I really hope agents and editors can reject submissions without crap like this:
“The B.A.A. recognizes the achievement of everyone who has met the qualifying standards that we have established for the race.”
That’s the Boston Marathon letting me know that I don’t get an entry despite running a qualifying time. The question is, who is that statement for?
Do they really think there’s a single person who will feel better after reading that? Your message required two words: Application Declined. If all I wanted was the achievement of qualifying, I wouldn’t have applied.
For my money, it’s just about impossible to write this kind of “we regret to inform you” gentle letdown without sounding disingenuous and/or condescending. About the only time I’ve seen it work was on Princeton’s rejection letter back in the days of yore. They said I was clearly a gifted student and an all-around decent human being and it was their loss that there wasn’t a place for me in the freshman class. It was actually quite nice.
But I had equal respect for Stanford’s rejection letter. They said my application was rejected, there was no way to appeal the decision, and there was no waiting list. Left implied was that I had brought shame to my family and every member of the admissions board would fight to their last breath to keep me from attending the college. No fluff there.
Of course, the contents of a college rejection letter have no point to begin with, because everyone knows that the small envelope doesn’t have good news.
Really, I think these attempts to soften the blow are for the writer, not the reader. When you’re crushing someone’s dreams, you naturally want to reassure yourself that it’s for reasons, not just because you’re an asshole.