Save your rejection letters for manuscripts. Maybe you can get the letter published in The New York Times. Example: A rejection letter for a scholarly article was published in The New York Times, Saturday, February 7, 2009.
The American Historical Review rejected an article about omissions and mistakes in “Abuse of Power,” Stanley Kutler’s collection of transcripts of Watergate tapes, on Friday. In a response to Peter Klingman, a historian who submitted the essay, Robert Schneider, the review’s editor, wrote that the piece, “despite its intrinsic interest, is too narrow in focus for this publication.” He added: “Essays must therefore reach beyond the issues, concerns or jargon of a particular sub-field and speak to larger theoretical, methodological, or substantive issues. It seems to us that your essay is more appropriately placed in a more specialized journal.” The screening report for the review, which is the profession’s premier journal, also stated, “This submission is too short (4,868 words) for consideration by the AHR.”
[NYT article by Patricia Cohen]
Editors for most journals are presented with a template email for sending editorial decisions to authors. There is a template for each category of decision (accept, minor revision, moderate revision, major revision, reject and resubmit, reject and take a hike etc.). The templates that I use when sending editor email to authors are editable, and this is fortunate because the templates were written by a robot with stilted diction and a penchant for vague and convoluted prose.
Particularly when rejecting a manuscript, I always try to edit the template sufficiently so that it is clear that I have actually read the manuscript, thought about it, and have specific, substantive reasons (which I list) for rejecting the manuscript.
I don't know anything about the American Historical Review and of course have no idea whether the manuscript was rejected for inappropriate or unstated reasons, but that rejection letter screams TEMPLATE to me, even though the editor kindly inserted the specific word count for the rejected manuscript.
The line about "more suitable for a specialized journal" is a classic one. In some (many?) cases it is an appropriate comment, and I suppose it must be said somehow. It says "Your work is narrow and provincial" and "Send your manuscript to a journal that only a few people read" or possibly "The editor is narrow and provincial and is unable to appreciate the brilliance of your work, possibly because it is so poorly written and possibly because the editor is a dolt.".
If I am making a negative decision about a manuscript that I perceive to be too narrowly focused for the journal of interest, I provide some brief but specific information about this in my own words, and I omit or rewrite the "specialized journal" sentence from the template email. Maybe I deal with many fewer manuscripts than the AHR screening committee, but it only takes me a minute to de-templatize this aspect of the letter.
Another intriguing aspect of the rejection letter in the NYT article is the problem of the manuscript's being "too short". Many journals have strict limits on the maximum length of a manuscript, but I didn't know there were journals that had a minimum length. I can imagine that an article that consisted of very few words might not be appropriate in some cases, but I would hope that journals to not mindlessly adhere to a strict minimum number of words. It should theoretically be possible to make a very concise but compelling case for something important enough to be published.
(word count = 589)
7 years ago