Letters of Note remains a favorite blog; it posts images of letters from celebrities/creative people/historical figures (transcribed texts also), and for someone always happy for a peek behind the curtain, it’s pure entertainment.

Today’s letter is from John D. MacDonald, who — as a young writer — endured the usual barrage of editor’s rejection slips. When he became famous and demand for his work soared, he amusingly crafted a satirical “Editor Rejection Letter.”

Dear Editor:

Don’t be upset about receiving this form letter!

We would like to write a personal letter to each and every one of you, but the great mass of stories submitted from this office makes such a procedure impractical. Surely you can understand that!

If by any chance we have been unable to use your magazine, don’t be discouraged. It may not be due to any particular deficiency in the magazine, but instead to the fact that we haven’t recently been writing the type of THING that you use.

Try again, won’t you?

And, we beg of you – DON’T BE DISCOURAGED!


John D. MacDonald

MacDonald was playing out the fantasy of a lot of writers — and turnabout is fair play in this instance — but his gently satirical efforts were nothing in comparison to Norman MacLean’s rejection letter to a publisher who accepted his first manuscript, then screwed around with it for a while before dropping it.

That manuscript went on to become the hugely acclamied “A River Runs Through It,” and when the same publisher courted MacLean’s second book (Young Men and Fire), he reacted, uhhh… poorly:

You must have known that Alfred A. Knopf turned down my first collection of stories after playing games with it, or at least the game of cat’s-paw, now rolling it over and saying they were going to publish it and then rolling it on its back when the president of the company announced it wouldn’t sell. So I can’t understand how you could ask if I’d submit my second manuscript to Alfred A. Knopf, unless you don’t know my race of people. And I can’t understand how it didn’t register on me – ‘Alfred A. Knopf’ is clear enough on your stationery.

But, although I let the big moment elude me, it has given rise to little pleasures. For instance, whenever I receive a statement of the sales of ‘A River Runs Through It’ from the University of Chicago Press, I see that someone has written across the bottom of it, ‘Hurrah for Alfred A. Knopf.’ However, having let the great moment slip by unrecognized and unadorned, I can now only weakly say this: if the situation ever arose when Alfred A. Knopf was the only publishing house remaining in the world and I was the sole remaining author, that would mark the end of the world of books.

This is only a portion of MacLean’s letter; you can see what revenge (or bitterness) looks like here.

Keep writing (even rejection letters), Tom Chandler.