Anybody who writes for money is going to become, perforce, an expert in the types and levels of rejection.
There’s the generic form rejection, which usually reads something on the order of “Your manuscript does not meet our needs at the present time” — which may on rare occasions mean “Your story was so bad it made our eyeballs bleed” but which usually means nothing more than what it says. Your manuscript didn’t meet their current needs, whatever those needs may have been. Maybe they bought a story similar to yours just last week; maybe your story was an awkward length and they already have enough stories of that length in inventory to keep them supplied for a year; maybe you happened by chance to write upon a subject that gives the editor hives. Or maybe your perfectly competent story just didn’t quite push the editor’s “Buy This One!” button.
(That last is a dreadful stage to be at in one’s writing career, by the way. It’s like perpetually getting B-plusses and never quite getting an A; it’s like watching everybody else in your high-school class get asked out on dates while you’re spending your Saturday nights at home with a good book. A lot of aspiring writers give up at this point. A lot of others turn bitter and morose, and are left unable to enjoy themselves when they finally do make that first sale. The only consolation to be had is that everybody who’s eventually sold their writing has gone through this stage first.)
Then there’s the personalized and encouraging rejection, wherein the editor takes a minute or so from a busy schedule to add something like “Keep on writing!” or “Try us again with your next.” These notes are good and flattering things. The wise aspirant doesn’t take them as an invitation to initiate a personal correspondence,† but files them away in the “Attaboy!” (or “Attagirl!,” as appropriate) folder to take out and contemplate on those grey and rainy afternoons of the soul that writers are so often prone to.
Then there’s the rejection letter with specific suggestions: “Shorten this by 500 words and I’ll give it another look” or “This isn’t really our sort of thing, but you might consider sending it to Anne Editor over at Marketable Magic Realism.” In those cases — for heaven’s sake, don’t be dense. Shorten the story and resubmit, or send it over to Marketable Magic Realism post haste with a note in the cover letter to the effect of “Joe Editor over at Rivetty SF suggested I send this to you.”
Maybe you don’t think your story was magic realism; maybe you think it was hard sf. (You’d read Rivetty‘s submission guidelines, after all; that much of a newbie you aren’t.) And maybe you’re right. But editors make their reputations by knowing how readers are going to see these things, and Marketable Magic Realism‘s checks clear just as well as those from Rivetty SF Stories. Take the money and run.
†Really, don’t. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently consign yourself to some editor’s Creepy Stalker file.