how to write a rejection letter
March 4, 2004 4:30 PM   Subscribe

Rejection letters -- writing, not receiving.

I've just started an online art gallery, and am soliciting submissions. I'm getting some good ones, but, as expected, I'm also getting some not-so-good ones.

What do I say in a rejection letter? I'm rather passive aggressive and have a very hard time with this kind of thing.
posted by o2b to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'll eventually need two letters: one for out and out rejections, one for young artists that I would like to encourage.
posted by o2b at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2004

How about something along the lines of "while your work shows tremendous promise we don't feel it's quite right at this time for our specific gallery, but we'd like to see how it evolves in the future" for the young-budding-artist types?
posted by tomorama at 4:40 PM on March 4, 2004

A nice approach for the encouragement thing is to state what their work would be good for (what genre it would fit better, etc) that's not *your* gallery. But if you really want to let people down easy, it might take a minute of work for each.

Then there are those submissions which just plain suck. What do you do about those? #1, remember that your opinion isn't absolute. #2, keep it light. Don't get all official on people, telling them "we thank you for submitting but at this time yadda yadda." Even if you don't admire the art, you've got to admire the initiative it takes to get onesself out there. Think of that, and give them a respectful, very specific "no.'

Tell them their art doesn't fit what you want to do. If you start thinking this is dishonest, that their art just plain sucks, I refer you back to #1.

"We regret that we cannot promote you" is not a bad thing to say to either camp.
posted by scarabic at 4:50 PM on March 4, 2004

Dear _____,

The most difficult aspect to curating an exhibit is not receiving enough quality submissions; it is the inflow of so many amazing works. This would be an easy task if it were simply black and white. However, to disseminate between the many submissions of excellent caliber, such as yours, makes my job a formidable task. That, coupled with creating thematic and organically flowing exhibits, means that some pieces have to be shelved, which, in my mind is the greatest sacrifice an artist can make.

Unfortunately for the time being, I have not found the perfect space for your piece. However, with your permission, I will keep your submission on file, and let you know as soon as we are in a position to showcase your work.

posted by jazzkat11 at 5:12 PM on March 4, 2004

There's a blogger out there (probably several, but one that I know of) who's applying to law school and has posted all his Acceptance and Rejection Letters on his site ( So far I think there are 12 rejection notices, so while it's not exactly the same as a rejection of a work of art, you could study up on how places like Georgetown and University of Michigan reject people before passing out some bad news of your own.
posted by herc at 5:13 PM on March 4, 2004

herc, they reject people just like jazzkat11's letter (or at least all of mine were like that). Basically, "we rule so much that *everyone* wants to come here, so we turn away all *kinds* of really good people, including you!" Well, it's the truth, but it's obnoxious because it says nothing at all.

I don't know about other people, but if I'm rejected, I'd much rather have the honest reason why than a form letter that's trying its damndest to not hurt my feelings. I don't know how that goes in terms of art, though. Perhaps its all too subjective to give a reason beyond, "I don't like it"?

IMO, jazzkat11's letter would piss me off because it sounds like utter BS (and for those artists that are "just bad" it would be), and shows a lack of respect.

If I were an artist (I'm not) and I were to submit something to a gallery, I would take something like this best:

"Dear you, we received your submission, but we have decided not to select it for our gallery."

Continuing like, "Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions," would make me feel good, but might be difficult to deal with such questions on the rejector's end.
posted by whatnotever at 5:26 PM on March 4, 2004

This is the rejection letter I like to send to people who send me poetry they want me to post on my site:

Dear [name],

Your message makes me want to commit suicide. Please keep your job at the gas station.


Mo Nickels.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:01 PM on March 4, 2004

It's all just a matter of preferences, but jazzkat's rejection letter is unnecessarily unclear and hope-raising. You're not really going to keep it on file looking for the perfect place for it, and the rejectee shouldn't think so. They should think that you rejected their work and that they should take it elsewhere.

"Dear NAME,

Thank you for submitting your work to EXHIBITION. We received many high-quality submissions. However, we have finished selecting the works for exhibition, and yours is not among them.

Again, thank you for considering GALLERY as an outlet for your work. We have new exhibitions opening periodically, and we encourage you to submit your works for them."

For someone you want to encourage, add a paragraph in between those two saying something like "However, all is not lost..." and then encourage them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:12 PM on March 4, 2004

Dear _____,

Back in the early fifties I studied painting at a small arts college upstate. One of the artists in residence was a man by the name of Jackson Pollock.

One late morning he stumbled into the studio smelling like a gin mill, took one look at my work and remarked, "Son, you've a Canarsie goyem's chance of tying on a schmutzig bagel of being an artist. If you don't have a day job, I'd get one quick."

Other than pointing out the fact that Pollock was a mean, nasty drunk of a man, the gist of my story is that some people have it, some don't. I'll be nicer about it, maybe you're in an 'incubation' period. Maybe you just simply don't have it. The chances are the probably the latter, but who I am to say?

Either way, keep painting, and don't quit your day job.


Actually, I personally agree with whatnotever. make it simple and to the point.
posted by jazzkat11 at 6:20 PM on March 4, 2004

Response by poster: I'll say it again: AskMe rocks.

Thanks all, this is great.

(Not that the thread needs to end here... post 'em if you've got 'em.)
posted by o2b at 6:46 PM on March 4, 2004

Check out this rejection collection.

I reckon a rejection like thejazzkat11's Pollock one but with the rejector as the fool. Tell a story like: "artist x was rejected by 28 people and is now world famous - don't listen to me what do I know"
posted by meech at 7:30 PM on March 4, 2004

Out of curiosity, I'm just getting into art buying (I'll probably AskMefi after I get done with a few more books/magazines on it), but how much would something like this cost? It said "private collection stockholm" so I'm guessing Fred Gates must be at least an international big name and that cost a load. But finding something in that style locally by an unknown should runa bout how much?
posted by geoff. at 7:32 PM on March 4, 2004

I'll eventually need two letters: one for out and out rejections, one for young artists that I would like to encourage.

How many people are you getting who you want to encourage? Because it seems like the best thing there would be to write letters to them individually. For the others you can do the old Peanuts "we regret to inform you that your submission does not suit our present needs" line.

There was an interesting discussion on the blog Making Light (regarding meech's Rejection Collection link, actually) about rejection letters and how writers and editors view them - perhaps it can help you get a fix on the line you want to take here. It's about writing, not art, but it's appropriate nonetheless.
posted by furiousthought at 7:40 PM on March 4, 2004

Response by poster: I like the idea of the Pollack story, but it would feel trite in an actual letter, I think. I'll probably keep the spirit of it with a line such as, "Even though your work isn't right for us, please keep trying. Art is important."
posted by o2b at 7:43 PM on March 4, 2004

Response by poster: geoff.: if you're sincerely interested in knowing, email the artist. If the price isn't what you'd want, ask if he has any pieces in your range, or ask if he knows of other artists for you to look into.

(That particular artist doesn't list his prices online because he doesn't like the idea of e-commerce for his stuff.)
posted by o2b at 7:47 PM on March 4, 2004

I didn't know it was appropriate to just go up and ask. Thanks o2b.
posted by geoff. at 8:01 PM on March 4, 2004

Rotten Rejections and Famous Rejections may prove useful if you're going the "But what do I know?" route.
posted by Danelope at 8:30 PM on March 4, 2004

I recently received a rejection that actually put me in a good mood. I don't still have it, but the writer basically said that he believed I was highly qualified but that they decided to go with someone else. He cited something he liked from my work. And he signed off my encouraging me to keep working and try again. That might be a good approach for people who have potential.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:42 PM on March 4, 2004

I second the recommendation for the Making Light thread. It's got almost 600 comments, so you probably won't be able to read the whole thing, but it's the most enlightening thing I've ever read on rejection letters, with much discussion between those who write 'em and those who get 'em. I was astounded by the thin skins of the latter; there are many, many responses like whatnotever's above, objecting to every conceivable form of rejection letter. Basically, nobody wants to be rejected, so you're not going to please anybody no matter how you do it, but maybe reading the sample letters and reactions will help you decide.
posted by languagehat at 8:45 AM on March 5, 2004

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