Last night, I did something I'd never had to do before...
I sent out rejection letters.
As readers of the old blog know, I'm working on a book collection in a field obliquely related to primary research field, but quite germaine to my teaching and a progressive vision of the academy. After months of collecting just-enough abstracts and papers to come up with a full slate of contributions, my co-editor and I made some decisions yesterday on what was in, what was out, and what we wanted to see more of to make a final decision.
For those pieces that we decided against (to say "rejected" even now seems harsh, but accurate), I had the unenviable task of notifying the authors of our decision. Though those pieces ranged from the "not-right-for-us" to the "you-call-this-writing?" those notes took on too much familiar language: "thank you for offering us your work," and "good luck in finding a venue for the piece," and "we received much fine scholarship."
In one case, I sent back some reader's notes, but in a couple of cases, my (unwritten) response was less charitable, and so I indicated very little about my actual opinion in the note.
I know that bad news is difficult to deliver anyway, but in some ways, my most euphemistic responses almost seem dishonest...Is it right to avoid telling someone that their work has a loong way to go before it should find its way into print? Or should I let the vagaries of the publishing market send its own message, in the event that someone else with different interests and agendas finds the work compelling enough to publish?
At the very least, I know that I shall read those rejection slips that come my way with a slightly different eye.