I Deserve a Proper Rejection

It happened again. I entered a publisher’s call for scores and didn’t hear back.

I was particularly excited about this call for scores because I thought I sent in appropriate, well-done pieces that fit the request. Unfortunately, I learned that I was not accepted via Facebook, when a composer I know posted that he had a piece chosen for the project. When I read this, I thought, “Oh, have they made their final decisions?” I went to the website to check for an update, but there was none. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and waited another day or so to see if they were catching up on contacting all the composers. After hearing nothing, I emailed and asked if they had finished their process. After that, I finally got an official rejection letter.

This is happening more and more often. I have not heard back directly from at least fifty percent of the contests and calls for scores I have entered in the last year. Some let entrants know at the time of entry to find the results on the website; that’s fine. I know when and where to look. But many just leave us dangling. There’s no answer at all.

I’ve heard the argument that these people are just too busy to get back in touch with everyone who entered. This is simply baloney. I heard back directly from an organization whose call for scores this past summer resulted in seven thousand submissions. If that organization could get back to the composers, so can any organization. Most submissions are done digitally now, and they have all the email addresses. All it takes is some willingness, a little bit of organization, and a blind-copied form letter.

The problem is obviously the willingness.

I have something to say to these groups: it’s your job to get back in touch with composers.

This isn’t the same as job seekers sending an impersonal resume into a large company. This is artists sending a piece of their work to an ensemble or a small publisher (usually.) The relationship is already more personal. That level of intimacy deserves direct contact.

It took me, and the other composers, more effort and time to write our pieces than it will take you to compile all the email addresses and write a form letter. I don’t care if you have hundreds, or even thousands, of pieces to go through. If you have too many and are overwhelmed, then your call for scores was too broad. That’s your problem. You should plan for someone to act as secretary and get the communication done.

I know it is hard to say no. I know you feel bad to have to tell someone you don’t want to use their work. Get over it.

The composers have the courage to send you the workings of their inner minds and have opened themselves up for scrutiny. That is a very vulnerable position. Most of us are ready to brace for the rejections that come; we know it is part of our job. Decide to have the same courage to say no; it is simply part of your job.

Most of the time, my entry is potentially contributing to you making or saving money (by not having to buy or rent scores and parts), even if I don’t pay an entry fee. If I do pay an entry fee, I assume my money is helping to cover the cost of perusing all the scores, and I do so willingly. But I expect that my entry fee will also cover the cost of someone doing the work of getting back to me about the results. When my work is considered for inclusion in a publication that will help make money for the publisher, you bet that I am expecting a professional rejection.

I had several emails back and forth over the summer with one particular ensemble only to find out at the very end over Facebook that my piece was not one of the ones chosen for performance. That stung. It would have been proper for me to receive a personal email, especially when the size of the group of finalists I was in was only ten. That communicated to me that they just couldn’t find it within themselves to contact me personally that they weren’t going to use my piece. I also had several emails with the publisher I mentioned in the first paragraph. After I asked about the results, the rejection letter “encouraged” me to send in a piece to the next call for scores.

No, no thank you.

You’ve communicated to me that my effort and work is not worth the respect of a proper rejection. You’ve shown that you are not willing to do the hard work of saying no, of communicating personally (even as a form letter) to the composers who contributed to your project. I deserve a rejection and a thank you.

I’ve been told as a composer to enter everything I can because it puts my work in front of more people. The ensembles and publishers “get to know me” through my entries. The reverse is also true. I get to know the ensembles and publishers in the way they communicate – or don’t – with me. The lack of a proper rejection leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.

Perhaps other composers will continue to send in scores to ensembles and publishers who treat them this way, but not me. You will have at least one less submission to your next call for scores. Maybe that will make your work easier. But, if other composers share my mindset, you may find it harder and harder to get your project off the ground.

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A professional recording of my piece for string orchestra, Daughter of the Stars, is now available. It can be found here.

3 thoughts on “I Deserve a Proper Rejection”

  1. That really is rude of them, and it wouldn’t be hard at all for them to send out a mass letter. Or even to post the results on their site, and send a mass notification when the results are up. If nothing else, you need to know they rejected it so you know if you’re free to submit it elsewhere.
    I’ve dealt with academic conferences/ call for papers within my field, and for the ones I’ve been involved in, they always send out both rejection and acceptance emails. The software they use for handling abstracts even has that built in. I would think that is a more comparable scenario than job applications.

    1. Ellie, you are probably right about the academic conference/call for papers being more comparable than the job applications. That said, I’m still waiting on an application to a composer’s conference (not a paper, but a piece) and I wonder if I will actually hear back. I have not previously submitted to this particular conference. I just went and checked the website and the calendar is so messed up the calendar doesn’t show past this month, it doesn’t have any information about the upcoming conference (and I stupidly deleted those emails figuring I didn’t need them!) and the “current” newsletter on the site is from April-June 2019!!!!! There’s a problem here. Now I’m wondering what I’m paying dues for.

      1. Oh, I found it. I had to click on the logo since there is no “home page” button. I guess anyone chosen was supposed to be notified by March 15th. But so many people never get back to you when they say, so maybe I wasn’t chosen and maybe they are behind schedule. It looks like I will not get notified unless chosen, and the results will not be posted.

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