I'm one who has seen the slushpile from both sides - I have made a number of sales, books, short stories, articles, though I have received enough rejection slips to wallpaper the smallest room in my house, and I have also done slush reading for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Once, I was called on to do a reader's report for a book proposal. The writer concerned was a personal friend. The publisher wanted to publish it if they could, but had problems with it. However, they wished to be fair. As it happened, I felt that there was nothing wrong with it that a bit of chopping and changing wouldn't fix, about two hours' work. I said so, the publisher agreed and the book was duly published. Just as well - I would have hated to have found it unpublishable!
As a member of the ASIM list, I have found a bunch of people who feel terribly guilty every time they have to turn down a piece and have long, long discussions about what we should and shouldn't be considering in our reading. But with about 8200 submissions over the years, we just haven't been able to take everything, not even everything publishable.
Most submitters understand this and appreciate receiving comments, even when they hurt a bit. Occasionally we get someone who is so angry that we have called their baby ugly that they complain about it on their blogs. One, recently, referred to ASIM as "an amateur" publication in Australia - sorry, semi-pro, which means that everyone gets paid for their work except us - and us as "those clowns" because his (already much-rejected) masterpiece had been rejected again and he hadn't liked the comments and - shock, horror! - had been kept waiting for a couple of months. I admit that we rarely keep anyone waiting for longer than a couple of weeks, unless they are in our "slush pool", which means they have some chance, at least, of being published. This was an unusual case, but there was good reason for the delay. In this case, my opinion is that the only amateur was the author. Such unprofessional behaviour is unlikely to get him published by one of the bigger magazines, and if he does succeeed, it will probably be once only, after which his behaviour will get the hard-working publishers offside.
My experience with rejections has been varied. In the early days, there was the printed slip. I usually get a personal response these days, though occasionally still a printed slip. Once, I even got a slip, in an envelope, from a publisher to which I had not actually submitted anything! Well, I had, a couple of years previously, but that MS had been returned and I had had a phone call from the head honcho, who explained that they didn't publish that kind of fantasy, but that she had liked it very much and did I have anything else to submit? I was very flattered! She had CALLED me! No doubt, there are some folk out there who would have been upset by it. Anyway, when I got the puzzling slip two years later, I wrote to ask what it was they were rejecting, and received no reply. To this day, I don't even know who sent it.
Once, I got a printed slip from a publisher which had published two of my books - now, that did hurt, but I am prepared to believe that there had been a mix-up somewhere along the track as I had handed the MS to the publisher in person. She must have dropped it on the slushpile, from which it was given to a reader, or lay around the office, and some publishing assistant who was new to the company sent it back without comment. In any case, I didn't take it too personally and that company has since published another of my books.
It also hurts when the MS is returned after you asked the publisher to dispose of the MS and just send you a yes or no in the supplied envelope and postage. If it's covered in coffee stains, at least they probably read it, but you can't re-submit it anyway, so why return it if they have been asked not to do so? It hurts when you do your calculations and figure out that it was sent back the day they received it. I don't try any of the tricks people do to see if something was read - publishers are on to the hairs and such. I just check the postage date.
My usual reaction to rejections is to mutter, "Stuff you!" and submit it elsewhere - immediately! That way, I can hope again.
In the end, I don't take it personally. I may not agree with their decision, but I just get on with it and I smile at the publisher if I meet her at some event, and talk about other things. (One lady felt so guilty about turning down my MS, twice, that she avoided me at such events for some time, until the company accepted my next MS, then it was all smiles ... poor woman!) You just can't afford to take it personally. If they send you comments, you have to be flattered - they liked it enough to tell you why. When the company gets several thousand MSS a year and yours is probably the latest of a huge pile that this particular editor had to look at in a few days, you just have to be pleased if they took that trouble. If you don't want to be hurt, there's no point in submitting. Self-publish or leave it in your bottom drawer.
Bjo Trimble once said you should cherish your rejection slips, because they prove you're a writer. Only writers get rejection slips. By that definition, I am many times a writer ...
By the way, on an unconnected topic, I would like to thank the person who took the trouble to say something nice about my last published story. Unable to find my e-mail address, he/she sent it to this blog as a comment. (The reviews of that story have varied between the glowing and the utterly negative ... can't please everyone, eh?)