Tuesday, March 10, 2009

50% Off Back Issues

Here's a fun one from the mailbag.  

"...They had my story less than 3 days before rejecting it. Does that make me believe they gave it "careful consideration"? Well, you know the answer. I guess I actually may have gotten more "careful consideration" than most. There are many writers on Duotrope who report getting 0-day responses from this market. Does Professor Mirsky have the entire student body reading these manuscripts? Is there a submission-reading sweatshop located in some dark basement of the English Department of City College?"

----- Original Message ----- From: "Fiction"------------
To: writer_rejected@unpubbed.com 
Sent: March 02, 2009 4:19 PM
Subject: Your submission to Fiction

Dear Contributor:  Thank you very much for submitting your work. After careful consideration, the editors were not able to accept it for publication.

We would like to offer personalized letters or feedback but limitations of time and staff have made that impossible at the present. We wish you the best of luck in finding a journal to publish your writing. The editorial staff, including the editor-in- chief, Mark Jay Mirsky, welcomes critical response to past issues of the magazine if you wish to include any in future submissions or letters. If you identify yourself as a writer who submitted to Fiction, you may order back issues at a fifty percent discount.

With best regards,
The Editors

176 comments:

Anonymous said...

Check Duotrope, Fiction has an average turn around of about a month. Maybe they had a slow down in slush when you submitted, and could make a decision faster. In any case, response time is not the best indicator of whether a publication reads or merely processes submissions. Some editors are more efficient than others

Leopold said...

Fiction once took three years to get back to me -- seriously: three years -- and the editor wanted to know if the story was still available. It wasn't. Personally, I'd take the three day rejection. If the slushpile isn't backlogged, it doesn't take long to go through a pile of manuscripts. And, as I've said on here before, an editor can usually tell by page one if it's not right for him/her (for a number of reasons); it takes longer than page one to know if it's right, of course. And that doesn't mean that it's not right for someone else. But I don't think it's useful to do any hand-wringing or serious analyzing here. Of course, the conspiracy theorists will have a different theory on all of this, but since I've worked for a couple of literary magazines, I'll stick to my theory. Just send the story out to other places, if it's not already out.

Anonymous said...

A journal getting back to you quickly doesn't mean they didn't consider your story. Did you expect the editor to read your piece, then go out into the desert on a month-long vision quest while ruminating about its relative merits?

You obviously just caught them at a moment when they'd dealt with their backlog and were reading things quickly.

Sorry to be snarky about it, but as a journal editor I find it a little exasperating when people get angry at us for doing our job quickly.

NM said...

Wow, actually some sensible comments from this thread. Keep up the good work.

Lots of stories can be rejected after reading the first couple of paragraphs, if there are basic infelicities of language or a general failure to tantalize the reader. Others can be rejected because of content (is Fiction going to run a story about a bunch of people having orgies on a spaceship)? and when the slush is done, it is easy enough to get things done.

Plus, as the others have said, slush comes and goes. CCNY had a couple days off last month for Lincoln's bday and then Washington's, so the assistant editors likely burned through a lot of slush on those extended weekends, making a space for quicker response times.

Anonymous said...

"Wow, actually some sensible comments from this thread. Keep up the good work."

A non-attack comment from NM. Maybe you do see how something's fundamentally wrong in publishing and how we've been working toward an answer. Maybe you've been tantalized by the conversations here and want to take part. If so, welcome.


"Others can be rejected because of content"

Yes, a huge point of contention is how good stories and poems are rejected outright because of content, because a work doesn't carry all the approved assumptions and points of view. See the archives for discussions on what's not getting a fair shake out there. Not just at a particular magazine but overall. There is a lot of intolerance today for anything outside the "party line".

plz said...

Anon 4:30,
What are you talking about? This discussion is about how much we can glean from a magazine's response time. (answer: nothing)

The sender of this rejection writes about how some people reported 0-day response times on duotrope. I would like to add that sometimes people update their duotrope stats in one big bunch and may mis-state the actual response time. Like, they log the submission and rejection on the same day.

Anonymous said...

and of course the point is that Fiction just switched to the on-line submissions manager from snail mail, so they can reject people more quickly now. this explains the three day rejections etc.

Anonymous said...

As an editor I find these debates crazy. If you take too long you get attacked, if you go too quickly you get attacked. Seems like you only have a two week window that it is acceptable to reject stuff in!

(As writer I don't see anything wrong with quick rejections. Doesn't mean anything. I do, however, think most magazines take way too long. A story should be rejected within a month if it won't be under serious consideration.)

Writer, Rejected said...

Yes anonymous editor. You are finally seeing our crazy point. The only way to win is to not reject us!

Dave Clapper said...

I'm with the other folks here. Back in our early days, we had youthful enthusiasm and attacked the slush with relish. That meant we often turned around submissions in the same day (mostly rejections, but in some cases acceptances). And we got attacked for it. "Surely you couldn't have given my piece enough time." Well, yeah, we could have, and yeah, we did. So we built in a two-day delay, which still made us crazy fast.

Over the years, as submissions (and burn-out) grew, our response time slowed down to about three weeks on average. Recently, we've gotten on top of our slush again and we sometimes actually do respond the same freaking day.

Doesn't mean we're reading subs any less seriously. Just means we're not letting the backlog pile up as high.

Anonymous said...

[b] Writer, Rejected[/b]

Ah yes, but then either the magazine's quality declines steeply and everyone says it sucks now and/or we fill up each issue in one day of slush and submissions would always be closed so that would be annoying too.

Writer, Rejected said...

...Or you stop publishing the same old same old and recognize some unusual brilliance? Just saying.

Anonymous said...

"the point is that Fiction just switched to the on-line submissions manager from snail mail"

where is the box for $3 submission fee "to offset our growing expenses"?

must not have implemented that.

yet.

Anonymous said...

"As writer I don't see anything wrong with quick rejections. Doesn't mean anything. I do, however, think most magazines take way too long. A story should be rejected within a month if it won't be under serious consideration."

I agree. I've worked as an editor (non fiction) and it only takes seconds to eval a pitch.

I've seen fiction slush and it only takes seconds to eval the bad (or worse) from the contenders.

However.

There's a feeling out there that *good* work isn't getting read at all, that writers outside the academic clique aren't being treated fairly (or even wanted at all) and that editors aren't doing much of a job editing anymore. How many editors have the balls to write "this is terrible" and how many even write a personal note to a writer about a good story that just wasn't a fit? Fiction is not what it used to be, and it pays even less. Add the growing number of journals that charge you for the privilege of submission. Fiction might be a nice "credit" but how many people out there will read it? (As someone mentioned here before, "outside of English departments" that is?) And will this "credit" help pay the rent much? Really, few magazines pay anything that can even pass for professional rates anymore. Of those that do, the rates are s**t. Check duotrope, a lot of you anonymopes mention it. See how low the rates are for "Semi-pro" and see how low they can be even for "Pro." Have a look at the big players in the genre markets, where a nickel or a dime a word is considered big stuff. Whoopie. Now look at the best of the mainstream commercial fiction magazines, where you will get a dollar a word tops. Whoopie. (Good non-fiction work pays $2 a word and even more. Why the disparity? It's worth looking into. It never existed before.) People, $1/word was considered bare minimum in 1990 (and that standard was set by a wimpy organization that many writers say did nothing for writers). Look at the calendar. What year is it? How much adjusting for inflation has been made? Last time I checked, Author's Guild and all the other writer "advocates" have no problem at all with WFH contracts and a dollar (or less) a word. No wonder there are good arguments that "fiction is dead" and no wonder people complain about the lack of truly great (and popular) writing in this day and age. What is this if not a hobby for the mentally deranged?

Anonymous said...

Believe me, I understand that it makes writers (I am one, after all) feel better about their own work to believe it's not being published because editors are stupid or lazy or don't understand their particular brilliance.

But that tends to not be the case.

You can either a) spend your energy getting lathered up about how publishing sucks, and MFA programs suck, and XYZ writers suck, or b) spend your energy working on your own writing, and getting better.

Anonymous said...

"But that tends to not be the case."

What are you saying? Where are you coming from? Who are you?

Pick up a biography of any great writer and read about their rejections, dude. Every great writer has to go through mountains of resistance, total neglect and utter rejection, sometimes for years, sometimes for their entire lives. That's for the truly great, immortal writers. Not even talking about just the serviceable writers, the average writers, the ones whose words are sometimes worthy of a little ink but good to disappear with the passing of the day.

Anonymous said...


Pick up a biography of any great writer and read about their rejections, dude. Every great writer has to go through mountains of resistance, total neglect and utter rejection, sometimes for years, sometimes for their entire lives. That's for the truly great, immortal writers. Not even talking about just the serviceable writers, the average writers, the ones whose words are sometimes worthy of a little ink but good to disappear with the passing of the day.



This is a different anonymous, but I don't think you are really proving him/her wrong with the above quote.

Yes, lots of great writers went through periods of rejections.

But that doesn't mean their rejected work was necessarily great. Writers get better. They improve their craft. Not every writer starts otu with brilliant work.


I think we also have to note a big difference in literary magazines and commercial books. It is somewhat common to hear stories of brilliant books that were rejected for ever and maybe published after someone's death (Confederacy of Dunces for example).

I don't' think I've ever heard of a lit mag equivalent: Some brilliant story writer who couldn't' get his fiction placed in any of the approx 5,756,231 literary magazines in America.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person who thought Confederacy of Dunces was an overrated piece of crap?

A Real Writer said...

Yes, you are the only one. Confederacy of Dunces was brilliant.

Many thanks to the editors who shared their two cents on here. So it appears getting rejected quickly is most often (but not always) a sign of a well-run lit journal, not a sign of sloppy readers.

I remember Zyzzyva once had this trouble - they were rejecting people within a week, so people got mad. But it's a good journal, and Howard really was reading the pieces.

Quick response is only unprofessional when it's from a journal like New Delta Review, which sends a rejection slip saying "sorry, no room left in this issue." It's like: thanks for not posting that fact on your website and saving me $3. They are a journal that rejects you quickly because they don't actually read you. (Oops! Issue Full! Reject everything else that comes in!)

But I will take speedy ANY DAY over non-speedy. Do you hear me lit journal editors? Ignore the cranks on this site and know that most real writers are just fine with getting a speedy rejection as long as you gave them a fair read. That's all we want: a fair read.

the milledgeville-ifier said...

"Am I the only person who thought Confederacy of Dunces was an overrated piece of crap?"

If by Confedercy of Dunces you mean a book you wrote using that title, the answer is no, you're not alone, others think it's a piece of crap as well; but if you mean the novel written by John Kennedy Toole, the answer is yes, you are all alone. Sorry.

John said...

Anonymous 3:01, Bukowski would be a lit-mag equivalent. He was consistently published in the "littles", which at the time were mimeo. Now they would be called non-paying zines. The only regular commercial market that ever published his stories was Hustler.

Black Sparrow made bundles running his unpublished stuff posthumously. Bukowski thought Hemingway, Eliot, Faulkner and Pound were frauds, and he was right.

plz said...

Hemingway, Eliot, Faulkner, and Pound were frauds? That group encompasses pretty diverse styles of writing, I mean, it's hard not to like something one of them wrote. Bukowski was just spouting the mad ravings of a bitter drunk. Why are you such a Bukowski cheerleader?

CAPS MAN! said...

JOHN ARE YOU ACTUALLY BUKOWSKI AND POSTING UNDER A FALSE NAME AGAIN?

Anonymous said...

I thought Bukowski, though it may have taken him awhile, was pretty widely published in his life?

He had certainly published dozens of books before dying.


I also imagine that the literary magazine world in the 40s-60s bears little resemblance to the literary magazine scene of today for a bunch of reasons.

Booooooooo....kowski said...

"Bukowski thought Hemingway, Eliot, Faulkner and Pound were frauds, and he was right."

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

I don't think you're going to get much support on this fight except from clove-cigarette-smoking 18-year-old coffee-shop-hanging-out college-dropout writer-wannabes. Please. Please don't tell me that Ham on Rye is a better book than, say, Light in August, or that any silly Bukowski poem is better than "The Waste Land." I'll grant that the worst of Hemingway might compete with the best of Bukowski, but that's about all I'll concede.

John said...

Well, CAPS MAN!, that would be an achievement, since he's pushing up daisies in San Pedro. Plz, are you suggesting frauds must publish only one writing style (so they can be easily identified as frauds, presumably)?

Chuck Boo Cake said...

Would a definition of "fraud" be duping impressionable writer wannabes into thinking that your work is better than it is because you rage against the machine and puke a lot? I might agree that this constitutes a fraud.

CAPS MAN! said...

NO, PLZ IS JUST INDICATING OUR SURPRISE AT YOUR VIEWS, SINCE WE ALL KNOW POUND WAS AN ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE, AND BIRDS OF A FEATHER...

plz said...

ha ha, no John, I'm suggesting it's pretty hard for someone to honestly say that each of Hemingway, Eliot, Faulkner, and Pound is a fraud. Mainly only jealous people who are lying (you and the Bu) would spout that.

But perhaps, John, you really do dislike them and everything they wrote and it's not all bluster. Oh well, your loss. Good night, I'm done.

a better forum for John said...

where 18-year old clove smokers can chat

Native Ink said...

It seems to me the offensive word in the rejection was "careful." What does careful consideration mean as opposed to just plain old consideration. From the comments of many of the editors here, I deduce that many of them sometimes reject manuscripts after reading the first page. Are they really granting the manuscript careful consideration in that case? Maybe the editor of Fiction should just call it simple "consideration," and not qualify it with any adjective that implies more-than-average dilligence.

God, I sound like a lawyer. Maybe I missed my calling.

Anonymous said...

"If by Confedercy of Dunces you mean a book you wrote using that title, the answer is no, you're not alone, others think it's a piece of crap as well; but if you mean the novel written by John Kennedy Toole, the answer is yes, you are all alone. Sorry."

Clever.

Anonymous said...

If you follow the link that "a better forum for John" posted, you'll find an interview in which Bukowski speaks highly of Pound and Eliot. I've also heard (although I can't find a link to confirm this) that he lists Hemingway as an influence. I have no idea what his view of Faulkner was, but I don't think John knows Bukowski as well as he thinks he does.

At any rate, Bukowski was a terrible writer. Even if John is correct, I don't think it matters. Bukowski will be forgotten in another decade or so.

NM said...

My first comment was a "non-attack" comment because the three previous comments made sense. Not much else going on there.

The rest is the usual mess of nonsense. Gee, why does non-fiction pay a buck a word and fiction pay a nickel a word? Because non-fiction is published in magazines with six-digit readerships and fiction magazines are lucky to have five-digit readerships. Not exactly rocket science.

The "party line" nonsense is just that. It's one of the excuses people use -- everything thinks they are too daring or politically incorrect. I caught a glimpse at the short story that was published on this blog once; it was crap. The author had no control over POV, and rather obviously composed based on whatever fake "camera angles" were going on in his head at the time. And yet, some anonytypes were spinning it as a sort of thematic triumph or a return to the traditional.

As someone said above, there are a zillion lit mags out there. If Ploughshares won't take your stuff, try The Savage Kick. There is a wide range of formal, thematic, and other alternatives out there.

As far as why more editors don't make comments like "This was terrible" (which in isolation says nothing, btw), one need only look at the conniptions the anonyunpublished here have over turns of phrase like "careful consideration." Such rancor over forms -- if anyone here actually rated real feedback, he or she would stop commenting immediately because of a head explosion injury.

The Theme Song for THE LROD HILLBILLIES said...

Come and listen to a story ‘bout a man named Mr. Bruce
A poor webzine author, who played it fast and loose,
Then one day he was spoutin ‘bout the Buke,
And up on LROD came a loud and angry rebuke:

“Stop it, John. Bukowski’s no good.”

Well the first thing you know John’s talking ‘bout the zines,
LROD said, “That’s fine; it’s just really not my scene.
We like our lit mags here, not places with names so weird"
So John downloads a story, and he publishes with Greenbeard.

Fiction, that is. Crazy plots, with characters.

Well now it’s time to say goodbye to John and all his kind.
And he would like to give you one last piece of his fine mind.
You better not say a word about the genius Buke
Or else he’s gonna send you a sample of his puke.

Charles’, that is. Set a spell; wipe off your shirt.

"Y'all leave John alone now, y'hear?"

CAPS MAN! said...

NM: IF YOU ARE TRYING TO ADVANCE YOUR CAREER SOMEHOW BY SHOWING UP HERE AND DEFENDING ALL THESE EDITORS WHO WILL LATER RECOGNIZE YOUR NAME IN YOUR SUBMISSIONS AND THINK, HUH, I REMEMBER THIS GUY, WHAT A FROG PRINCE, I MIGHT SUGGEST ANOTHER STRATEGY. IF I WAS AN EDITOR OF A MAGAZINE WHO READ THIS BLOG AND I MIGHT BE FOR ALL YOU KNOW I WOULD TAKE ONE LOOK AT THE NAME ON YOUR SUBMISSION AND REACH FOR THE REJECTION SLIP. YOU STRIKE ME AS LACKING THE SINGLE QUALITY MOST IMPORTANT QUALITY IN A WRITER ASPIRING TO GREATNESS AND THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH POV OR PLOT ARC OR VISUAL DETAILS. YOU LACK SYMPATHY.

Native Ink said...

Nick, so now you don't care about sloppy phrases like "careful consideration"? Gee, I pictured you as a guy who'd take a hatchet to someone's head over a misplaced word, much less a disingenous cliche.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, lots of great writers went through periods of rejections.

But that doesn't mean their rejected work was necessarily great."

You're assuming that only the poor, juvenile, amateur and sub-par work of great writers is their only work to get rejected.

I'm not saying that. I'm saying that truly great work has been rejected many many times, the same work repeatedly, and in many instances that work was rejected for as long as the author was alive.

When the first "breakthrough" happens, though, that's when the great author's work is suddenly recognized for what it is.


"Writers get better. They improve their craft. Not every writer starts otu with brilliant work."

I'd have to disagree. I would change "Not every" to "No".

Anonymous said...

"I remember Zyzzyva once had this trouble - they were rejecting people within a week, so people got mad. But it's a good journal, and Howard really was reading the pieces."

Editors really don't have an obligation to write you a personal letter, call you up, critique your story. They don't. But if they are soliciting work from the public, they do have an obligation to reply to it. And (especially if they are requesting exclusivity) that obligation extends certainly to timeliness, but if you have a very good story you should also make the effort to at least scrawl something on the slip. (Prairie Schooner is a notable one here: they demand exclusives but take forever to get back to you and never write anything personal. On the other hand, there's Threepenny Review which pays more than Prairie Schooner ever will and Wendy Lesser there will get back to you right away. Won't always write anything down on the slip but sometimes she does and I think that is classy.)

Ok all that said, what ticks me off about what Howard did (and I like him a lot for being one of the "good guys"), but what ticks me off is that he held onto stories for like 2 weeks before mailing them back because some people complained. That is not right. What he should've done is updated his form letter and telling the writer that his turnaround is quick, lighting fast, and sorry it's not a match.

Sometimes though I do wonder if the stories are read. Think there was a post on here about Subtropics and I really wonder about that operation for various reasons. Maybe the criticism of what was going on led them to finally close fiction submissions for a year, but who knows, maybe it's even for good.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the warning about New Delta Review's crappy treatment of writers. I'll never support them or submit to them.

Anonymous said...

"I also imagine that the literary magazine world in the 40s-60s bears little resemblance to the literary magazine scene of today for a bunch of reasons."

Yeah, but is it better?

Nope. It sux. It's all the same, it's lame.

NM said...

Bukowski was a very good writer and an intriguing personality. He certainly won't be forgotten in the next decade or so, and he certainly didn't consider the various modernists to be frauds.

It is bizarre that John Bruce champions Bukowski, though, as John's own material is so bland.

cindy said...

Bet they didn't give as careful a look as they say. They can't! There's just too much coming in. It's easier to dole out as much as you can to friends, contacts, friend's friends. (Not that I'm complain, I have been a benefit of that!) But the slush pile is the worst way to try to get in. So for those of you not going MFA, I sympathize. The magazines are flooded! Southern Review is a tiny office and they get something like 12,000 submissions a year! How can anyone carefully consider all of that?

Anonymous said...

Suggestion: if you get rejected, take that work and submit it somewhere else. When it comes back submit again. If you have exhausted a "tier" then step down a notch and try again. Repeat. Eventually you WILL get it published.

Anonymous said...

"It is bizarre that John Bruce champions Bukowski, though, as John's own material is so bland."

I can't find where John disparaged your writing on this thread. Whether you like his writing or not, you could take a lesson in etiquette from John.

Anonymous said...

[b]
I'm not saying that. I'm saying that truly great work has been rejected many many times, the same work repeatedly, and in many instances that work was rejected for as long as the author was alive.[/b]

Can you name any examples of brilliant short fiction/poetry that was unable to find a home in any literary magazines in modern history?

Lots of good stories get rejected many times. I dont' think anyone denies that. But I've never seen a real example of some insanely great story that just couldn't find a home at any of the top 50 literary magazines.

NM said...


I can't find where John disparaged your writing on this thread. Whether you like his writing or not, you could take a lesson in etiquette from John.


Wait, so one can only be critical of another writer's work if that writer was first critical of one's own? Pure insanity.

When you publish work, you open yourself up for criticism. That is the alpha and omega of etiquette. Nothing else.

Cindy: Bet they didn't give as careful a look as they say. They can't!

Sure they can. It generally takes no more than half a page to reject work. That's as careful as one need be.

Rusty said...

Anon 3:21,

"...you could take a lesson in etiquette from John."

Give me a break. If go to his blog and read the series of entries in which he rips apart Darin Strauss, you'll see someone who takes a pathological glee in literary vivisection. Etiquette lessons from John? Please.

Anonymous said...

"I've never seen a real example of some insanely great story that just couldn't find a home at any of the top 50 literary magazines."

Er... Excuse me. If a story never finds a home, how do you know it exists? It could be in someone's drawer. Or it could have been burned with the other useless items of the deceased author. You don't know. I don't know. Nobody knows.

Anonymous said...

"But I've never seen a real example of some insanely great story that just couldn't find a home at any of the top 50 literary magazines."

If you're talking about what's going on right now, then where do you expect to get the answer? Are you suggesting that the top 50 literary magazines, mostly academic, are ok for any kind of literary work (so long as its "good")? Even though, to these academics, there is no such thing as a measurable objective truth? Pin them up against the wall and they will tell you that it's only their tiny faulty subjective faculties making all the calls. Those top 50 print plenty of ho hum and even bad work, and plenty of outsiders writing today (writing great stuff) would not be printed by them. Look around. The literary world is bigger than the latest reviews in New Pages.

Anonymous said...

nothing to see here, folks ... move along

John said...

2:21, don't speak too soon. I've called him a hack.

Anonymous said...


If you're talking about what's going on right now, then where do you expect to get the answer? Are you suggesting that the top 50 literary magazines, mostly academic, are ok for any kind of literary work (so long as its "good")?


The top 50 literary magazines are all run by "academics"?

What?

You think Tin House, McSweeney's, A Public Space, etc. are academic journals?

Sometimes the posters on this site seem like the types of conservatives who just sling terms they think are supposed to be insulting ("socialist!" "libs!") at everything they don't like no matter if it is appropriate or not.

As for "right now," by recent history I only meant in the last 20 years or so, since when I brought it up initially someone listed a writer from the 40s (who was still widely published in his day do wasn't really much of an argument).

Those top 50 print plenty of ho hum and even bad work, and plenty of outsiders writing today (writing great stuff) would not be printed by them.

Who?

Who are these amazing "outsiders" whose work the "academic" overlords are too blind to recognize?

I really think some names would help the discussion here.

CAPS MAN! said...

RUSTY AT 10:40? IS THAT RUSTY FROM NIGHT TRAIN?

hrmph said...

"You think Tin House, McSweeney's, A Public Space, etc. are academic journals?"

these names you mention, they regularly feature non-academics???


"Sometimes the posters on this site seem like the types of conservatives who just sling terms they think are supposed to be insulting ("socialist!" "libs!") at everything they don't like no matter if it is appropriate or not."

how many journals or magazines are run by "conservatives," "the types" who sling those terms or not???

Anonymous said...

"these names you mention, they regularly feature non-academics???"

Um... yes. What does the word "academic" mean to you in terms of writing?

"how many journals or magazines are run by "conservatives," "the types" who sling those terms or not???"


I can't parse the meaning of your sentence here. If I wasn't clear, I was saying that many posters on this site seem like the literary equivalent of angry conservatives who fling random insults at their supposed opponents. I wasn't saying that anyone here is political conservative or not.


What does the word "academic" mean in this thread?

(*_*) said...

reading this thread hurts my brain. i think somebody is using their own homemade definition of "academic" to mean anyone who has a college degree. oy and ow

NM said...

Anon @ 4:42

There are actually two conspiracy theories as regards literary journals that have currency on this site.

The first is that all journals are 'academic' journals--they only publish stories by college teachers with MFAs. Further, these people are published because they have MFAs. That people with MFAs collect lots of rejections too hardly seems to matter. That it is trivial to point to non-MFA writers (Ben Rosenbaum has appeared twice in McSweeney's, for example) in these journals is also ignored.

The idea is that these magazines are 100% log-rolling operations; friends publish one another in order to ensure tenure for one another, and they lock everyone else out.

So "academic" doesn't mean "university-backed or funded journal" it just means "anything in which work by someone with an MFA has ever appeared."

The second conspiracy theory is that these journals are run by deviant liberal show-off hipsters who only publish work that feature international settings and non-white characters, that are full of profanity and violence, and that have nihilistic themes and incomprehensible structures. No particular reason, other than sheer perversity (and MFA brainwashing), is ever given for why stories of these type are the only ones ever published. Again, it's trivial to point to stories that don't meet this description, but it's not like conspiracy theorists have ever been part of the reality-based community.

gimme said...

"Again, it's trivial to point to stories that don't meet this description"

Pointing out exceptions to what is *generally* true is not much of a rebuttal.

Glance through the author bios of most lit mags and, in most cases, most of the contributors are associated with universities. This is easily verified by anyone, and is what leads many here to holler "conspiracy!"

Myself, I think it's subtler than that. I think that the reason for the preponderance of samey, MFA/workshoppy-type stories is the following:

1) The slush pile, by virtue of its massive and intimidating size (there are waaaay more wannabe writers than ever before) is generally waded through by those lowest on the totem pole: undergrad readers, interns, etc. There ARE exceptions to this (guys like the fellow at Zyzzyva or the McSweeny's folks are a couple that spring to mind), but a lot of journals function this way. I'm not saying there aren't good reasons for this, but, unfortunately, the slush pile IS where you're likely to find something other than the same old same old. Trouble is, you'll have to wade through a discouraging amount of total garbage to find it...

2)MFA types simply submit more than non-MFA types. True, if you're in an MFA program, it's likely you'll be in contact with a professor who might be able to get you published (or at least help you sidestep the slush pile), but I think it's also fair to say that anyone who sees fit to drop such an obscene amount of money on one of these programs is probably highly motivated and submitting like crazy.

3) It's just a taste thing. Although politics and favors play a role here and there, I think generally editors publish what they like.

The seemingly uniform taste of editors makes more sense when you start meeting a few and see who it is who BECOMES an editor. They tend to be products of an academic environment, usually have a little family money, and are not the types inclined towards, say, Bukowski.:) They're usually perfectly pleasant, very busy-seeming people who will willingly admit that they rarely have time to read for pleasure anymore. The thing that blows me away the most, in fact, is how few people involved with publishing books or stories actually READ. But that's another thread...

It's tempting to take an extreme position and assume it's all just some conspiracy to protect the interests of the elite or something. And it's equally tempting to take Nick's view and say "the conspiracy people are idiots - it's a perfectly level playing field and the problem is YOU."

I don't think either view really reflects the realities of the situation. Black and white thinking seldom does.

NM said...


Pointing out exceptions to what is *generally* true is not much of a rebuttal.


Google "black swan" and get back to me, eh?

1) The slush pile, by virtue of its massive and intimidating size (there are waaaay more wannabe writers than ever before) is generally waded through by those lowest on the totem pole: undergrad readers, interns, etc

And? Are undergrads and interns incapable of enjoying or recognizing novelty or quality?

unfortunately, the slush pile IS where you're likely to find something other than the same old same old.

False. You have clearly never read slush.


2)MFA types simply submit more than non-MFA types.


True. Congratulations; you are familiar with a fact.

The seemingly uniform taste of editors makes more sense when you start meeting a few and see who it is who BECOMES an editor.

And it falls apart when you actually read a few magazines.


And it's equally tempting to take Nick's view and say "the conspiracy people are idiots - it's a perfectly level playing field and the problem is YOU."

I, of course, have never said any such thing. I don't think it is a level playing field and indeed do not feel that readers -- remember them? -- would be best served by a level playing field.

gimme said...

"And? Are undergrads and interns incapable of enjoying or recognizing novelty or quality?"

Yes, they are.:)

Here, I'm going to have to just make a massive, unsupportable generalization, but... yeah, today's undergrads and interns, in my experience, are scarcely literate and completely full of shit. As most of us are when we're 19 or 20...

"I don't think it is a level playing field and indeed do not feel that readers -- remember them? -- would be best served by a level playing field."

Well, fine. We don't really have anything to argue about then. You're happy with the way things are - congrats. It's just taste, after all, and I can't tell you you're *wrong* to think readers are best served by the status quo.

"And it falls apart when you actually read a few magazines."

Again, really a question of taste.

"False. You have clearly never read slush. "

Now, this is interesting. You seem both scornful of the possibilities of the slushpile AND contemptuous of anyone who suggests that lit mags are just an insider's game and that the slush is ignored.

So... if you're not getting stuff from the slush and you're not just publishing your friends and buddies... where exactly does the stuff COME from, Nick?:)

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. My understanding was that 'slush' referred to the large number of unsolicited submissions that came in and sat in an office waiting for an intern to go through them. If you don't have an agent, or don't know someone at a magazine, your work, when you send it in, becomes slush--guilty until proven innocent. Then, if it is good, and accepted, it becomes something else. So? If the 'slush' pile isn't where we are going to find the occasional good story, where are we going to find it?

Anonymous said...

4:42
You write "many posters on this site seem like the literary equivalent of angry conservatives who fling random insults at their supposed opponents"
I suppose you were referring to the insult "academics."
Tell me, please, how do you feel about these labels apppearing ad nauseam (based solely on someone's having an opposing view):
conspiracy theorists
whiners
I'm going to put Mr. NM up as a poster boy for the MFA faction. He categorizes the other side as "anonodopes" and 'anonywannabes." He is a wellspring of snide asides like "Congratulations; you are familiar with a fact." (Meaning: gimme wrote something NM agreed with.)
In NM's view I'm a racist (I used the word "homeboy" one time), a liar (I told a story about how I got a story accepted through a contact), a coward (I would not produce evidence to Prosecutor NM -- the name of the journal, editor, etc. -- so he could verify my story).
When I dropped the whole matter (it was old, I was tired of the nonsense, it was boring to me and others, etc.) he crowed about his victory: "I'll take that as an admission that your story was false."
Do you have any problem with these tactics, 4:42?
The double standard is alive and well. Some remarks that NM agrees with gets this response: "Wow, actually some sensible comments from this thread. Keep up the good work."
They were from anonymous commenters -- but that didn't make them cowards; they purported to have experience as editor types -- but that didn't elicit a demand from NM to prove this assertion.
All fine, 4:42? All of a high caliber?
Anyway, I have a challenge for NM. If he doesn't take it he's a yellow-belly (I'm puposefully using his tactics).
NM, you've claimed for yourself an expertise on writing and publishing. Here's what you need to do:
Give us a link to one of your published stories. Then we can see how good a writer you are. Test your credibilty. You're familair with computers; don't ask us to look up a story, because people simply won't do that; but they will click on a link. I'd prefer a shorter (rather than a longer) story.
Come on, let's have it, NM. Don't load this with conditions. Aren't you proud of your work?
Put your story where your mouth is.

John said...

Actually, since NM has a web site, I had the impression you must be able to link to something he's written. If you can't then I certainly agree with the call for him to show us something, though since my skills as a literary vivisectionist have been touted here once more, I can't make any promises as to what I might or might not do.

So Nick, where's the stuff?

Anonymous said...

But people are not going to the trouble to search out a story by him. Have you, John? How many of you commenting here, pro or con NM, have bothered to read a story by him? He needs to stick one under our noses, and then it'll get read. I'll read it.
So come on, NM, do one of those neato little deals where, with a mere click, we can be transported to a story by you.

NM said...

Here, I'm going to have to just make a massive, unsupportable generalization

Well that makes things easier. My response: No.

Moving on.


Again, really a question of taste.


No, not really. Do you think that, say, the material in the most recent Black Warrior Review would ever be published in Paris Review? Pick up an issue of the former and then tell me that. Seriously. It's clear to me that journals have various collective aesthetic agendas which are not all of a type. Fiction International is transparently not running the same stuff as Prairie Schooner. This isn't even a matter of good vs bad, but just a matter of style ("innovative" fiction versus "realism" or however you'd like to put it).

You seem both scornful of the possibilities of the slushpile AND contemptuous of anyone who suggests that lit mags are just an insider's game and that the slush is ignored.

Yes, and there is no contradiction. The slush isn't ignored; it is however, a highly inefficient way to fill journal pages as so much of it is terrible.

What's so hard to get about that?

NM said...

Anonydope #6234612541

You seem to have some trouble with the world of facts.

I didn't slam the first three commenters because their comments had the ring of truth. That is, there was internal evidence in their statements that they were who they said they were; nor were they saying anything controversial or likely to be manufactured.

You, on the other hand, DO whine (you are now), DO fail to back up your extraordinary claims, and DO need to prove your identity if you are going to claim to have some personal experience that demonstrates the great truth of the slushpile. Further, your dismissal of the book as something that may as well have been about a character running with his "homeboys" was obviously a racist dismissal. (That you didn't even read the book closely enough to understand that the character had two versions of his name was just an extra-hilarious treat.)

Thus, you are called a conspiracy theorist because you believe in conspiracy theories, you are called a whiner because you whine frequently, and your remark was called racist because it was racist. You were called a coward because you were cowardly, and a dope because, well, you're pretty dopey too.

See? You deserve every one of those little rhetorical spitballs. If you didn't, you'd be treated better. For example, I don't call John a coward because he isn't one. See how that works?

As far as my stories, they're very easy to find, really. My website -- the second Google hit on my name, btw -- has no fewer than ten links on the first page that lead directly to stories posted online, and, many more links to websites for the magazines in which stories have appeared since the site went up in 2007. (Also, there are links to books and feature articles.)

Of course, as this is the same group of people who

a. thought I was a hoax
b. thought I was an employee of an MFA program
c. thought I actually wasn't providing a link to my identity despite the blue glowing link to each of my comments
d. can't tell the difference between having a blogger ID and being an official representative of a school
e. transparently cannot read (Yunior/Junior, Bukowski as a bad writer or, for that matter, an excellent writer)

may have trouble doing something like clicking three times, but that ain't my problems. Writers are supposed to be enthusiastic readers. So get to clicking if you like. Needless to say, real writers don't respond to critics, so I'm certainly not going to get into a fight over whether my stuff is good (and whether it is or not, that certainly doesn't change the fact that John's stuff reads like it comes from the police blotter, except that nobody does anything interesting).

But my stuff is there for you to read as you like. Nothing stopping you but your own collective need to have something to whine about.

NM said...

Pardon me, the site is actually the seventh Google hit. Should be easy enough to find. Just bribe a young neighbor to help you though.

And the first hit, the Wikipedia article, has a link to a novel the text of which I made available online, so we're up to a mere three clicks again.

link helper: NM story said...

here is a NM story in an online 'zine. it's dated march 2009.

link helper: another NM story said...

just because i'm feeling so helpful today, here's another. it's dated 2004.

possible discussion topics:

similarities and differences between this story and one of John's about Ed and Megan

similarities and differences between this story and the previous NM story

Anonymous said...


The first is that all journals are 'academic' journals--they only publish stories by college teachers with MFAs. Further, these people are published because they have MFAs. That people with MFAs collect lots of rejections too hardly seems to matter. That it is trivial to point to non-MFA writers (Ben Rosenbaum has appeared twice in McSweeney's, for example) in these journals is also ignored.




As someone who has worked at many journals and who has an MFA, i must say I find the above theory baffling because, as an MFA student, I've always felt there is so much hostility in the literary world directed at MFAs that it actually HINDERS your chances of being published at many places to list your mfa in a cover letter.

Anonymous said...

Gimme

You make some good points, but I'd disagree with much of what you say.

First off, I don't believe MFA students produce all the same type of work. Are there types of stories taht get written to often? Obviously. But that has been true since the dawn of time. There are always trends are styles that are more popular in whatever circle.

But if one was going to list innovative writers from the last twenty years, who would be listed? Ben Marcus? David Foster Wallace? George Saunders? These guys all hold MFAs.

On the flip side, many widely hated writers who are attacked for being part of some MFA-style writing problem don't actually hold MFAs! Franzen and Eggers come to mind as good examples.

--

Now, as to why MFA grads might publish more than non-MFA grads I think some of what you say makes sense but you seem to be missing the obvious answer:

They are better writers.

Before the wolves leap on me, let me say the primary reason they are better is not because the MFA makes them better necessarily, but because most young people who want to be literary writers and have the talent tend to go to MFA programs. It is just the culture we have created for better or for worse.

My opinion is that most great writers would be good with or without MFAs... that said, I definitly would acknowledge that for writers who aren't great but merely adequate the MFA allows them to polish up their work to the ponti that it is publishable.

If you've ever read slush (and maybe you have and so agree) you'd notice that over 90% of submission aren't even functional. Sentences don't track, don't follow each other. Cliches abound. etc.

Writers like that who go to MFA programs learn tricks to make adequate stories.

So what we are left with is great writers with MFAs, medicore writers with MFAs who have been made adequate and great writers without MFAs battling for spots.... most of the mediocre non-MFA students don't learn the craft to a degree that allows them to make a publishable story.



1) The slush pile, by virtue of its massive and intimidating size (there are waaaay more wannabe writers than ever before) is generally waded through by those lowest on the totem pole: undergrad readers, interns, etc.


Um, while I agree with the general point you are going for here (slush piles are filled with total dreck and things get read quickly becuase that is the only way you can read 5,000 submissions in a week) I think factually the above is incorrect. Most readers at top magazines are wannabe writers themselves who likely have MFAs or are MFA students if the magazine is associated with a university, or else they are non-mfa writers who are serious about writing.

I don't think many undergrads are readers at top magazines.


2)MFA types simply submit more than non-MFA types.


I'm not sure if I agree with this, having read slush. They submit more work that is at least functional, as I said above, but when i've read slush I'd say a strong majority do not list an MFA in their cover letter/bio.

To explain the functional a little more, in terms of the slush dreck comment you made, as a submitter you need to think that a reader (no matter if they are undergrad, grad or famous writer) has to read an impossible number of submissions. As such, he/she is basically looking to reject every story. If there are spelling errors, non-fuctional sentences, horrible cliches or other obvious problems on the first page.... why keep reading?

Sure, we could say editors are supposed to edit so they should see the true gem hiding in the crappy writing that they could edit, maybe, but there just isn't enough time in the day to make that feasible.

The seemingly uniform taste of editors makes more sense when you start meeting a few and see who it is who BECOMES an editor.

I guess I really don't see how the taste is uniform. Are writers on this site genre writers? Becuase hard sci fi, romance, high fantasy and the like are the only types of stories that arnen't published in literary magazines.

What are the types of stories that aren't published? Where is the uniformity?

Yes, you could selectively get a group of similar type literary magazines and claim a style, but I think if you look at the top literary magazines (Tin House, McSweeney's, Agni, Conjunctions, etc.) there is quite a wide variety of work being published.


The last thing I would say is that while there is a lot of "connections" and such in any art world, I really think that applies far more to agents, anthologies and book publishers than to literary magazines. Maybe some of the big lit mags work that way, but I've worked at many lit mags and never really seen any kind of "mfa connection" do anything for a writer.

The only exception I can think of is when people publish people they know personally, but that happens amongst non-mfaers too.

Anonymous said...

Tell me, please, how do you feel about these labels apppearing ad nauseam (based solely on someone's having an opposing view):

I don't know NM and I don't agree with the insulting tone and the way he goes about thing here.

That said, I think that even though he is overly antagonistic and insulting most of what he says (minus the insults) makes sense.

I dont' thinking calling all literary magazine editors "acedemics" makes any sense at all. Most of the ones I know at big magazines didn't even get MFAs and even if they did... since when is a MFA student an "academic"? They certainly aren't viewed as such in actual academia, where the whole discipline of creative writing is frowned upon.



But here is my real question with all these threads:

There seems to be widespread feeling that
a) there is piles of brillant literary work not being published
b) the reason it is not being published is some kind of MFA conspiracy
c) the work published in literary journals sucks and that is why no one wants to read them
d) if the brilliant unpublished work was published in a magazine, that magazine would get lots of readers who are desperate for something new and fresh.


Okay so then.... why don't people here start a magazine?

We live in the digital age where publishing a magazine takes almost no money, just your time reading slush.

Almost every literary magazine not affiliated with a university that I know of started exactly because the editors felt a certain type of writing was underrepresented and/or they were tired of seeing their work and their friends work rejected. Some of these magazines, like McSweeney's, are now some of the top markets.


If the believes A-D are true, why haven't we seen a journal take advantage of this giant market of readers and giant pile of unpublished brillaint work? Why hasn't someone here made a journal that taps into those two things?

John said...

So OK, I read the two from the helpful links. "Withdraw, withdraw" is a little more interesting, but it's mostly self-congratulatory, of the "everything in life comes down to porno, and I'm OK with that" school. There's a certain kind of editor who responds to your submission with a rejection that includes about seventeen uses of words like sh*t and come, just to show how hip he is. Nick is that guy's soul mate. This is hack material -- published in a soi-disant porn site.

The other story, about Patmos, is mostly about how Nick's character is hip because he's Greek, and the conservative fat white American guy isn't.

I guess it's not bland in the way that overspiced food isn't bland. But why would you want to eat it?

link helper said...

i picked the first story about patmos because i feel it's open to the criticism of blandness (despite being labeled as "bad-ass"), and i picked the second story because it's an example of what could only be published in a 'zine for bad erotica.

in both stories, the first person narrators are thinly veiled stand-ins for nick. compare his comments here to the narrators' voices, it's uncanny.

Anonymous said...

NM, sorry, but I started reading your comment, and it was the same old BRICK WALL, which I won't bother myself with anymore, so I skimmed to see if you provided a link to a story. Of course, you didn't.
But, due to the thoughtful Link Helper, I can read two of your stories!
You sure get published in top places: Fishnet, A Journal of Erotica and Brain Harvest, An Almanac of Bad Ass Speculative Fiction.
Anyway, I'll read both stories tomorrow or maybe the day after that (or the day after that), but I will read them, and I'll report back to you. This week for sure.
I think ALL visitors to LROD, whatever their bias, should read Nick's stories and give their opinions of them. MFA grads, whiners, editors, dopes. Everybody.

L. Rod Eponeepuss said...

John (comment 5:03):

You're so fricking predictable. I'll leave it at that.

Anon (comment 7:47):

Why do you think ALL visitors should read Nick's stories and offer their opinions? What investment do you have in me, whom you don't know, reading someone else's stories?

I also like how you cherry-pick the guy's publications. When he first began making comments on here, I looked up his books and saw that he publishes with Soft Skull Press. You may not like what they publish -- hell, you personally may not have heard of it -- but it's a competitive press to publish with.

NM said...


But, due to the thoughtful Link Helper, I can read two of your stories!


Hell, if you were capable of using Google, you could read twenty of my stories!

Funny that, of course, John's comments always seem to come back to rejection letters. I'm surprised that nobody asks John to review books -- "This one felt like a rejection letter. This one too. I'm reminded of my rejection letters again." Btw, I'd love to see a rejection letter that contained seventeen uses of the words shit and come. (Maybe The Savage Kick...)

As far as the zines: Brain Harvest is a brand-new flash fiction venue that is providing content for mobile devices as well as the web. My story was the premiere story, and got a fair amount of traffic thanks to coverage from Boing Boing and Galleycat. Incidentally, Brain Harvest pays 5¢ a word up to 750 words (as it only publishes flash).

Fishnet was an online addendum to Blowfish, a catalog business for a variety of adult and fetish products. It paid 4¢ a word; I've published two stories there -- the other is "Low Resolution," a collaboration with poet Daphne Gottlieb.

Personally, I like getting a) money and b) readers for my work. It's been going fine so far. I'd recommend that anyone who wants to be or, hell, who claims to be writer, also attempt to have their stories published in venues that pay and have a readership.

So, you know, get to it.

link helper said...

E Pony Pussy,

cherry-pick?

Who's obligated to go hunting around the internet to find his best work? I posted the two of the three works that I could find within 3 or 4 clicks. The third was actually an interview. If you think those aren't representative samples of his opus, why don't you post a link? If he doesn't like what I picked, let him post a link himself. I'm just the link helper.

John said...

I've had a chance to sleep on my reaction to Nick's stories, and I have a couple more observations.

First, the dialogue is unreadable. I had to skip most of it, from both the girlfriend studying porno in English class, and the fat white conservative American in Patmos. These two are unbelievable motormouths. I certainly won't dispute that some people actually talk this way, but a writer needs to shield us from this -- it's not much different from being stuck in a plane seat with either one of them while they go on and on. This isn't what art is for. In fact, it's one of many good arguments against the creative writing class injunction "show me, don't tell me." Better to have included a couple of their overeducated, overprivileged observations on the world and TOLD us the rest.

Second, the overall themes are pretty predictable. We have Abu Ghraib (generally acknowledged in the real world to have been an aberration, for which a number of people suffered criminal penalties; others lost their jobs). Well, OK, it's interesting that the girlfriend is morally tainted because she intellectualizes about it, rather than abjuring the whole deal like the narrator. (But clearly Nick doesn't think we should abjure PORN, even though Abu Ghraib reminded him of same -- so what should we actually abjure? Politically incorrect icons, I guess. After all, Nick takes his 30 bucks where he can get it!!)

Similar problem with the fat white conservative American at Patmos. May as well be El Rushbo!! Can you say stereotyped character?? But if he slaps an editor in the face with such breathless political correctness, I guess one will buy it. For $30. A fifth of Gray Goose costs more.

And surprise surprise, the Nick surrogate is prac'ly Zorba himself. Zorba the Greek puts down El Rushbo!! Now there's one compelling story line.

I don't know what got rejected to put these in -- I didn't submit to either one, and in fact they're before my time (and let's face it, who's gonna submit to a journal sponsored by a fetish outfit? Don't you feel a little dirty, NM?). But it certainly suggests either that the rest of the slush pile is unbelievably bad, or the process of selection isn't transparent.

vkajslakjsalk said...

John:

Your jealousy is (once again) rearing its ugly head, as it did with Darin Strauss.

Yours,
vkajslakjsalk

Anonymous said...

I think NM is right.

Though I made it through a full page, I was able to tell in the first paragraph that I would have rejected the Patmos story.

Anonymous said...

L Rod -- you wrote:
"Why do you think ALL visitors should read Nick's stories and offer their opinions? What investment do you have in me, whom you don't know, reading someone else's stories?"
So don't read them. I didn't make a demand. (Though I wonder why you wouldn't, since you seem interested in him.)
The reason his work matters is because one can get an idea of where he's coming from. What you write is, in a way, who you are. NM takes a very lofty I-Know-Everything stance in his comments. Does his writing ability match the ego on display? Lastly, NM has become the self-appointed spokesman for one of the warring factions on this blog. I wonder what editors, teachers/students at MFA programs, etc. think of "their" spokesman's work.
I'm just curious. And isn't it a break from this pointless bickering (pointless because all the contentious words don't change a thing).
John bothered to read the stories and write about them. I will (later). Is it too much trouble for people to give a story a read?

"I also like how you cherry-pick the guy's publications."
I never cherry-picked the stories! I asked NM to provide a link to one. He didn't, somebody else did. So I'll go with the stories that are there for me to click on.

Anonymous said...

NM reminds me of those people on American Idol who have no idea how awful they are. Loaded with ego, dying to sing, totally clueless as to how painful it is to listen to them.

Anyone who would actually brag about having those two ridiculous "stories" published deserves our pity, not our ridicule.

Oh No, the Ivory Tower! Run For Your Lives! said...

2:23

You see, here's your problem. You write, " I wonder what editors, teachers/students at MFA programs, etc. think of 'their' spokesman's work."

I have an MFA, and I teach creative writing, but NM's not my spokesman. You're the one saying he's my spokesman. But he's no more my spokesman as you are John's or Gimme's or LROD's. I posted my own experiences on here once before, as accurately as possible, and it was you -- yes: you -- who initiated calling me a liar, demanding that I present everyone with something of mine to read, et., etc., so, frankly, you reap what you sow, my friend. And so does John. And so do some of the others on here who, on previous posts, fail to be civilized when confronted with another point-of-view or another writer's success.

"Is it too much trouble for people to give a story a read?"

If someone is compelled to read the story, no, of course not; but this isn't the place for any kind of honest appraisal, and you know that. I've seen on this site time and time again the anonymi tear into someone's published work for the masturbatory sake of doing so. So, at the very least, be honest about your intentions. This is revenge time for you, isn't it? At this point, NM could have written "Araby" or "Doctor Jack O'Lantern," and you'd be sharpening your knives. It's pathetic, is what it is. And, no, I'm not siding with NM because I have an MFA, etc., etc. I'm siding with him because, by and large, you deserve him, given all your history of belittling anyone who's published, educated, or works in higher education. Remember what Shylock said in The Merchant of Venice: "You called me a dog before you had any reason to. But since I'm a dog, beware my fangs." NM is your dog, and now he's biting back. So spare us the crocodile tears and the self-righteous indignation that mean ol' NM's upset your civilized conversation. You're the worst kind of person, in my view: a hypocrite. And if you never get published, or continue to publish in meaningless webzines, it'll serve the lot of you right.

NM said...

What a hilarious bunch.

Oh, Anonydope #69345602456, I didn't appoint myself anything. It was your crew of anonymous cowards who insisted that I was somehow representative of MFA programs, despite publishing genre fiction primarily and having published tons of work prior to entering my MFA program.

Then we have John -- his politics show through again, He's eager to somehow put Abu Gharib in some sort of political context (one that minimizes it) but...what does that have to do with two individuals seeing photos from that prison in the moment they saw those photos for the first time? That is, what does John's politics have to do with the story? Nothing, of course. Though a conservative, John is ultimately a brother-in-arms with Politburo dopes on the left who review stories via ideological means-testing.


Of course, he also sees the character in the Brain Harvest story as conservative despite the fact that the character says nothing conservative at all: he actually calls himself "a seeker" (hippie talk, if anything) and doesn't know what the last book of the Bible is called (it ain't Revelations).

It's called projection, John. Look into it.


PS John: 750 times 5¢ is $37.50, not $30. 2575 words times 4¢ is $103.00, not $30. Don't they teach arithmetic at Dartmouth? Well, I guess we already know that they don't since you insist that it takes $5 to mail a submission. But you're the one who makes a habit out of wringing your hands over $5 while poo-pooing $30 (or $103, or $500, or $1000, to name other figures I've earned from short fiction)?

Then there is this:

i picked the first story about patmos because i feel it's open to the criticism of blandness (despite being labeled as "bad-ass"), and i picked the second story because it's an example of what could only be published in a 'zine for bad erotica.

Too bad even John says that the story chosen for blandness is the opposite of bland, but then, "link helper" says:

I posted the two of the three works that I could find within 3 or 4 clicks.

So, clearly link helper doesn't actually know his or her own motivations. Did you cherry-pick what you thought were poor stories, or did you come across them in a few clicks? The obvious answer is the former, especially as "Withdraw, Withdraw!" is nearly five years old and not easily Googleable. You just went to my website, as I recommended, and clicked around. You probably saw the warning that WW! was porn. At any rate, the story is actually fairly well-appreciated (here and here, for example) by actual readers and writers.

Why not just tell the truth? Oh, I forgot where I am...nobody here can manage facts. The BEST of you can barely manage to sign his name.

Anonymous said...

Ivory Tower wrote:
"I posted my own experiences on here once before, as accurately as possible, and it was you -- yes: you -- who initiated calling me a liar, demanding that I present everyone with something of mine to read, et., etc., so, frankly, you reap what you sow, my friend."
Hey! -- I comment here only as Anonymous, and I have never called anyone a liar. The only person I asked to provide a link to his stories was NM -- and I had a reason to (see below). So you're accusing the wrong guy. Which makes your Shylock quote particularly ironic:
"You called me a dog before you had any reason to. But since I'm a dog, beware my fangs."
You're the one calling me names before you have any reason to. I don't know who you are, buddy (or gal).
I'm not reaping anything. NM is reaping what he sowed.
If he won't get a fair reading by some people, why can't you give him one?
Or don't.
Btw, there are people who feel that they don't get a fair reading when submitting to some magazines. Of course, they're just no-talent whiners.
And you're saying that I can't get published. I've been published a lot. I've had fiction in 2nd tier print magazines. All listed in the back of Best American.
Oh, wait -- that's not true. I'm a liar. And a racist and a coward. All according to NM (who DEMANDED that I produce evidence of my publication, so he could check it out).
I don't read NM's comments anymore.
I feel I'm consorting with lunatics. And shame on me for that.
I'll read the two NM stories, give my opinion of them and then wipe my hands of this NM nonsense.

Anonymous said...

to NM:

"There are actually two conspiracy theories as regards literary journals that have currency on this site."

Thanks for taking the time to reply to my post. I think you are the only one who did.

If these are the actual conspiracy theories, and if they're false (no one is conspiring in this way), can't we demonstrate it? I would think if we simply find plentiful examples that show the opposite, then we can prove these theories wrong and then people will have to move on / stop being paranoid.

First theory you say "is that all journals are 'academic' journals--they only publish stories by college teachers with MFAs" so that "friends publish one another in order to ensure tenure for one another, and they lock everyone else out."

This is easy to prove right or wrong by just looking at the "author notes" sections. Maybe we can pick some magazines at random and list the contributors of recent issues to show an equal number of academic/non-academic authors? Or some magazines with more non-academic authors? All we have to do is look at magazines and list who are in them and that should disprove this one. Do you want to pick a few and start, or should we let other people pick them? We should try to find ones that list the authors online, because then we can just link to them here.


You say the second theory here is that the magazines are run by "deviant liberal show-off hipsters who only publish work that feature international settings and non-white characters, that are full of profanity and violence, and that have nihilistic themes and incomprehensible structures."

This should be easy to prove right/wrong too. I guess what you are saying is that the publishing outlets are dominated by a kind of anti-Christian, anti-conservative progressivism. All we have do is list the big literary magazines that have conservative Christian editors who are known to speak out against political correctness, progressive politics, nihilism and the excesses of diversity. I think "The New Criterion" is like that but they only run poetry, not fiction. Anyway, we should make a list. We can prove it right here.

Another way to do it if we want to show that many magazines are open-minded to different views is we can list (or link) to stories or magazines in general that show conservative, Christian settings/people/themes in a very positive light with no profanity or whatever.

As you say, "it's trivial to point to stories that don't meet this description" so we should do it. We should list not only stories that fit it but magazines that do, and especially editors that do. Then we can show that these theories are false.

I think we should do it here...

Anon#666 said...

The two stories that were linked were a waste of my time to read. The one boring, the other poorly written. The only thing I learned is that Nick cannot write in a narrative voice other than his own natural nasty voice.

Many people here who dis John's stories simply don't like Realism. Fine. But on a character level, Ed, in some of John's stories, is at least developed and someone you can sympathize with. The characters in Nick's stories were just so flat.

Perhaps these were C+ stories he send to some slavering zines and we're not giving him a fair shake? Not my problem, I'm not hunting around for more crap to read. As an editor, I wouldn't write "please submit again" on the rejection slips I'd give these specimens.

Anon#666 said...

The two stories that were linked were a waste of my time to read. The one boring, the other poorly written. The only thing I learned is that Nick cannot write in a narrative voice other than his own natural nasty voice.

Many people here who dis John's stories simply don't like Realism. Fine. But on a character level, Ed, in some of John's stories, is at least developed and someone you can sympathize with. The characters in Nick's stories were just so flat.

Perhaps these were C+ stories he send to some slavering zines and we're not giving him a fair shake? Not my problem, I'm not hunting around for more crap to read. As an editor, I wouldn't write "please submit again" on the rejection slips I'd give these specimens.

John said...

I don't know how I missed this earlier from Nick's "Withdraw": . . . I smacked her ass a few times to get the wiggle right), her back arched over the desk and her little wrists clamped together by one hand. She grunts like a man as we fuck, which is a little disconcerting so I slap her bullet-bra tits with my free hand, then bite her cheek lightly to get more feminine whimpering out of her. She calls me ‘Sir’ and I come quickly enough for her to smooth out her blouse and get back to her research before my lunch hour is even over.

Wow, this isn't even good porn. It's so bad Darin Strauss could have written it (cf the freak sex in Chang and Eng). I'm curious, Nick, do you have enough perspective to explain why this is so bad? I'd appreciate it if it were good, but this gives me a soft on.

Also, Nick, you describe
Rob as being comfortable only among people who are white and speak perfect English (going from memory here). A seeker?? Heck no.

You get all bent out ofr shape with my seat of the pants estimates of what you're paid (not worth the trouble to copy Withdraw into a WP and get a word count, frankly), but you have nothing to say about the serious problems with your dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Are undergrads and interns incapable of enjoying or recognizing novelty or quality?
That's basically it, yes. American college kids are quite shallow. Google "spring break". They are the ones picking out who is to be featured in our literary journals? How sad.

unfortunately, the slush pile IS where you're likely to find something other than the same old same old.

False. You have clearly never read slush.

What?!? You say that good (and different) non-academic material will never come from the slush? Then where will it come? Oh, it doesn't exist, that's right. Sorry I forgot.



MFA types simply submit more than non-MFA types.

True. Congratulations; you are familiar with a fact.

A fact??! Do you have any evidence to claim this "fact"? Person you quote did not assume it was fact but only brought it forward as a possibility. But you rise it to fact. You must not know very many serious non-MFA writers. It might be something you want to believe since you picked that path for yourself. Undoubtedly you'll add to the insularity of the MFA world. But the world will remain much bigger than you.



The seemingly uniform taste of editors makes more sense when you start meeting a few and see who it is who BECOMES an editor.


And it falls apart when you actually read a few magazines.

It does?!?! Give us links, then. School-sponsored literary magazines are all the same or practically the same. The tastes are uniform and what they publish and promote only reflects that. The differences are only on the surface. It's just a fact. Why pretend it isn't so?



And it's equally tempting to take Nick's view and say "the conspiracy people are idiots - it's a perfectly level playing field and the problem is YOU."

I, of course, have never said any such thing.

What?! You call them names all the time. All you do is pick fights and try to show how stupid people are and call them names.

neo said...

10:13

I love realism. John is simply not a good writer.

Anonymous said...

"Do you think that, say, the material in the most recent Black Warrior Review would ever be published in Paris Review? Pick up an issue of the former and then tell me that. Seriously. It's clear to me that journals have various collective aesthetic agendas which are not all of a type. Fiction International is transparently not running the same stuff as Prairie Schooner. This isn't even a matter of good vs bad, but just a matter of style ("innovative" fiction versus "realism" or however you'd like to put it)."

Who are you kidding?

Anonymous said...

"Thus, you are called a conspiracy theorist because you believe in conspiracy theories"

Would like to get it on the record: you do not believe that groups of likeminded people conspire? In other words, do you reject the general concept of "conspiracy" altogether, or do you only reject the various conspiracies about publishing that have been brought up on LROD?

NM said...

And you're saying that I can't get published. I've been published a lot. I've had fiction in 2nd tier print magazines. All listed in the back of Best American.
Oh, wait -- that's not true. I'm a liar.


Well, yes. Any anonymous weirdo can claim anything on the Internet. Want people to take your claims seriously, you have to provide evidence.

Speaking of evidence, another anon asks:


If these are the actual conspiracy theories, and if they're false (no one is conspiring in this way), can't we demonstrate it?


Yes, but you need to be familiar with logic.


First theory you say "is that all journals are 'academic' journals--they only publish stories by college teachers with MFAs" so that "friends publish one another in order to ensure tenure for one another, and they lock everyone else out."

This is easy to prove right or wrong by just looking at the "author notes" sections.


On the contrary. Simply looking at author notes is not evidence that people are or are not being locked out. While many non-MFA authors would dispute the theory, having lots of MFA authors would not prove the conspiracy theory right since there are at least two other explanations:

1. MFA people really really are awesome (doubtful)

2. MFA people submit lots more (very likely) and statistics will out.

As the anonygibberers here are incapable of logic, they just integrate #2 into the conspiracy -- "everyone else gave up!"

Onto your next test: All we have do is list the big literary magazines that have conservative Christian editors who are known to speak out against political correctness, progressive politics, nihilism and the excesses of diversity.

When applying logic, you can't have your variables ideologically overdetermined. Why, for example, would editors need to be "conservative Christians" and not, say, Jewish conservatives (more important than you might think), Rockefeller Republicans, old school small-l libertarians, Burkean conservatives, etc. What do progressive politics and nihilism even have to do with one another? How on Earth might one operationalize "excesses of diversity"? (How many stories of black people are too many? And gee, shouldn't it be all about the quality of the story?) What sort of test is counting up the number of swear words without examining context?

There's also the issue of reading political content where there is none; see John's semi-literate ranting about the non-existent fat conservative white guy (two out of four ain't bad all of a sudden?) in my recent flash fiction.

If one wishes to prove a conspiracy theory, one needs to show that conspirators in action, not simply that a conspiracy could be, potentially, an explanation for some results.

But you know: facts, logic. Two very hard things for this group of yahoos and wannabes.

NM said...

John,

I'm a real writer, unlike you. Real writers don't get into it with critics. Thus, no need to give your comments on what you think are problems with dialogue any credence.

One hardly need be conservative to be uncomfortable, in other countries, amongst non-white non-English speakers. Further, idiot, that is another character's estimation of Rob, not some Truth From God.

Of course, given that your stories are, to a piece, simple recitations of your opinions as put in the mouths of paper dolls, I can see how you can be confused (and why you've never been published in any competitive venue).

You get all bent out ofr shape with my seat of the pants estimates of what you're paid (not worth the trouble to copy Withdraw into a WP and get a word count, frankly)

I'm sorry; I'm going to have to insist that you return your degree from Dartmouth. Showing you basic math, especially as you seem obsessed with the price of paperclips and toner, is hardly getting bent out of shape.

But if you--a guy who has made literally $0 from any of his fiction publications--is going to sniff at paltry sums of money, you should endeavor to get the money figures actually right. Or even close. Even the briefest of glances would have shown you that "Withdraw, Withdraw!" isn't a flash fiction.

But you are doing what losers do: whining, lying, making excuses, anything but presenting the facts as they are.

Anonymous said...

Dear anon 2:37,

As someone who has worked at many journals and who has an MFA, i must say I find the above theory baffling because, as an MFA student, I've always felt there is so much hostility in the literary world directed at MFAs that it actually HINDERS your chances of being published at many places to list your mfa in a cover letter.

Where?

Where do you find this hostility, please, where?

Where besides here on LROD, that is. Where?

Where is an MFA degree considered a negative that "hinders" your chance of publication? Who hates to see an MFA in a cover letter (and therefore regularly feature writers unconnected with the grad school system?) Does this happen at VQR? Tin House? McSweeney's? Does the editor of Ninth Letter have a bias against MFA grads? Does the staff of Poetry Magazine do their best to promote academic outsiders over MFA program teachers and their students? Does National Poetry Review have a thing against academic free verse poetry? Does an MFA hinder a personalized response out of Crazyhorse or West Branch? Does the University of Cincinnati fiction prof who is also fiction editor of the Cincinnati Review try to promote writers who reject college outright over those who take the path of his current/former students? (Does he tell his students to drop out?) Does the new editor of the Southern Review (and MFA grad and MFA teacher) have a bias against those involved with MFA programs? Does the Iowa Review or Prairie Schooner promote self-taught writers? Are self-taught short story writers who do not teach regularly featured ("reviewed") in Cimarron Review, St. Ann's Review, Dos Passos Review, Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, Boston Review, Southwest Review, Crab Orchard Review, the Antioch Review, Greensboro Review, the Yale Review?

No?

If so, then where?

We're all waiting to hear.

Anonymous said...

"Writers like that who go to MFA programs learn tricks to make adequate stories."

They sure do and that's why they're all the same. And there's that other great trick: networking.

Anonymous said...

"slush piles are filled with total dreck and things get read quickly becuase that is the only way you can read 5,000 submissions in a week"

Ok but who outside of the New Yorker gets that much?

Most "top" school journals get more like 10,000 submissions in a year. That's less than a thousand a month. Less than 250 a week. If even only 75% of those are obviously incompetent stories, that leaves less than 65 pieces worth at least a scrawl on the slip. How hard is it? Why do editors not think that's part of the job?


"Most readers at top magazines are wannabe writers themselves who likely have MFAs or are MFA students if the magazine is associated with a university,"

Right, and how eager are they to support a writer who is obviously a self-taught outsider?


..."or else they are non-mfa writers who are serious about writing."

Are there very many of these on staff, really?


"I don't think many undergrads are readers at top magazines."

It's hard to say. I know of a few right off the bat. A lot of them have the MFA program kids read. They're still young and don't have the experience.


"As such, he/she is basically looking to reject every story. If there are spelling errors, non-fuctional sentences, horrible cliches or other obvious problems on the first page.... why keep reading?"

And if it's something that could go over the reader's head, or it's subtle, or doesn't have the glitz right away to pull you in, chances are the person will stop. I think this happens more often than not. There's too much to read.

"Sure, we could say editors are supposed to edit so they should see the true gem hiding in the crappy writing that they could edit, maybe, but there just isn't enough time in the day to make that feasible."

You have to admit defeat then. Because that is the point of the editor's job. The editor is not capable of his job. Something is wrong with the system.


"What are the types of stories that aren't published?"

Check the archives here. Almost all stories across almost all journals come from the same liberal ideological strain, but it's because the MFA editors (and the writers) are all basically aligned.


"The only exception I can think of is when people publish people they know personally, but that happens amongst non-mfaers too."

Can you send us the names of these non-mfa type lit mags? ;)

Anonymous said...

"since when is a MFA student an "academic"? They certainly aren't viewed as such in actual academia, where the whole discipline of creative writing is frowned upon."

Frowned upon by who? Every university or college supports a creative writing program now. They're quite popular. MFA students are the creative types on campus, but they're still on campus, ie part of academia.

coates said...

MFA people submit lots more (very likely) and statistics will out.

I have to say this is not true in my experience. A significant portion of literary submissions do not come from MFA graduates or students. If you want to prove otherwise you will have to demonstrate it reasonably. It's a reasonable assertion to say that the majority of literary journals publish an MFA or "academic" majority. That's been proven.

Anonymous said...


What?!? You say that good (and different) non-academic material will never come from the slush? Then where will it come? Oh, it doesn't exist, that's right. Sorry I forgot.



There seem to be a lot of comments like this suggesting that somehow people who never studied writing in school write some kind of crazy radical new stories while people who ever took a class in college or grad school are automatically drones.

I've read for many journals and I can promise you that non-MFA students write the same crap as MFA students. It is just slightly less polished.

MFA and Non-MFA students alike get their styles not from their teachers or some academic code, but from writers they love. If they love people like Carver and Hemingway they write that kind of stuff with or without a degree. If they love Lethem and Saunders then they write taht kind of stuff. etc.

Anonymous said...

"Writers like that who go to MFA programs learn tricks to make adequate stories."

They sure do and that's why they're all the same. And there's that other great trick: networking.



But, again, if you actually read slush you will quickly learn that non-MFA work is far more uniform than MFA work. Is MFA work often too similar? Sure, but this problem is far more rampant with non-MFA work.

The difference is that if you go to an MFA you at least learn a few tools of the craft. You will at least have readable stories, even if they are bland and unoriginal.

99% of non-MFA slush is just a shittier version of MFA slush: bland and unoriginal AND unreadable.


Of course, there are billaint MFA and non-MFA writers out there who buck the above trends. They are that 1%.

But anyone who thinks that bland and unoriginal writing is a unique property of MFA students is clearly uniformed.

2cents said...

this crowd will never learn. that's why they will never get published.

John said...

Nick, I'm sorta puzzled. You claim you don't need to respond to criticism, but you've been calling my stuff bland and conservative and whatever else, and I assume you think I should somehow pay attention. But you feel you don't need to pay attention when I mention -- quite accurately, I think -- that your dialogue is unreadable, your characters stereotyped, and your erotica remarkably unerotic.

I think this goes not so much to MFA culture as to the power of networking. Nick is an editor himself, so he's able to get his stories -- remarkably bad ones -- placed in various journals on the assumption that he's a lumberjack and will eventually return the favor. This is probably a good part of what's wrong with the current lit scene.

However, there are lots of zines that publish good stuff by non-MFAs. You just have to keep trying and using Duotrope.

Anonymous said...

I'm the anon from before, so here are my responses:


Most "top" school journals get more like 10,000 submissions in a year. That's less than a thousand a month. Less than 250 a week. If even only 75% of those are obviously incompetent stories, that leaves less than 65 pieces worth at least a scrawl on the slip. How hard is it? Why do editors not think that's part of the job?


I'd probably put the obviously flawed (or inappropriate for the magazine) stories at more like 90%.

But even with your numbers, writing 65 notes a week actually does seem like a fair amount of work, especially when a handwritten note means a writer (and I say this as a writer and an editor) will cite it for years and submit constantly afterwards.

Anyway, look at it this way, let's say we are talking about 65 stories a week that deserve a serious read (by your numbers). That means, what, an hour to give a thorough read plus write a note?

You do realize that means 65 hour work week for an editor who is perhaps unpaid and doing this out of love?

And that's 65 hours just to start. We havent' even included the other more pressing editorial responsibilities.


Right, and how eager are they to support a writer who is obviously a self-taught outsider?


I can absolutely promise you that no one gives a single wiff of fart about someone having or not having an MFA degree. MAYBE they will feel kindly about someone who went to their school and MAYBE they will look down on someone from a rival school, but 99.9% of the time it won't make a single difference.

CONNECTIONS from school might make a difference. I can grant that. But if two stories come to a journal with identical cover letters but one guy went to Podunk U for his MFA and the other is a "self taught outsider", it isn't going to matter.

I really promise you that. No one is dying to publish you just because you have an MFA and definitly no one is dying to stop you from publishing if you didn't get one.


..."or else they are non-mfa writers who are serious about writing."

Are there very many of these on staff, really?


I can't really say what the staff make-up is. But I can think of plenty of major magazines, including several that have been mentioend in this thread, where the head editor did not attend an MFA program.


You have to admit defeat then. Because that is the point of the editor's job. The editor is not capable of his job. Something is wrong with the system.


Ha.... no.

The point of a magazine editor is to curate an issue of quality writing. The point of a magazine editor is NOT to spend untold hours trying to rewrite every crappy submission that comes in and turn it into something good. That is not the point at all.


And if it's something that could go over the reader's head, or it's subtle, or doesn't have the glitz right away to pull you in, chances are the person will stop. I think this happens more often than not. There's too much to read.


Agreed. It is unfortunate, but it is the way it works.


Check the archives here. Almost all stories across almost all journals come from the same liberal ideological strain, but it's because the MFA editors (and the writers) are all basically aligned.


Uh, I think you left out the readers. The majority of literary readers are pretty darn liberal.

Personally I dislike political literature and try to avoid it in my reading habits. It isn't hard. Again, there are a billion magazines in America. They don't all publish the same stuff.

$5 paperclips said...

John,

I'm a real writer, unlike you.


?

the fact that you are real is a never-ending source of amazement for me. somewhere out there is middle-aged dude who really truly writes these NM posts. freaky.
^^^^^^^^^

to anon 11:20 AM,
the anon you quoted is a troll. that quote you posted is ridiculous and that anon does not have an MFA.

Anonymous said...

"since when is a MFA student an "academic"? They certainly aren't viewed as such in actual academia, where the whole discipline of creative writing is frowned upon."

Frowned upon by who? Every university or college supports a creative writing program now. They're quite popular. MFA students are the creative types on campus, but they're still on campus, ie part of academia.



They are frowned upon by academics. Specifically: professors in disciplines like English, philosophy, cultural studies, etc.

There has always been a lot of hostility towards the "creative arts" in academia.

The point here is that the use of "academic" here is pointless. If you want to be pedantic and say anyone who can be tangentially tied to a college has "academic" writing, then you are describing 99% of the writing world.

"academic writing" should be a term applied to a style of writing that is academic in some sense. NOt to anything that can be tied to a college.

If I publish a comic strip online that originally was in some college newspaper, is it an "academic" comic strip?

If I play in a rock band that played a few shows at a college campus (or heaven forbid, one of the band members studied music in college) is it an "academic band"?

What is this stuff supposed to mean?

The term is beyond stupid because NON-MFA WRITING IS THE SAME STUFF AS MFA WRITING!!!

This point never seems to hammer home on this blog, but people who didnt' got to an MFA but who want to write literary fiction read the exact same as MFA students. The only difference is the writing is normally a bit worse because they haven't spent as much time on their craft.

Anonymous said...



Where?

Where do you find this hostility, please, where?


Anti-MFA feeling is widespread online and in the literary world. I've read essays in literary e-zines and print magazines attacking the "MFA factory" and yada yada. Even some MFA professors talk about how they don't like MFAs.

So yes, I do feel hostility.

I don't think listing an MFA on your cover letter is goign to ruin your chances of being published, but I am absolutely 100% positive that it isn't going to significantly increase your chances.

Anyway, i'm just telling you how I feel. As a writer with an MFA, I do not put my MFA on my cover letters. I was lucky enough to be published before I went to an MFA in some journals (I guess before I turned into an "academic writer"???) and when I submit, I list my prior publications. Never my MFA.

I still get published.

How does that happen? Maybe the conspiracy stretches so wide that every journal has a database of every secret MFA member, kind of like the Illuminati, and cross checks my name.

Or maybe my writing is pretty good on its own and that is why people like it and publish me despite not listing my MFA or using any kind of "connection"

Of course I coudl be wrong. Maybe if I listed my MFA I would be getting even better publications. I guess it is possible, but it doesn't seem likely to me.

nate said...

i say let's stop it with the insults and stick to facts. either side, post links and let's see. let's make a count. the numbers don't lie. as for the stories linked i haven't looked but i will.

NM said...

American college kids are quite shallow. Google "spring break". They are the ones picking out who is to be featured in our literary journals?

Generally, they are not. I'm sure how having wild times means that one cannot recognize good writing though. Google "Las Vegas" and then declare Dostoyevsky a failure as a writer because he had a gambling problem.

You say that good (and different) non-academic material will never come from the slush?

No, I didn't say that. I said that the slushpile is an inefficient way of finding good stories because the vast majority of stories in the slush are bad. You, because you literally are incapable of reading simple English sentences, have decided that "inefficient" means "never."

A fact??! Do you have any evidence to claim this "fact"?

Yes, my experience with slushpiles.

Give us links, then. School-sponsored literary magazines are all the same or practically the same.

I specifically gave examples already. Check out the latest Black Warrior Review -- the multimedia illustrated story by Steve Tomasula about the amputee who draws manga, her boyfriend, and the cops would not appear in, say, Paris Review or another journal committed to realism, for example.

How many journals do you read? How many have you read in the last year? List them.

All you do is pick fights and try to show how stupid people are and call them names.

I objected to gimme's strawman argument that I claimed a level playing field. As far as how stupid people are, you're doing that yourself because YOU CANNOT READ ENGLISH.

Would like to get it on the record: you do not believe that groups of likeminded people conspire? In other words, do you reject the general concept of "conspiracy" altogether

I don't know if this is the same anonydope as the previous but, again, LEARN TO READ ENGLISH.

Likeminded people, btw, generally do not need to conspire.

Incidentally, I've been thinking recently about how W,R lets my posts continue to go up. I think I know why—she started this blog to vent a little bit, have some fun, etc. However, her opinions are actually far more mild than those of the small coterie of anonyutzes she has gathered. She doesn't want to destroy literary magazines, she isn't bemused by the fact that black writers actually get published or that curse words appear in stories. I wonder if she lets my posts through because she actually despairs at the Frankenstein's Monster of semi-literate boobery she has birthed in the comments section of her own blog. It's worth noting that she hardly engages any of you nitwits anymore.

Funny, that.

NM said...

Call, response:


"Sure, we could say editors are supposed to edit so they should see the true gem hiding in the crappy writing that they could edit, maybe, but there just isn't enough time in the day to make that feasible."


Then:


You have to admit defeat then. Because that is the point of the editor's job. The editor is not capable of his job. Something is wrong with the system.


Wrong. An editor's job, using the gem metaphor, is to find a selection of gems that readers will enjoy. If they get ten gems from solicitations and two from slush and that's an issue (or ten from slush and two from solicitations) and the readers enjoy them, that is mission accomplished.

An editor need not go out of his or her way to chip away at layers and layers of petrified crap to find the gem within (though if the gem is of sufficiently high quality, he or she likely will). It is the WRITER'S job to present the best work he or she is capable of to editors.

Funny, for all the yammering complaints about "liberalism" in short stories, the conservatives here are all downright Communist. Forget individual achievement; they expect some sort of ideological "fairness" with a minimum number of conservative stories, stories with only white people in them, etc. That is, they want Affirmative Action for their own junk, and demand that magazines cater not to their audiences, but to would-be workers/freelancers (the writers).

What horrid nonsense.

NM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NM said...

John: Nick, I'm sorta puzzled. You claim you don't need to respond to criticism, but you've been calling my stuff bland and conservative and whatever else, and I assume you think I should somehow pay attention.

Sounds like a poor assumption to me, especially since I was addressing third parties, which is what critics do. Criticism isn't for writers, it is for readers.

Nick is an editor himself, so he's able to get his stories -- remarkably bad ones -- placed in various journals on the assumption that he's a lumberjack and will eventually return the favor.

*pat pats* Keep telling yourself that fairy story. You cannot write; you cannot read. The literary world is a strange and confusing place when you're semi-literate.

John said...

So Nick, you're a real writer, and the folks who hang out here are semi-literate boobs. OK. So why aren't the likes of JD Salinger or John McPhee or Amy Tan or Annie Proulx hangin' out here too and accusing us all of being unserious? Could it be that the real writers actually have lives and don't need to reassure themselves of who they are by stereotyping all the members of what appears to be a very diverse group here?

And anyhow, I'm just not sure that if you can get someone to run your really bad stuff for $37.25 (or whatever it is) means you're a "real" writer. It actually means you're a skilled networker among a group of low-level editors and such who probably qualify as wannabes as much as anyone on this site. Certainly your clear insecurity on this matter testifies to your own uncertainty.

aaron said...

Writers choosing to avoid higher schooling for their work are like doctors who attempt to practise without first obtaining an accredited degree. Yes, he might know how to hold a scalpel, but do you want him working on you?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous aaron said...

Writers choosing to avoid higher schooling for their work are like doctors who attempt to practise without first obtaining an accredited degree. Yes, he might know how to hold a scalpel, but do you want him working on you?


I was defending MFAs above, but I don't agree with teh above. An artist of any stripe can succeed and be great without schooling.

I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what MFAs are, or what they should be.

MFAs are to some degree "schooling." You do study and learn.

But primarily MFAs are a 2 to 3 year window in which you devote yourself to your craft in a community of like minded individuals.

THIS is what is valuable about an MFA. Most people can't write that novel while holding a 40 hour a week job and getting no feedback from anyone. The MFA gives them time to do it.

You dont' need an MFA to get the above eitehr. If you are motivated enough and live in a big city, you could probably join independent workshops or gather a clique of like minded writers to share work with and get a similar experience.

Anonymous said...

"especially when a handwritten note means a writer (and I say this as a writer and an editor) will cite it for years and submit constantly afterwards."

....in other words, "we don't want your non-mfa work around here."


"Anyway, look at it this way, let's say we are talking about 65 stories a week that deserve a serious read (by your numbers). That means, what, an hour to give a thorough read plus write a note?"

this is not the idea anon was saying, i don't think. the idea is, if 90% is instantly formlettered, you just have 65 subs in a week that are worthwhile. now most (or all) of those could be still rejected. in fact probably most are still rejected on the first page, but how hard is it for the editor to write "sorry" or "close" or "nice description" or "good but not for us" or even (if he has balls) "your work's not for us"?

just a scrawl, not an offcial business letter. and not a read-through. i'm talking about work that was scanned (first page or two), decided "not for us" but also "good."

however, your note has really revealed something. you're saying that even work deemed good is not read. you're saying that even good stories are not read. do you realize you are saying that editors are receiving work they think is good and they're not bothering to even read it, much less comment on it?


"We havent' even included the other more pressing editorial responsibilities."

like lining up their friends for future issues....




"But if two stories come to a journal with identical cover letters but one guy went to Podunk U for his MFA and the other is a "self taught outsider", it isn't going to matter."

if that were honestly true, it would be bad business.

why would college journals feature work by people who did not go (and even refuse to go) to the kinds of programs they offer?


"definitly no one is dying to stop you from publishing if you didn't get one."

so, for example, poetry -- it's a dead form? only teachers write poetry in the usa now? that's the impression any breathing human would get after reading a year's worth of the top three poetry magazines in the nation. or is everyone who isn't a teacher just severely mentally handicapped, so only teachers are capable of writing poems in english anymore?


"But I can think of plenty of major magazines, including several that have been mentioend in this thread, where the head editor did not attend an MFA program."

please name names. let's link to contributor notes and see what they run.


"The point of a magazine editor is NOT to spend untold hours trying to rewrite every crappy submission that comes in and turn it into something good. That is not the point at all."

nobody suggested that. re-check the post you were replying to. i saw nothing like that. i think the point was that editors aren't bothering to even read good submissions. anyway, the whole topic depresses me.


"Agreed. It is unfortunate, but it is the way it works."

i'd agree with this point too.



"Uh, I think you left out the readers. The majority of literary readers are pretty darn liberal."

that's because the academic journals are all liberal and serve their own. it never was the case that readers were all "liberal" or "conservative" or anything like that. but now there is a definite bias. now you can only be one way, you can only have one narrow view. it's so intolerant.


"Again, there are a billion magazines in America. They don't all publish the same stuff."

this is untrue. we are talking about literary journals, not american magazines. and the journals, primarily university sponsored, are all liberal and of the same ideology and viewpoint to a one. all of them publish the same sort of thing.

Anonymous said...


....in other words, "we don't want your non-mfa work around here."



What on EARTH are you talking about? My comment had NOTHING to do with MFAs or non-MFAs. I mean... are you serious here?

how hard is it for the editor to write "sorry" or "close" or "nice description" or "good but not for us" or even (if he has balls) "your work's not for us"?

Editors DO do this quite frequently....



however, your note has really revealed something. you're saying that even work deemed good is not read.


FALSE. I said 90% of work is unreadable or completely inappropriate for the venue. That doesn't mean the other 10% is good.

Also I was saying the head editors don't have time to fully read that many stories. That's just the facts of having only 24 hours in a day.

That doesn't mean the stories don't get read. They get read by readers.


if that were honestly true, it would be bad business.

why would college journals feature work by people who did not go (and even refuse to go) to the kinds of programs they offer?


Is this a joke?

Most college affiliated journals have a RULE that you can't publish in them if you went to the MFA program (unless you've had significant publications elsewhere).

I mean... seriously. That's there rule.

So what are you suggesting, Iowa's MFA program is actively trying to publish its rival's schools students? Wouldn't THAT be bad for business?

Anyway, having worked on a college lit mag, I think I can assure you that most lit mags have almost no affiliation with the school beyond the financial. There is normally very little or no oversight by the faculty or administration as to the content of the journal. Certainly no directives to keep those radical genius self-taught outsiders out of our lit mag at all costs!

Anonymous said...


"But I can think of plenty of major magazines, including several that have been mentioend in this thread, where the head editor did not attend an MFA program."

please name names. let's link to contributor notes and see what they run.


I don't get what point you are trying to make here. Are you suggesting that all MFA students are horrible writers and thus if any magazine publishes some that means they are part of some conspiracy?

For better or worse, the culture right now is that most young wannabe literary writers go to MFA programs. There are over 100 MFA programs in america. They are pumping out tons of writers. Obviously some of them are goni gto be good and going to be published.

And the subject in that quote was editors going to MFA programs As for some examples, Dave Eggers at McSweeney's did not go to an MFA program. I don't believe the Tin House editors did either.

and the journals, primarily university sponsored, are all liberal and of the same ideology and viewpoint to a one. all of them publish the same sort of thing.

pure unadulterated BS. You can find minimalist realist fiction, maximalist realist fiction, magical realism, slipstream style sci-fi or fantasy, "experimental" word play fiction, and anything else you can think of in major literary magazines.

If you are sick of reading domestic realist fiction, maybe branch out and by a copy of Fence or something.

Anonymous said...

Look I don't know what to tell you guys. I'm just giving you the honest truth from a behind the scenes person.

Yes, the slush piles doesn't get read as well as it should (but for that matter writers don't READ the lit mags they submit to either, so I can't quite feel the outrage too much).

But no, there is no bias against non-MFA students. No, there is no conspiracy. No, editors are not all MFA students by any stretch. No, university lit mags do not actively try to publish rival school students for business purposes. No, having an MFA doesn't get you into some secret club where everyone will publish you. There are certainly thousands of MFA grads who can't even get a poem into Fart City Quarterly Review.

And lastly no, I really dont' think there is some amazing strain of literary fiction that literary magazines as a whole wont' publish.

I've asked several times int his thread, but what are examples of this crazy awesome work that no lit mags will take? Where does this mysterious stuff exist?

NM said...


I've asked several times int his thread, but what are examples of this crazy awesome work that no lit mags will take?


Apparently, at least some of the anons mean this sort of thing.

Two people peering -- one at the other, the other at a window which the first person then gives a summary of, to himself-- a POV that wanders within sentences (well, unless Howie decides that his own smile is fading into a wry twist of contemplation, while he is concluding something else) from a close third person to omniscient, and all the rest of the jibber-jabber, is considered good stuff.

Why? Because all the characters are presumed to be white, and living in a small town. And because there is nothing to tantalize the reader in the first page or three. (This last is considered a good thing because wannabes resent the advice to hook the reader in the first sentences, and this because this misunderstand what it means to hook a reader. It doesn't mean, "Have a bunch of crazy things happen immediately.")

John said...

Nick, just wondering, why do white people enter into your discussions with such astonishing frequency?

CAPS MAN! said...

W.R, i hope this comment makes it through--my last two have been rejected, which

i simply asked nm why he is so down on the slush pile when the slush pile is where a good 30 or 40 percent of fiction published even in very good lit journals comes from. of course, most of it is garbage, agreed; but i've had stories picked up out of the slush by some good places and i didn't know a single person there.

i am the original CAPS MAN! and i just got sick of the caps.

Writer, Rejected said...

CAPPY: I haven't rejected a single comment. Sometimes I'm slow to get them all accepted, but I would never diss you!

Anonymous said...


Apparently, at least some of the anons mean this sort of thing.


I don't know if I feel comfortable critiquing someone on the internet. In fact, I know who the author of that story is to some degree and I know they have connections to the vast MFA conspiracy world even if they didn't get an MFA.

So... I"m not buying MFAs have anything to do with it.

That style of story, while maybe not as common today as in the past, is still published in literary journals.

So, in terms of this argument doesn't show much.

G.L. said...

Thanks much for the link above, to "this sort of thing" -- because I read the story and it is awesome. And I'd like to read more things like it.
Just my opinion.

NM said...

Nick, just wondering, why do white people enter into your discussions with such astonishing frequency?

You're asking the wrong person. Ask the anonycowards what is so terrible about opening a magazine and reading a story that has black protagonists, or "homeboys" (which doesn't mean gang member) or an international setting. That's their buagoo, not mine.

NM said...

i simply asked nm why he is so down on the slush pile when the slush pile is where a good 30 or 40 percent of fiction published even in very good lit journals comes from. of course, most of it is garbage, agreed; but i've had stories picked up out of the slush by some good places and i didn't know a single person there.

Hi caps. I'm not down on the slushpile -- in fact, our understandings of the slushpile coincide exactly. Yes, most of it is garbage, yes stories are purchased from the slush pile all the time. Like you, I've sold many stories via slush.

The only things I disagree with is the bizarre notions promulgated by your lower-case pals:

1. that "MFA" on a cover letter is a ticket out of the slush (nuh-uh, especially given the number of people with that degree)

2. that slush readers are all stupid kids who like wild parties and can't read, so they systematically only pass up the bad stuff -- which represent "excesses of diversity" and "liberal" ideology -- to the editors, while leaving the "all-American" "trad fiction" of "conservative Christians" (to use terms introduced by various anons) to be rejected with rude form letters.

The slush is an inefficient way to find stories, which is why form rejections and long waits are common for readers. That is a fact. All the other babble here surrounding the slush ain't.

CAPS MAN! said...

It would be interesting to hear, then, from some editors or behind-the-scenes folks what percentage on average of material included in good first and second-tier lit journals comes from the slush piles, meaning unsolicited submissions where the writer doesn't know anyone at the mag or journal. I said thirty or forty percent but that seems pretty high to me. NM, you're an editor, give us a guesstimate. Some other editors read this blog to. Help us out.

Anonymous said...

OK, I read Nick's two stories this morning (I'm the racist, liar, coward), and I'll comment on them, as I said I would.
Don't have much to say. The Patmos one was so short I finished it. The writing was competent, I guess. But I was waiting for some point to emerge; it never did. Just some words. An attitude was all I got out of it. And that's not much.
I only got near the halfway point on the sex story. I was bored; I kept trying to get my attention back to the page, but then I said, Why try? It's not worth your time.
I decided a while back that Nick is not worth my time, and I stopped reading his comments. It's been a relief, not having to argue with a brick wall.
I hope he stops reading what I write, that we can part ways forever. Let's just say that we're on a different wave length. And leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

CAPS MAN! that is an interesting question. I've worked at several journals, at least two of which would be considered second-tier, and I think it is highly variable. One journal I worked at (below second tier) was 90% slush fiction. Another I worked at was 90% solicited fiction (note: not "friends" but writers we didn't know but admired and solicited for work). We wanted to publish more slush, but we just couldn't find more than a few pieces an issue that held up. At another journal the issues were almost all "slush" but the same authors were published over and over again, which is why I put slush in quote. The authors weren't solicited each time, they sent through the normal slush route, but the editors certainly pulled their submissions out.

So I think it is hard to say. There are many good journals that seem to clearly fill their issues with solicited work, not slush. Often these are journals that do themed issues like Conjunctions. Then there are good journals that seem to publish mostly slush. I think most of the [University] Review journals fall in this category. Indiana Review, Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review and so on.

Two things I might point out though.

First, none of the journals I've worked for got agented submissions and they definitely did not care about MFA or non-MFA. There was no connection element at play. The journals were filled entirely with slush submissions or solicitations of authors the editors admired.

Second, this is a related point but I'd like to say one thing about the publication of "friends" at journals. There seems to be widespread belief on this blog that some kind of friend connection is needed to be published. I don't believe first or second teir journals publish their friends at all except when those friends are great and famous writers. And really, when you are an editor of a big journal you meet writers and editors and become friends with them. Certainly there is no reason for Editor X to not publish Famous Author Y, an author he admires and who will draw interest to the magazine, just because he has met him a few times.


So who publishes friends? I'd say emerging or smaller journals. As someone who founded a journal once I'll explain the main motivation (for us at least): They are the only people who will give you good work.

I'm not going to say there is nothing good in the slush. But there is NOTHING good in the slush of emerging journals. All writers, and I include myself here, send their best work to the best magazines and their worst work to the wrost magazines. So when you are a young and/or lower tier journal and you want to publish quality work, you have to solicit random good writer or beg your friends for good work.

Just 2 cents.

NM said...

OK, I read Nick's two stories this morning (I'm the racist, liar, coward), and I'll comment on them, as I said I would.

Who is the brick wall again?

If you're not a liar, prove it: which story did you publish in which journal only after making friend with which editor?

You have absolutely zero credibility.

John said...

11:24, the problem then becomes what is "good work"? Apparently Nick's stuff, which is essentially unreadable, has been published in fairly respectable places. Would you call that "good work"?

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Nick's stuff and if I bothered to I'd read whatever he had in quality journals, not micro horror fictions websites or whatever was posted. Not that I begrudge him publishing there, but not my cup of tea.

But cups of tea is kind of what it comes down to. You guys can say journals publish crappy work, but I can say the stuff you guys like is crappy. People have different tastes.

But my main points of contention are just with what I think are incorrect claims here, such as that MFAs are some secret ticket to publication (most MFA students don't go anywhere in the writing world, just like most non-MFA writers) or that journals only publish their friends.

And I'll say what I said before:

if there was truly a wealth of amazing fiction that wasn't being published AND there was a large demand for that type of fiction from readers then why hasn't someone made a journal and published this stuff?

Said journal would surely make a killing and immediately become one of the best journals around.

It isn't hard to start a journal.

Go forth!

John said...

6:38 -- "You guys can say journals publish crappy work, but I can say the stuff you guys like is crappy. People have different tastes." This is non responsive. We certainly have enough critical and evaluative apparatus to say things like "there's no action or conflict in this story" or "the dialogue is unrealistic" or "nobody in this story seems ever to have held a paying job, and the author doesn't seem to think this is a problem". It almost sounds to me as if you're trying to dodge a fairly clear issue, which is that the prestige journals do publish unreadable stuff.

Your answer is that the folks who pay $15 per issue in a 300-copy print run seem to like it just fine -- but this is hardly an answer.

No wonder you won't say who you are.

NM said...

Apparently Nick's stuff, which is essentially unreadable, has been published in fairly respectable places.

Clearly, it's a matter of taste.

You don't have any. Thus, the world of letters is a confusing place for you.

NM said...

We certainly have enough critical and evaluative apparatus to say things like "there's no action or conflict in this story" or "the dialogue is unrealistic" or "nobody in this story seems ever to have held a paying job, and the author doesn't seem to think this is a problem"

Of course, if stories are that bad a little dashed-off note won't help, especially when dealing with a population such as the one on display here--a bunch of supposed writers who actually believe that innocuous phrases on form letters are rude.

You get nothing because you deserve nothing, John. That counts for both your rejections and your acceptances in non-paying webzines.

Anonymous said...

It almost sounds to me as if you're trying to dodge a fairly clear issue,

*rolls eyes*

You shit talking literary journals without providing any examples, even cherry picked ones, is hardly some issue anyone has to "dodge."

I've asked at least 10 times in this thread for examples of great work that literary magazines won't publish, and haven't gotten a single response.

Let's see this amazing stuff that is just too mind blowing for magazines to publish. That's the only way this could move forward.

Anonymous said...

I guess a more blunt way to put it is that yes, obviously I agree that there is weak writing ("unreadable is pretty hyperbolic") published in literary magazines. But the reason is because there isn't enough fantastic writing to stretch across however many hundred literary magazine exist in the US. The reason is not because untold hundreds of magical stories are being hidden by a vast anti-non-MFA conspiracy.

Rose Mary Flannery O'hern said...

anon 6:38-

huh?

John 8:00-

huh?

Anonymous said...

"I've asked at least 10 times in this thread for examples of great work that literary magazines won't publish, and haven't gotten a single response."
But NM gave a link to a story. And I just spent a frigging 5 minutes of my life trying (and failing) to find that link in all this senseless verbiage. Senseless because one side will never see things as the other side does; this is worse than Israel and the Palestinians.
So it doesn't matter if you read the story or not. You wouldn't like it (I did, a lot). I say this because you ask for examples of "great" stories, of "amazing" stories, of "mind-blowing" stories. Those words are setting up unrealistic expectations -- what story can meet them? The attitude seems challenging, suggests a readiness to dismiss.
Which is the problem: the two sides will continue for 142 more comments to stick to their biases and dismiss as stupid or misguided what the other side says.
"Huh?" sums it up quite well.

Anonymous said...

Senseless because one side will never see things as the other side does; this is worse than Israel and the Palestinians.

See, what I disagree with is that there are "sides" here. This isn't a debate between Isrealis and Palestinians. It isn't even a debate between sci-fi writers and fantasy writers. It is a debate between literary writers.

What I've been trying to suggest is that I don't believe there is much of a difference between published writers and unpublished writers, MFA students and non-MFA students. The published writers are either luckier, a little bit better or maybe a little more connected. But I haven't seen evidence they are writing fundamentally different stuff.

You individually may write really different from NM or TC Boyle or whoever. But likely there are published writers who are in your vein.

So it doesn't matter if you read the story or not. You wouldn't like it (I did, a lot).

You don't know what I like or don't. That said, I glanced at the first few paragraphs of that story and glanced through the thread. I'm not going to critique it here. It seemed decently written to me. But what it did not seem was radically different from what literary magazines publish.

Is it a standard literary story for 2009? No. Styles come in and out of fashion. But there aer certainly stories in that vein being published in major literary magazines and of course the comments in the thread compared the author to other literary authors, some still living.

So what is really the complaint here? Just that not enough of that style of fiction is being published currently?

If so, that really does just boil down to style and we may never agree.

My main contention here has been not a stylistic one, but just a factual one. I think the portrait pained of the literary magazine publishing world in this thread and others is simply inaccurate. It just isnt' how things work. Editors do not care about if you have an MFA or not. Editors are not all MFA students. etc.


As for mind-blowing/different stuff. Perhaps I was hyperbolic, but I didn't mean the posters in this thread. I wasn't asking you to prove you were mind-blowing or not. Maybe I misread the thread, but I was getting the sense that people were suggesting that the literary world is constantly missing the boat on radical authors who shoudl be classics (such as the Bukowski references that kept popping up). I thought that this was one of the critiques being made. So I was asking for the modern equivalent of those people.

Dr. Fraud said...

I believe -- I hope -- I've made a breakthrough with my patient who was addicted to this blog.
He was involved in an acrimonious exchange with someone he referred to several times as a "rancid" personality.
Eight days ago, when he came in, I told him I had missed my lunch and had ordered some turkey and swiss cheese sandwiches from the deli. I had gotten one for him. Would he please join me? Luckily, he accepted a sandwich (the one which I had prepared at home for him).
As he raised it to his lips a look of revulsion came over his face. "Doctor," he said, "this smells bad -- the meat is spoiled."
"Yes," I answered, "it's rancid. Don't you want to eat it despite that?"
He looked at me for a long time and then said, quietly, "I see."
Yesterday he reported that he had not visited LROD one time in the past week. He was spending his time doing things that were uplifting to his spirit.
I had been visiting this site so that I could understand my patient's problem, and I've noticed a disturbing element that has emerged.
And that is: a fascist mentality.
It manifests itself in a dictatorial imposition of one's ideology, and an aggressive attack on any opposing views. It also employs derogatory labels to categorize the opposition (the most dangerous, of course, being those having to do with race).
There is no arguing with this mentality. The fascist mind is impervious to logic, while claiming to be the sole possessor of it.
I would advise all to flee from this blog, as my grandfather fled Austria with the coming of Hitler. Do things that are uplifting to your spirit. If you must write, write -- write things of true value. Do not engage in writing fruitless, angry comments.

Anonymous said...

But what if you're not engaging in writing fruitless, angry comments but REALLY enjoying the show?

Don't go ruining it for the rest of us, pal.

Leopold said...

Can I be the last comment?

Anonymous said...

No

Anonymous said...

"So it doesn't matter if you read the story or not. You wouldn't like it (I did, a lot)."

"You don't know what I like or don't. That said, I glanced at the first few paragraphs of that story and glanced through the thread."

You're right (what you say in your first sentence).
But it seems to me that if you only "glanced" (not even "read") the first few paragraphs, you have no idea of what the story is about. Of what it does. What do the first two paragrahs of "The Lottery" tell you about what's to come? Nothing. (And that's why so many people wrote angry lettters to The New Yorker -- they felt they were ambushed.)
So can I change my remark to "You don't really care about it"? Because although you asked "at least ten times on this thread" for a story, when I point out that a link is there, you don't seem so interested.
But, hey, it's your time, and it's your right to read what you want. (I wouldn't be an editor because I would be stuck reading what I didn't choose to read -- I don't have the temperament.)
But editors pick what people get to read, and so what they pick is of concern to me.

NM said...

you have no idea of what the story is about. Of what it does.

What the story does, fairly clearly, is demonstrate that the author has watched too many movies and not read enough stories. For all the chest-thumping about "trad fiction" and hoping that the story was a hoax submission-- one that had been well-published in the 1930s or 40s -- the fact is that the author writes in camera angles and voice overs. It's a confusing mish-mash of nonsense on a sentence-by-sentence level.

You may get the kick out of its themes or setting, but it is not a good story and it is not traditionally told. It's a poor imitation of a traditionally told story.

Anonymous said...

So can I change my remark to "You don't really care about it"? Because although you asked "at least ten times on this thread" for a story, when I point out that a link is there, you don't seem so interested.

Well, as I thought I explained, I was responding in those instances to the notion expressed on this website sometimes that literary magazines are missing the boat on a sea of fantastic fiction, modern day equivalents of Bukowski apparently, and this leads to a whole host of problems.

Is the story posted on this blog an example of that? Of someone who will go down like Bukowski in the future? Or is it just a story you guys thought was maybe a little bit better than some work published in some lit mags you don't like?

Because I don't really care about debating whether one pretty good story is better than another. It seems terribly fruitless to me. And if that is really all the debate comes down to, then it seems like a fairly petty debate.

But if you want to tell me that there is truly important fiction being ignored, then I'm more interested... but I want to know what it is.

If you want to tell me it is a truly fantastic story, not just pretty good and publishable, I might go read it. I wasn't quite impressed enough with the first few paragraphs to continue, but if you believe it is something truly special I'll give it another try.

Anonymous said...

What do the first two paragrahs of "The Lottery" tell you about what's to come?

Well, I didn't want to critique the initial story, but I'd have to side with several of the comments in the thread that the sentences that opened the story were not strong enough to convince me to read on.

In a Gordon Lish sense, the story loses "authority" right off the bad with the tired phrasings and drafty feel.

The first two paragraphs of the lottery do not do that for me.

Anonymous said...

right of the bat.

Hmm, guess I've lost my authority here too. Maybe that's a hint to let this thread go.

Anonymous said...

Although one last thing in my defense is that I asked for examples by you guys and the only one I got was a link posted by NM, your apparently enemy here, to a seemingly random story by a random LROD member. No one chimed it to tell me if it was the kind of example people agreed with or not.

Leopold and Lisa Loeb said...

left of the bat

Anonymous said...

Okay, one last comment since you suggested I was being unreasonable in suggesting that posters here have claimed that there is a bunch of wonderful fiction being published that also has a giant sea of readers looking for it (my point being: Start your own journal. It is really easy to do and doesn't even require much money these days)

Here is the first comment of that link:

Anonymous said...

I think this story fits perfectly with a genre that I call "trad fiction"; while the precedents are all-American and very well known, it's a mode and style that's totally banned now. No obscenity and a lack of certain other must-haves make these shallow editors pass it up, especially because everything about it bucks the decadence. No MFA's I know of are writing it at all -- they would be the uncool outcasts on campus if they did. But it's out there, all over the country -- I know a half-dozen frustrated talents who are writing these great, readable stories that totally do not fit with the trendy mainstream stuff and they speak to a whole maligned culture out there. Trad fiction. Its time has come.

Anonymous said...

"If you want to tell me it is a truly fantastic story, not just pretty good and publishable, I might go read it."

You also wrote that I don't know what you like and what you don't like. Now you seem to be asking my permission to read the story. I said "I liked it -- a lot."
It isn't Bukowski (I don't like Bukowski) and you're again using those extreme words that set up unattainable expectations ("truly fantastic").
And you say you "might" read it. Personally, I think you should NOT read it, because you clearly don't want to.
I've read three stories that I was given links to in this long chain. I've done my share.
The comments that followed the story-in-question show an enormous difference of opinion.
There's one criticism of it that galls me, and that's because I've been a victim of this attitude. And it's that the beginning is so bad there is no need to go on.
Like this one, from above:
"the sentences that opened the story were not strong enough to convince me to read on. In a Gordon Lish sense, the story loses 'authority' right off the bad with the tired phrasings and drafty feel."
"Authority," "drafty" -- hogwash. Now "bad" -- that's correct -- right off the "bad" he didn't like it.
And calling on the authority of Gordon Lish (how does this expert know how GL would react?).
It's just a mentality that says, We don't want your stuff and here's a justification. And that's what some, me included, are complaining about. Our work never gets a chance to be what it is on its own terms.
As for truly fantastic, great, mind-blowing fiction -- where am I going to find that? Please tell me. Give me a link to a modern story by a young writer that is all those things. Is it in any of the best anthologies? Because my reading group uses those "best" books, even though every year they complain about most of the stories ("Why did they pick this???") So why read these anthologies anymore, I kept asking. Oh, we always have.
I quit the group.

Anonymous said...

It's just a mentality that says, We don't want your stuff and here's a justification. Our work never gets a chance to be what it is on its own terms.

*rolls eyes*

Right, I've noticed a trend on this site that either someone "gets" the story and thus likes it or they "don't get it" and any explanation for why it didn't work is hogwash that being used as a "justification" for some MFA conspiracy.

I'm giving you my honest appraisal of the opening of the story (if it makes you feel better I went back and read the end, which is how an editor will read the story... opening first then the end then the rest if it seems worthwhile... and the end was straight up bad. The opening was flawed but decent, the ending was not.) If you don't agree, that's fine. That's opinion. But claiming everything is get/don't get (or "evaluate on its own terms" or whatever phrasing you couch it in) is just dishonest.


There's one criticism of it that galls me, and that's because I've been a victim of this attitude. And it's that the beginning is so bad there is no need to go on.

I think you are phrasing it slightly wrong. If the ending is bad I'm NOT going to go on. "Need" doesn't come into play really. What "need" is there in reading random fiction posted on a blog? For an editor, it is a matter of time and efficiency. The only way to get through the slush is to toss away the stories that seem weak from the start. This is unfortunate, but given the reality that there are way more writers than magazines and most of those writers carpet bomb magazines they don't read making the slush pile enourmous, there you go.

As a reader, why would I go on if I don't like the start or don't have some reason to believe it will get better?

As a writer you are competing with Tolstoy and Faulkner as much as you are competing with TV and films. There isn't enough time to read weak fiction.

Anonymous said...

You can roll your eyes all you want, but what you say is hogwash.
And what you do is a joke: namely, read the beginning and the end of a story and then pass judgement on it. I would never do that, because it's not a fair way to appraise a story. A story exists as a whole entity.
Course, as I said, I'm not an editor and sure as hell don't want to be. But in my personal reading, I give every novel at least 60 pages to engage me. That's my rule: 60 pages.
I went back and read through the comments on the story-in-question, and why did so many people like it -- a lot (as did I)? Are we without taste, discrimination?
The reason that link appeared is because there was a segment of the reading population that visits here that liked it. You were asking ("at least ten times") for a link to such a story, and when you get it you "glanced" at the first few paragraphs, then you later "read the end."
Then you write:
"either someone 'gets' the story and thus likes it or they 'don't get it' and any explanation for why it didn't work is hogwash that being used as a 'justification' for some MFA conspiracy."
You never read the story, so you can't give an opinion about the story! You can't say whether it worked or not! Can't you see that?
And you're the same person who says he (or she) doesn't think there are two opposing sides. There sure as hell are, and you're on the one that dismisses those who believe in a " MFA conspiracy." Like we were talking about aliens listening to our thoughts.
I've merely pointed out, in the past, that an MFA is a way to make necessary contacts. That submitting to the sludge is a waste (because you'll run into the attitude you display). I would advise a young writer to get into the best MFA program they could. I even advised w/r to do that. It's how the literary world works.
You give the impression that you're an editor. Now I'll ask you AGAIN: give me titles of stories by young writers that are great, mind-blowing, fantastic, etc.
That are right in there "competing with Faulkner and Tolstoy."
What nonsense. As if your standards are so very high. I'd love to see, if you are an editor, what you publish. Love to. But you want to be anonymous, and I can't blame you for that.
Still, I'd just like the names of some of today's brilliant stories, authors, and then let's call this senseless "exchange of ideas" off. We'll never understand the other's point of view.

NM said...

So the anonycomplainer doesn't think that the beginning of a story should demonstrate that the author has a facility for language, plot, theme, character, etc. because some of that stuff might perhaps exist somewhere further along in the story?

Amazing.

NM said...

And what you do is a joke: namely, read the beginning and the end of a story and then pass judgement on it. I would never do that, because it's not a fair way to appraise a story. A story exists as a whole entity.
Course, as I said, I'm not an editor and sure as hell don't want to be. But in my personal reading, I give every novel at least 60 pages to engage me. That's my rule: 60 pages.


Got it. So you're a hypocrite. You expect editors to wade through pages and pages of poorly rendered story because it might get better somewhere, but you'll give a novel—no matter what the length—only sixty pages.

So, sixty pages of a six hundred page novel or one page of a ten-page story? What's the difference.

You want novels that tantalize you and draw you in somehow. As do we all.

It's not different with short stories.

Anonymous said...


And what you do is a joke: namely, read the beginning and the end of a story and then pass judgement on it. I would never do that, because it's not a fair way to appraise a story. A story exists as a whole entity.


Eh, you can twist it how you want but I'm less "appraising the story" than explaining why it hasn't been published.

I went back and read through the comments on the story-in-question, and why did so many people like it -- a lot (as did I)? Are we without taste, discrimination?

To be honest, I have a hard time taking the anonymous comments (from either "side") too seriously here. The author of that story attempted to pull a trick where they posted a paragraph from Richard Yates hoping people would attack it and then they could go "a-ha!" (Someone spoiled it before it could play out.) Well, frankly I feel confident the reverse could be pulled here. I could get W,R to post a "rejected" story that was in fact a story from some typical college affiliated lit mag, maybe even a story from an MFA student, and then get a ton of comments about how such a brilliant story recalls an earlier time and none of the horrible lit mags today would publish it.

In short, people who have emotionally invested in a theory that explains their own personal lack of success are bound to look kindly on anything they can twist into evidence to support their own psyche. Confirmation bias in other words.

I'd also bet plenty of people claiming to like that story didn't even read it (just like some attacking it).


Secondly, lots of people like everything from Puddle of Mudd to Eddie Murphy's Norbit. I don't meant that in any insulting way, but knowing than a handful of anonymous internet users claim to like (or dislike) a random story isn't really evidence of much.

You never read the story, so you can't give an opinion about the story! You can't say whether it worked or not! Can't you see that?

In that quote, I'm giving an analysis of your and other poster's dismissals of anyone who disagrees there, not an analysis of said story.

That said, I did give a bit of criticism, or if you prefer "analysis," of the writing in some of my posts. I didn't critique the story per se, just the writing. I read about 8 paragraphs of the story. Is that really not enough to comment on the sentence level writing?

I didn't comment on whether the story worked. I commented on whether the sentences worked.

If you are expecting an editor to read more than 8 paragraphs of mediocre or bad writing in the hopes that maybe good writing appears somewhere, well...

That submitting to the sludge is a waste (because you'll run into the attitude you display).

What is that attitude exactly? That editors can't be expected to wade through bad writing in the hopes that good writing is hidden somewhere int he story? Or that editors can't be expected to completely re-write a story of bad writing to make it publishable? Some editors do this, but you can't expect that with every story you send out. A magazine will get maybe a hundred stories a week that could be turned into good stories with intensive editorial work/re-writing. But that doesn't mean much.

That are right in there "competing with Faulkner and Tolstoy."

You seem to have misread me a bit. I'm just stating that it is a fact that readers have limited time to read and they have to make the decisions of what to read. Part of that decision is between reading classics like Faulkner or new writing. This doesn't mean all new writing has to be as good as Faulkner (in whatever sense that might mean), but you are, as a story writer, competing for the time of a potential reader and your competition ranges from Faulkner to TV to bowling to whatever.

Do you disagree with that?

But asking for quality fiction is fair. You know what I thought was a good anthology that published a lot of writers I think are fantastic, such as George Saunders or Ann Carson? The Anchor book of short stories that came out a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

That submitting to the sludge is a waste (because you'll run into the attitude you display).

Also I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, but as I've said above most literary magazines publish a good amount of slush if not almost entirely slush, and I'd wager the vast vast majority of new writers get their first publications through slush.

I know I did and I know basically everyone else I know did.

NM said...

So giving a novel sixty pages is fine.

Giving a story six paragraphs is not.


Gotcha. That makes perfect sense.

Anonymous said...

"I glanced at the first few paragraphs of that story"
That was how you first characterized the attention you gave to it.
Now you write:
"I read about 8 paragraphs of the story."
After the first "glance," you wrote in your next comment:
"if it makes you feel better I went back and read the end, which is how an editor will read the story... opening first then the end"
I have less faith in editors now than I did before we started this exchange.
Also, I went back to the comments on the story, and saw, long ago, that someone had used the word "drafty" (in a critical way). Same word you used. Kind of odd. Or is that a word that editors use?
As for pre-set attitude going into a story -- yes, it's crucial, and definitely a factor. Which is why many work to make the right contacts in the literary world (and why I suggest that an MFA is the route for a young writer to take). And do ambitious writers ever work at it! (I have seen this in action a number of times, up close and personal; it's even got a name: "networking.") All so that their novel or story will appear on the editor's desk.
Hell, Faulkner did it (with Sherwood Anderson). Hemingway did it (with everybody, but particularly Gertrude Stein).
I have little faith in the literary judgement of editors. Sure, I'd want my neurosurgeon to have gone to a top medical school, but editors have no expertise. Not in my opinion.
Anyway, as many have pointed out, it's an intern who reads through the slush of the better academic journals. A child -- that's whose attention you're trying to get.
I agree -- it was a mistake for the author to have tried the Richard Yates trick. But did you know that, about ten years after it won the National Book Award, a novel was retyped and sent out as an unsolicited manuscript under a different title and author's name, and that it was rejected about 15 times (including by the firm that first published it)? So "tricks" are played to make a point.
And John Kennedy Toole's mother submitted her son's novel to the slush, a good number of times, until she realized that was fruitless, so she commandeered Walker Percy to help her. Smart lady.
But - enough! I will get the Anchor book of short stories, and pay special attention to Saunders and Carson.
Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

NM -- I read your two stories, and I choose not to respond to your comments. You haven't a shred of credibilty with me.
Just letting you know.

Anonymous said...


That was how you first characterized the attention you gave to it.


Again, as I noted before, that was a link that NM gave along with a strong negative characterization. No one here on your "side" said anything positive about the story or indicated it was something they would use as an exampe.

So yes, initially I just went into the thread out of curiosity.

If you or someone else from yoru "side" had been the one to use that link I would have read it more closely initially. But I hadn't thought NM was your spokesman, in fact I thought you guys hated him.

Or is that a word that editors use?

That was not me in that other thread if that is what you are asking. And if you actually read my comments here you would notice I said I was referring to comments there so.... no it is not a word I normally use, I was quoting those other commentators.

And do ambitious writers ever work at it! (I have seen this in action a number of times, up close and personal; it's even got a name: "networking.") All so that their novel or story will appear on the editor's desk.

What I am suggesting to you is that at the stage of mid-teir lit journals "networking" rarely comes into play.

I do indeed think networking is big in the literary world and the art world and general and, hey, the word in general.

But networking is important for getting your novel published or reviewed, or for finding an agent or maybe for placing your story in The New Yorker (I don't believe they ever publish from slush).

But for a mid-tier journal? In my experience networking or connections rarely comes into play. You can choose to not believe me I guess. Most of these journals are run by grad students who have no connections themselves and they just publish whatever they find in the slush.

So "tricks" are played to make a point.

And as a writer I agree with much of those points. But the point is not that there is an MFA conspiracy and as I said once before the book publishing world is vastly different from the literary magazine world. Most of those tricks have been played on the world of commercial book publishing and it really does bear almost no relation to a few people making a journal in their spare time just because they love doing it.

Anonymous said...

I don't even know where this discussion is anymore, but someone criticized Nick for not writing erotic erotica, and I may be TOTALLY off base here, but I didn't think Nick was trying to write erotica, I thought he was trying to SHOW how one guy viewed a sexual encounter and, extrapolating from that, how they guy viewed sex and possibly women. I didn't think he was trying to get me off; I thought he was showing how his flawed character got off. And there is a difference.

NM said...

You haven't a shred of credibilty with me.

No credibility with a person who judges a story on the criterion of whether or not it is sufficiently "all-American"? Whatever shall I do now? Well, except laugh...

ut did you know that, about ten years after it won the National Book Award, a novel was retyped and sent out as an unsolicited manuscript under a different title and author's name, and that it was rejected about 15 times (including by the firm that first published it)? So "tricks" are played to make a point.

Except that those tricks only prove that wannabes know nothing about anything.

The proper response to someone sending in someone else's published work as their own is a form rejection. One doesn't want to give pranksters attention, and, frankly, there are a fair number of people (often prisoners, sometimes just plain crazy people) looking to publish without having to do any work or who really believe that they ARE Jane Austen or whomever and go about submitting that work.

So, pranksters, criminals, and looneys. What point is being proved here, except that LROD attracts people ready to side with any sort of scammer or kook just to keep from facing reality: not everyone is good at writing.

Anonymous said...

The thing I think is confusing for editors about this site is that there is no coherency in what people want form them. I realize that this site is made up of multiple people so a unified thought is not to be expected. Still, it is confusing to hear complaints about how long responses take then read complaints, like this thread, about responses that come quickly. I see many commentators claim they wish editors "had the balls" to write their true feelings on rejections, then the same commentators attack any editor who does so for being unprofessional. I also thought a central idea here was that big writers shouldn't be treated better than unpublished writers, yet there has been at least one blog post here attacking an editor who didn't show deference to a famous poet.

It would be interesting to see a thread dedicated to a consensus on how editors should act, what rejection letters should read like, etc.

Anonymous said...

OK, good enough, Anonymous editor.
Between writing this and writing my previous comment, I read an interview given by a very famous author in 1974. Kind of amazing, what he says, and relevant to the arguments appearing on this blog.
I'll copy out his words for a later post, because almost everybody must have abandoned this one by now (wisely so). And since I'm writing to make a point, not just to spar with you, I don't want it lost. It's too important, what he says. And besides -- he has authority.
I also checked out the Anchor book, and noted that the Saunders' story was "Sea Oak." I've read it. Appalling -- and brilliant. It has Something To Say, not just horrors to serve up.
I won't mention the overwhelming predominance in that Anchor collection of authors who have MFAs or teach at MFA programs. I don't want to argue anymore. Maybe all the stories are at the level of the Saunders one. I like to believe I'm open to everybody's writing, MFA or not. Really -- there are authors deeply embedded in the "system" that I believe have done great things.
Trouble is, I see so much published and praised that I think is downright bad. Even Saunders latest work is far inferior to his best.
And I still believe that authors who are Nobodys aren't given a fair shake. (But what's new about that, in this best of all possible worlds?)

Anonymous said...

After I give the excerpts from the author interview, I'm calling it a day with LROD. Partly so I don't have to deal with toxic waste like you, Mr. Mamatas. (And why the hell am I, when I just wrote that I wouldn't?)
You embody the racist mind (and others have spotted that -- it's so evident -- you see everything in racial terms).
You write:
"No credibility with a person who judges a story on the criterion of whether or not it is sufficiently 'all-American'?"
Huh? I can't like a story about people who are "all-American"? Gosh, that leaves out tons of stuff. Do you have something against work about/by the people you classify as "all-American"?
I've liked work written by Jews, anti-Semites, Catholics, atheists, WASPS, women, men, homosexuals, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, MFAers, non-MFAers, people from every continent (except Antarctica). Well, enough, you get the idea (yeah, right, as if you won't twist this up).
One of my all-time favorite authors is Machado de Assis, a Brazilian, a great-grandchild of slaves and a mulatto. So? I also think the last two Rabbit books by Updike (not the first two) are great. So?
You close on a hilarious note:
"not everyone is good at writing."
You should know.

fwiw... said...

Personally, my fave of the rejected story corner series is "Big Fishing." I've read it twice and I saved it on my computer. I don't know if it is a hoax or an earnest attempt, but it has a 'so bad it's good' quality. This is a long shot request, but if the author is reading this post, could you please submit another?

NM said...

Partly so I don't have to deal with toxic waste like you, Mr. Mamatas. (And why the hell am I, when I just wrote that I wouldn't?)

Not the first time you've said so, either. It is a weak will on your part, apparently.

You embody the racist mind (and others have spotted that -- it's so evident -- you see everything in racial terms).

Hahahaha, that old canard. "Why, we're all supposed to be color-blind now, so anyone who points out racist comments or attitudes is the real racist!"


Huh? I can't like a story about people who are "all-American"? Gosh, that leaves out tons of stuff. Do you have something against work about/by the people you classify as "all-American"?


Hilariously, you can't tell the difference between using "all-American" as a criterion for quality, and happening to find a story with an "all-American" theme as good.

I wouldn't classify any particular story as all-American. That's your term for a good story, and it is your exercise in ridiculousnes.


One of my all-time favorite authors is Machado de Assis, a Brazilian, a great-grandchild of slaves and a mulatto.


You have black friends! Say no more. Well, except for "homosexuals"...have you even read a book or essay or article published in the last thirty years.

You should know.

Jealous much? Of course you are. Your fuming about homeboys and excesses of diversity and all-American nonsense has gotten you the attention of a real writer, myself. This is as close as you'll ever get to be taken seriously by a writer. (You've certainly never been published or received anything but a form response to your junk stories.)

And that's why you keep coming back, even after you announce--time and again--that you won't respond to me. You LOVE the attention.

Leopold said...

Anonymous write, "I won't mention the overwhelming predominance in that Anchor collection of authors who have MFAs or teach at MFA programs. I don't want to argue anymore."

But you did mention it! You couldn't help yourself. For Christ's sake, listen to yourself. It's like going up to someone you don't like and saying, "For once, I'm not going to tell you what an asshole I think you are, because it's time to put this issue to bed." You see: it's the non-mention mention. (This is why you're so maddening, sir.)

Anonymous said...

What is the point of mentioning it?

It is one thing to talk about people with MFAs or without them, but people who have taught at MFA programs?

That's like 90% of the literary world.

This has nothing to do with a conspiracy or prejudice of editors, it has to do with literary books not selling well and academia being one of the only ways for an author to survive unless they are a superstar or independently wealthy.

Hell, it even extends beyond literary writers these days. I remember reading about an MFA program that was headed by a genre gangster novelist.

And pointing out how many MFA students there are doesn't mean anything by itself. I'm reminded of NFL fans who claim their team was clearly robbed because they had more fouls called than the opposing team.... with no mention of whether or not they committed more fouls! This is not to say the refs always call the game right or the editors get the right pieces, but editors are there to pick the best stories and refs are there to call the fouls, not to make sure both sides get an even number of fouls or stories published.