(No, I'm not doing a countdown to rejection. Last one, I promise. Just trying to give some perspective -- that often you don't know who is actually sending along the rejection letter or who they might be channeling.)
So a few years after the famous editor from my favorite rejection story died (let's call her MB), the team who took over her publishing estate decided to put out a sort of memorial anthology and invited past contributors to submit.
When I got the request, I thought back to a story I'd submitted to MB for another collection. That one flew in the face of everything MB generally did not like in a story -- it was first person, present tense, and full of poetic prose. But there was reason behind the madness, not simply authorial indulgence, and MB recognized that. I received a short note that she was holding it for a final decision. In the end, she sent me a beautiful, long letter letting me know she loved the story and had wanted to include it and the only reason it ultimately did not make the final cut was that the publisher had refused the final word count for the anthology. She had to cut two stories to make length and mine was one. (Okay, that was a pretty great rejection, right, but it is not my second favorite rejection story. Oh no, boys and girls, I have many favorite rejections [like the small press that folded right after they accepted my MG novel, the comic book publisher that folded right after they expressed interest in my series, the animated children's show that was canceled right before we signed the contract for my script...]. This is just background for what follows.)
I sold the story elsewhere, but when MB's team asked me to submit something for the new anthology, I sent a prequel to the original story told in the same style and voice. I, of course, included a comment about MB's response to the original. Had the new team sent me a rejection letter telling me they didn't like the style of the story because it broke some traditional rules, I would have simply chalked it up to they and I not being the same good fit MB and I were and given it no more thought. They, however, phrased the rejection in terms of what they thought MB would have said, telling me there was no way she would have accepted a story like that. They were rejecting me based on the perceived tastes of someone who was dead. And they were suggesting I had lied to them about MB having initially accepted the original story -- that they apparently knew her tastes better than she did.
Yes, I thought about arguing. Yes, I thought about sending them a copy of the correspondence MB and I had over the original story. (Yes, I do have an abiding need to be right.) But in the end, I took the high road (as should you!) and did not respond. There is nothing to be gained by burning bridges in an industry this small.
Besides, there was the whole nose-face-spite issue, and this team was cutting my royalty checks on some previous stories. And you really want to stay on the good side of anyone in charge of monies due you, you know.