My literary career is young but it’s never too early to begin dusting the hard-to-reach shelves of posterity. For the benefit of scholars and fans alike, I will use this space on The Outlet, on a semi-regular basis, to release a selection of my correspondence and other papers. Enjoy. (Universities interested in acquiring the complete Judson Merrill archive should contact me through my web site.)

Dear Mid-American Review,

Thank you for your recent rejection. I appreciate your taking the time to read my story. I understand how careful you must be in selecting a cohesive body of work to present in the MAR.

Your communiqué, however, did leave me with a few concerns. You write, “We have decided your submission is not a match for us at this time.” I assume this means I should submit my story again at a more convenient time. I don’t want to be a pest, though, so please provide a concrete timeline. Would you like to review the story again for your next issue or next year? Anything’s fine, just let me know.

Also, confusingly, you close that same paragraph with, “We wish you the best of luck placing your story elsewhere.” Typo?

Judson Merrill

Dear Baltimore Review,

Thank you for your recent email informing me of your decision not to publish my submission. It’s good to know where we stand.

Your communiqué, however, did leave me with a few concerns. You write, “We appreciate the opportunity to read your work.” If you were that excited about my submission, I’m concerned you may have read it with unfair expectations. I’ve found that if I read the story expecting it to be awful, I’m pleasantly surprised. Indeed, my relief often morphs into a powerful urge to publish said story. I’ve reattached my submission under the new title “Eight Pages of Tripe” in case you want to try this fun experiment.


Dear Strange Horizons,

Thank you so much for your recent rejection letter. How heartwarming to get an individual response, with actual human handwriting!

Your communiqué, however, did leave me with a few concerns. You mention that the story struck you as too predictable. That’s easily changed! What is the last thing you expected to happen in the story? Or maybe that’s too obvious. What’s the second to last thing you expected to happen? Maybe, just list five things you did not expect to happen at all and I’ll choose one of them for the new ending. Or not. You won’t know until you read the new draft.

Talk soon,

Dear Beeswax,

Thanks for your recent email. I know that there is a special pleasure to be had in rejecting my work and you probably couldn’t resist. I hope you enjoyed it as much as the scores of editors who have gone before you.

Your communiqué, however, did leave me with a few concerns. You write, “While we greatly enjoyed your piece, we cannot find a place for it at this time.” I’m afraid there might be some misunderstanding. I wasn’t asking you to place my story with another magazine. I wanted you to publish it in yours. Out of curiosity, though, where did you submit it? Hopefully not to the Mid-American Review. I think we should wait a few weeks before sending it back to them.

Write back,
J. Merrill

Dear Pebble Lake Review,

Congratulations on not accepting my story. In a way, I’m jealous. I bet it’s satisfying to grind out a man’s carefully kindled dignity.

Your communiqué, however, did leave me with a few concerns. You write, “We hope you will submit again in the future.” Many thanks! Since the story I submitted is my strongest, I will certainly send it again in the future. In fact, just this morning I found an embarrassing use of “than” when I meant “then.” In case that error is the reason you initially passed on the story, please find the corrected version attached. The future is now!

Look forward to hearing from you,

Dear Rambler,

Thanks for your email. I understand that there is a shadowy cabal of magazine editors bent on keeping me out of print to satisfy their own unknowable and sinister ends. I see now that you number among this hateful faction. Good to know.

Your communiqué, however, did leave me with a few concerns. You write, “We regret that your story does not meet our editorial needs at this time.” I’m not trying to be self-serving, but I truly believe life is too short for regrets. Perhaps you should change your needs and publish my story? Or die at 41 of a stress-induced coronary. Whichever you think is best.


Dear Mid-American Review,

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful note.

You write, “We have seen this story before and have passed on it before. Please do not submit this story again.” However, please see the attached track changes document for proof that the last three submissions, though similar, have all been different drafts with different word counts and, in one case, a new title. Also please see the attached newest draft of my story. Trust me, it’s very different from anything you’ve seen before. I recently got five very good and surprising ideas for a new ending. Can you guess which one I chose? No. You can’t. It’s too surprising for guesses.


* * *

The full Judson Merrill archives can be found here.

-Judson Merrill lives and writes in Brooklyn. Some of his work, including his e-novella The Pool, can be found at

Image courtesy of

30 Responses

  1. Lev Raphael

    Many years ago when I was still doing work on Edith Wharton I had a major academic journal respond that my work was 1) not new and 2) not valuable.

    I had the satisfaction of pointing out it was ipso faco new since nobody had ever published an article on this particular Wharton novella before or looked at Wharton in the light of affect theory. And the university that published this journal was about to have a major speaker whose work was based on affect theory so surely somebody there felt it was valuable.

    I got an apology from the editor.

  2. Terry Shannon

    My son is a writer and has received any # of similar responses. It is interesting just how similar such rejections are to letters telling you that you didn’t get the job for which you recently applied. (There actually was a time when such letters were sent – at least if you got an interview. Not so much now, though. Rather, they just leave you dangling.)

    These letters informed you of just how astounding you were, how impressive your resume’, but that, regretably, they have decided to “go in another direction,” or that your particular skill set doesn’t adequately match their current needs or some other euphemistic bullshit.

    I received a number of such letters during my halcyon days when I bounced from job to job generally at the whim of a fickle economy or inept, self-serving middle manager.

    I came to kinda wish for a letter stating something to the effect that “You suck. What were you thinnking? Your resume’ did get a shit load of belly laughs, and gallons of coffee up the nose. Personally, I cried and pissed myself. We brought you in because we HAD to see the butthead wrote it. You WERE bullshitting, weren’t you?”

    But alas, no. The euphemisms just kept on coming.


  3. Nick Mamatas

    Ooh, getting pissy over rejection letters! Why, nobody on the Internet has ever been so clever. Not since last week, at least.

  4. Lyn Lejeune

    your mistake: submitting to academic journals….there’s so much more and creative out in the world

  5. dave st.john

    Hey, Judson, dude, I feel your pain. Been there. But writing letters back to minimum wage secretaries who xerox form letters is like bathing in your own bitter bile. It’s a waste of time.

    Don’t waste your time submitting to ANYBODY. Times have changed.

    Publishing as we have known it is DYING or DEAD. Publish your own stuff online on your own site or with or on kindle. Do it today. It’s free. It’s fun. It’s fast. And, best of all, by doing an end run around the whole submission thing, you’re getting the only revenge there is: you’re helping put them all out of business.

    Good luck and be well,

  6. Al DeLuise

    I always wanted to send in a story to a magazine with this cover letter:

    Dear [Insert magazine name here],

    Thank you so much for accepting my story. Here are the changes that you requested. Look forward to seeing my work in your magazine.

    • Betty Everdene


      This would definitely work. One should make the miscommunication of offices work for one, rather than against!

      Did you know that Faulkner, tired of rejection, sent in a short story by Joseph Conrad and it was rejected?


  7. Betty Everdene


    Thanks for this piece, very funny. Always feels good to laugh at shared misery.

    I’ve been rejected plenty of times, and published some. The rejection of my novel stings the most, as acceptance would have changed my life. It came with loads of compliments about “great character” and “great sense of place” – the only faults she cited needed an editor and an agent to fix.

    Have you noticed that book publishers are looking for what is called “a platform”? That usually means that you are famous already and have some platform they can grab on to for promotion. The agency that rejected me has plenty of famous authors – famous for things other than writing. So ironic when my book would have shocked and moved enough people to be a platform in itself. I always thought that was how it was supposed to work.

    In this self-publishing age, writers still need another person to exclaim, “This is great! I want to publish it!” And more, others to exclaim, “This is great! I want to read it!”

    You could by-pass the publisher if you had enough money and promotional expertise to go directly to the readers! You’ve definitely done that with this article. Thanks again – now, back to work.

  8. Been there done that

    Every discipline or business sends out vague rejection letters but nobody whines quite as much about them as writers do nowadays.

    Just wait till you’re in the position to do the rejecting. I’m willing to wager you won’t be any more gentle in your attitudes or your prose.

    In B-school, we’d collect all the rejection letters and turn them in at this bar who gave out “Beers for Bullets” (which is what we called rejection letters). One night of drunken commiseration, then back to sending out resumes.

    Don’t take it to heart. I know submitting your work is hard; submitting your person is equally so. Happens to everyone.

  9. Forreally McReals

    Hey, are these letters for real? They are ok funny, but what do you expect if you submit the same story to Mid-American Review? People generally don’t like to be bothered by the same shit over and over.

    You seem like kind of an ass, so I bet many editors who see this post will pass on your stories with a polite “thanks but no” just to avoid dealing with you further.

    Many! thanks! for! a! good! read!

    • Dick Cummins


      Enjoyed the rejection letters shtick. Reminded me of letters to editor I wrote back in 2007 about wildfires here in San Diego. Marginally about rejection letters too. Graduated from Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1970; have many stories about Kurt Vonnegut And Dick Yates. William Price Fox was funniest writer there! But for another time.

      Letters to the editor

      November 12, 2007
      Last Letter to the Editor Ever Written By Me
      I am a fool. Last week I wrote a letter to the editor regarding Logan Jenkin’s column about wildfires i. e. ‘Men are from Mars, women head out of Dodge’. It contained a good idea about requiring adjustable attic vents that close tight so wind driven firebrands can’t get in burn up stucco homes from the inside out. Incidentally mentioned my wife (Herself) in humorous context.

      The day it appeared in the paper Herself was out of town on family business. Couldn’t have planned it better. Except for this well-meaning fellow named Don who left a voice message on phone; ‘…good letter, amusing, write another one, ha-ha…’ and such. Trouble is Herself got home before I had a chance to delete it off the answering machine.

      Now I am on the couch, eating leftovers. Ones I warmed up for myself last week during first phase of punishment. Decide need good, redemptive, idea to reverse popularity slide with wife. Eureka! Will start construction company to add brick façades to windward side of fire vulnerable San Diego wooden homes.

      Good name for business:‘The Practical Pig Reconstruction Company’. Massive success – hugely profitable. Buy Herself a necklace, maybe an electric car; something sentimental. Get home-cooked meals again, sleep in bed instead of couch. If still on couch with dog next month, have plan ‘B’.

      Will buy her talking bathroom scale I saw at Radio Shack for anniversary. Or if still no home-cooked meals, buy her new churn. Electric one.

      Man can’t love his wife more that this.

      Dick Cummins (care of: Room 12. ICU, Mercy Hospital)

      San Diego
      Letters to the editor

      November 13, 2007
      Must Stop Husband Before He Writes Again.

      I see my husband has been writing those letters of his again. You need to know that this guy’s stuff is ninety percent hokum. Hell, we don’t even own a dog. Also know that he eats like a gastronomical King.

      Two glasses of red wine nearly 20 years ago, my special beef Stroganoff and he begged me to marry him on the spot. Big Pinocchio hasn’t missed a meal in years, especially not lately. Cooked right through the fires. Except when he went skiing in Colorado.

      In college ‘Hizself’ took a few fiction writing courses and our life has been one of starving-artist induced unpleasantness since. Like living in a humor novel that makes you cry.

      At one point he had the living room wall pasted over with a collage of rejection slips. Called it ‘Alter Ego.’ Rodents came out at night and chewed the corners, ate the glue. Apartment manager complained. Said it looked like Lascaux Caves in there; tear it down or move.

      Bottom line; these stories and novels of his never get published. Hasn’t sold a thing. He even tried children’s books. Same result different genre. First book, ‘Duchess the Carnivorous Pony’; massive failure. Even Garbage Pail Kids wouldn’t read it. Gruesome ending.

      I myself have always liked mystery novels. Maybe write one about life with failed writer. Couldn’t do worse. Thinking, murder mystery. Character named ‘Herself’, reconfigures impertinent husband’s cranium with tattletale talking scale.

      Or my new churn.

      Vonna D. Cummins (Future Best-Selling Mystery Novelist) San Diego

    • Victor

      I’ve never laughed so hard! When all the publishing gatekeepers lose their jobs and end up homeless because writers are connecting directly with readers via self-publishing and ebooks, I’ll probably be laughing harder.

      Oh you poor editors, such a chore to have to look at others’ works and make decisions. Soon, you won’t have to. 😉

  10. Geoffrey Cubbage

    JM –

    Your writing is funnier than mine, but your comments are meaner. How did that work out? Maybe we should switch readers. I don’t think mine have much to do anyway.

    – GC

  11. Patty Stewart

    They called it Paying your Dues, collecting rejection letters. Writer’s Digest used to say to wallpaper your bathroom with them. I collected them until I had a nine-pound brick of them and then threw them out. I kept the acceptances and listed them until that was about 8 printed pages, at which time I submitted my first novel and started all over again with new rejection letters, and yes, the ones for a book sting a little more, especially since the cost of double box mailing with return postage cost so much. Now they let you submit via e-mail, and if they don’t reply, that’s the rejection.

    • Yahzi

      That’s the part that really bits. Rejections are either e-mails or silence now. How are you supposed to wallpaper your bathroom with that?

      At least in the old days you got something tangible for your trouble.

  12. Bobb

    What Dave said. I mean like three people read the Mid-American review. Submitting to most “worthy” literary journals is not only frustrating and unpaid but pointless, like shouting into a black hole. Hurrah for the revolution…

  13. Steven P. Servis

    Funny post! I can relate as I have many identical rejection letters from the same publications.

    The best thing to do is to keep writing and not worry so much about being rejected by one specific publication.

  14. yr new fan

    I LOVE this. It’s smart, human and hilarious, and I hope it nets you a book contract. It’s definitely funnier and better written than much gets published. Keep writing, Judson Merrill, no matter what!! (Unless you find something more fun to do, that is.)

  15. yr new fan

    I LOVE this. It’s smart, human and hilarious, and I hope it nets you a book contract. It’s definitely funnier and better written than much of what gets published. Keep writing, Judson Merrill, no matter what!! (Unless you find something more fun to do, that is.)


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