    • I normally don’t respond at all when rejected, but when it’s a personal rejection, I will thank them for their comments, including one market that sent me a particularly blunt mail about how much they didn’t like my submission and why.

      It’s part of the game, so yeah, I don’t get why people do it. I guess they don’t take that moment away and just respond directly from that place of frustration. I do understand why people feel that way, but it’s not something to be shared with editorial staff. Call a friend instead. 😀

      My embarrassing story, by the way: I sent a story to several markets at once. I woke up the next morning to a mail from one of them. I thought, “They either really loved it or really hated it.” Nope. They just wanted to know if I had sent it to the wrong place, as I had copied and pasted my cover letter and forgotten to change the name. I apologized profusely, they accepted the submission, and later rejected it, assuring me that my error had nothing to do with their decision.

  5. Pingback: Pearls Before Swine | Spark: A Creative Anthology

  6. This is a tough biz. I find it hard to get really angry at those writers who responded badly to their rejection letters. Not a smart move, but an understandable response. We have to believe in our work, believe that editors are wrong. I don’t respond to rejections because I don’t want to waste the editors’ time with what amounts to a form thank you. The only time I made an exception was when a story I had subbed to a zine two years ago had been accepted but not in the time frame I wanted, so I withdrew the story, then resubbed it last year (with explanatory note), and it was rejected. I wrote them and said, It’s the exact same story. It was perfect before, now found terribly wanting. To their credit, I got an apologetic response back from the publisher. Which wasn’t really necessary, but it just goes to show that this business is insane and drives everyone mad at one time or another. No one should expect writers to be models of perfect mental health at all times, lol.

    • Oh, I understand the thinking. It’s bad enough that a market doesn’t like your story, it can add insult to injury to hear why.

      But that’s not why some markets share those comments. There is a genuine interest on the part of Spark and many others to offer insight into the reasons that a piece didn’t make the cut. That does open us up to criticism.

      As for your rejection, my guess would be that the readers were different the second time. The turnover for readers is pretty high, so the chances of the slush staf being the same a year later aren’t very high.

      And sometimes we have bad days, too. 😛

  7. billpatt says:

    George, I can well believe the hate mail. I have an anecdote of my own, where I asked an editor if there was some common thread that caused my stories to be rejected.

    The funny thing: when she provided feedback to me, I profusely thanked her. She said she had “just had a personalized rejection thrown back in my face by an author who apparently feels an editor should overlook copious grammatical and spelling errors in a submission.” So, yeah, it seems it’s happening all over,

    • That is spot on, Bill. It’s not even that it happens all that often, but it’s always unsettling.

      I send out a round of rejections once or twice a week, then spend the next day or so in fear of the hostile response. In the end, it hurts that person, not me, but it’s not what we’re looking for. We want people to know that we are trying to help them.

      And why would an editor overlook copious errors?

  8. tericrosschetwood says:

    Having read this, I now feel embarrassed about the email I sent you. Please delete it and forget what I said about your paternal grandmother.

    Thank you.

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