A vast public collection of real-life rejection
This came in the mail? Not via email?
eMail, I believe. But not sure.
I just finished a story, and I won't send it anywhere. I don't want it to appear in the Rat Tail Review, and the "good" magazines (like Kenyon Review) aren't interested in the work of a Nobody from Nowheresville; anyway, in the case of both interns and editors at these "good" magazines, I have doubts about their ability to discern quality.And, yes, I think my story is a quality piece of work.I don't get bent out of shape about this. Not anymore.
Send it to LROD. We'll publish it to the tune of about 1,000 readers a day. What do you say? Send it anonymously to writerrejected at aol dot com.
writer, rejected, what do you think the chances are, assuming a good, well-written story, of a nobody writer getting a literary story published?I know four "nobody writers" who found agents and recently sold novels, but none who have had any success with a literary short story. Okay, one, but it was a very obscure, online only journal.
30:1Those have always been my odds with the literary short story.
30:1 IS GOOD, AS ODDS GO. YOU'RE A SUCCESS! ON THAT NOTE, W, R YOU SHOULD CALL SOME OF THESE PEOPLE OUT. IT SIMPLY ISN'T TRUE THAT EDITORS TAKE NO INTEREST IN 'NOBODY' WRITERS...FACE IT: EVENTUALLY, IF YOUR WORK IS GOOD, YOU'LL BE READ BY A TOP EDITOR. IT JUST TAKES TWENTY-NINE TRIES. YOU YOURSELF KNOW THAT.
Yeah, but you have to be nobody who's a glutton for punishment. And, generally, I actually do think it's true that editors try to do everything possible to NOT read manuscripts by nobodies because it's plain and simple not a good use of their time, so I can kind of see the point to the conclusion here. Even as someone who has been published by good lit journals as a nobody, it took some crazy kind of drive on my part. For years, all I did was enter contests and send out manuscripts. I don't think I could do that again.
I've had one literary story published in a mid-ranking journal and I have a (creative) nonfiction essay coming out in a 2nd tier journal. Both pieces got rejected by about 6-7 places before finally being accepted.
W, R: SO, BASICALLY WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS THAT, TO SUCCEED, YOU HAVE TO HAVE LOTS OF AMBITION AND A STRONG CHIN? AND THAT IF PEOPLE ARE GETTING REJECTION AFTER REJECTION AFTER REJECTION there is something wrong with their writing? ANON AT 2:23. IF YOU ARE GETTING ACCEPTANCES AFTER 6 REJECTIONS YOU ARE KICKING A**. I'VE SENT STORIES OUT THAT HAVE RECEIVED THIRTY REJECTIONS BEFORE WINNING AWARDS.
Yes, lots of ambition and a strong chin. But, no, I obviously don't think this statement of yours necessarily follows:"IF PEOPLE ARE GETTING REJECTION AFTER REJECTION AFTER REJECTION there is something wrong with their writing?" I think there's something wrong with the system.
I've never won any awards though! :(
This is an aside, but I submitted to The Kenyon Review and they took over a year to respond by sending me the same rejection as this person got. Over a year? Seriously?
The system.I need some more specifics here.Why do you not assume that you are simply a better writer than some other people? Quality is not democratic.If a story is rejected more than thirty times, with not a single personal rejection, there is something wrong with the story, no?
I don't know. I've had a couple of stories silently and roundly rejected so many times that I was convinced I was a terrible writer, then all of a sudden the same stories won prizes or got beautifully published. As for the system, I think we've gone through a period in which our culture no longer recognizes or rewards unique works of art and truth. Even editors want something familiar and mundane and akin to literary reality TV. Something got very broken, so I guess that I don't necessarily think that the problem is with the quality of the rejected work, as much as I think the problem is with the context in which the work is being rejected.
I'm going to decline on your offer, w,r. I wrote above that I have doubts about the ability of editors to discern quality. Would the readers at LROD show discernment? Or would most read it through the distorting lens of their biases? A little history: I was published in some good places, but about ten years ago I discovered that I had squeaked in through a closing door. There has been a sea change, and you have described it quite well in your comments above, w,r. The door is shut now. You need a key to get in.But the core problem is that quality fiction is not profitable. People don't read. The ability to read has atrophied. People argue at this blog, sometimes abusively, but the general public doesn't give a tinker's damn about our stories. If they did, the "system" (your word) could not exist. It only exists in a vacuum.
W, R: Could you name a few books that have been published recently that exhibit this false sensibility you feel editors pander to? That would help this discussion.
Question for all:How do you train yourself to simply not care whether a piece is published (yay public acceptance!) or rejected (boo painful rejection!)? I'm serious. Other than becoming a Buddhist monk, what techniques would all of you use to eliminate the ego? To remove the illusory perception that your happiness teeters between what people think of your work--positively or negatively? How do you just not give a crap is what I'm asking?
Just got this same letter. Sorry anonymous writer rejected! I feel your pain.
You don't stop caring, or even being angry about the state of affairs, but it becomes clear that there's nothing you can do about it. Out of all these words posted on LROD what concrete steps for change have emerged? The gatekeepers still control things, the public doesn't give a flip about literature, so why pound your head against a brick wall? Also, you use the words "illusory perception." And that's right -- it is an illusory peception. If you believe a work is good -- or very good -- what does it matter if some dummy (who happpens to be an editor) doesn't? (And the literary world is chuck full of dummies.)Sure, it would be nice to be read, appreciated. But even authors who get those things are often disillusioned. It's not an all-positive experience. We writers are selfish souls, full of insecurities. Read William Trevor's short story "Sacred Statues." The closing line may mean something to you.
It is so awesomely delusional to think that all work merits publication, and that if it's turned down 30 times, that reflects badly on those publications rather than the writer. Really, it's just delightful to read.
Anon at 4:05pm: I agree. It's fun to poke fun at idiotic rejection letters, and I do love this blog. It's fun to hear other people gripe. But if you aren't getting published, you aren't writing well, and so it is easy to blame the system. Fair enough: it may take a while to get a good editor reply, and then that one publication will lead to others, slowly, but that is how careers are built. I have yet to see a lot of proof on this blog of amazing work getting rejected by good publications. Another anon above was going to show us his or her work, but chickened out--because we are too jaded. Come on. Take a risk! You'll get a fair read here. But, that aside, let's get into some particulars. W, R--be nice. What are the names of these short story collections that have been published that you think pander to a bogus sensibility? This discussion is kind of pointless if it remains so abstract.
I've had a couple of stories silently and roundly rejected so many times that I was convinced I was a terrible writer, then all of a sudden the same stories won prizes or got beautifully published. As for the system, I think we've gone through a period in which our culture no longer recognizes or rewards unique works of art and truth.Well, which is it? Does the culture no longer recognize or reward "art and truth" (full of yourself much?), or are the "prizes" and "beautiful" publications your stories have received proof that the stories were good and that those other editors were wrong?It's amazing that you actually think editors are just dopes, or shills for a "system"...until one of them actually accepts one of your stories. Then it's evidence that your stories are art and truth.
NM: Why so venomous so early in the morning? You intentionally misconstrue my words to make me look like an ass. Really, most of the time I am an ass with no help from you, but, this time, I think your interpretation is off.
I commented that I had written a story but wouldn't be sending it out. I also said I didn't get bent out of shape about this.W,r invited me to send it to LROD, and that he'd run it. I declined. I asked him whether the frequenters of LROD would read it through the distorting lens of their biases. That's what transpired.But Anonymous 8:51 twists things to put me in a bad light:Another anon above was going to show us his or her work, but chickened out--because we are too jaded. 1) I never suggested that I would show my work. This Anon can't read!2) He says I "chickened out." Abusive already! And he/she will give my work a fair reading???? What a joke.3) I never used the word "jaded." It doesn't apply (look up the word, Anon 8:51). I do believe that you distort and that you're biased. And you've conveniently proved my points. Thanks!Later, I wrote that a lot of judges of fiction (such as editors) are dummies.(I'm not going to waste my time in a back and forth with someone like you -- people I try to avoid.)
Relax! Nobody was trying to get you upset. That said, if you think "chickened out" is abusive, you're right, you shouldn't post anything on this blog, and you shouldn't send your work out anywhere, because the dummies will keep you up at night. Boo! Another knife to the heart!
If I misconstrued your words, WR, it wasn't intentional. I guess I literally don't understand what your point is. What is so amazing about a story being rejected a few times before it is accepted? What does this have to do with any "system" that may be in place?Something to think about: pointing to some random journals and complaining either about a) the Big Names or b) the MFA grads tells you nothing about the rejection history of those stories. Perhaps Joyce Carol Oates had a long story in, say, The Kenyon Review not solely because she's a Big Name, but because that story was rejected by The New Yorker, Paris Review, etc. Ditto (and more likely) any particular story written by some part-time English dept adjunct in the Generic Review.Either acceptance means something or it does not. So, what does it mean?
Anonymous Anonymous said... writer, rejected, what do you think the chances are, assuming a good, well-written story, of a nobody writer getting a literary story published? I know four "nobody writers" who found agents and recently sold novels, but none who have had any success with a literary short story. Okay, one, but it was a very obscure, online only journal.I was a nobody from nowhere with zero connections who published a fair number of short stories including in a few very respectable magazines (i'm of course still a nobody, but at this point I do have some connections.... although so far they haven't lead to any publications). I know TONS of writers who were published in decent magazines when they were utter nobodies and, again, with no connections. I'm talking places like Glimmer Train, Mississippi Review, McSweeney's Quarterly.Good work finds a home eventually. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that plenty of writers, even "names" with "connections," have stories get rejected 20 times before a place accepts it. You have to be willing to send your story to lots of places and not give in after a few rejections. It shouldn't be hard to find 20 journals that are quality and worth publishing in. Send to those. And of course good luck.
How do you train yourself to simply not care whether a piece is published (yay public acceptance!) or rejected (boo painful rejection!)? I'm serious. Other than becoming a Buddhist monk, what techniques would all of you use to eliminate the ego? To remove the illusory perception that your happiness teeters between what people think of your work--positively or negatively? How do you just not give a crap is what I'm asking?I don't think you should not care if you ever get published or not. Or maybe you should, I dunno... seems impossible. But what you DO need to do is train yourself not to get bent out of shape over a few rejections or if it takes a while to land a story. What you need is the proper mindset that is based in reality. You need to go out there and go "okay, I"m a nobody with no connections so I'm not going to be published in the New Yorker. Even famous people have trouble getting in there. Instead I'm going to EXPECT to be rejected by at least 20 places. If I get 20 rejections and no acceptances, then I'll reconsider the story. But until I compile 20 rejections, I'm not going to think about it"I have so many friends who don't have the right mindset and it annoys the hell out of me. A good friend recently sent a query to a place on my suggestion. They got turned down but asked to send more ideas. My friend was totally bummed and distraught. I told them to shut up, they had been asked by the editor to send more work. HOw is that bad? I convinced them to send more and they got accepted and now they regularly publish in this journal. So I think it is mostly about figuring out the right mindset, both for your health but also for reality's sake. THe reality is most work gets rejected a bunch of times before being accepted. The other reality is that editor's tastes vary wildly. If McSweeney's doesn't like your piece, Ploughshares might love it. It is weird that people seem to expect all editors to have some objective view of all literature. Taste varies wildily. I'm sure if we talked here in this thread about who we like and hate, there will be people here who despise famous, award-winning canonical authors. IN fact, all of us likely dislike some or many of those. If we can't universally appreciate the great writers of history, how can we expect editors to do so with random new writers?
It's a fair question. In my humble o, a story published in a good literary journal is like a single move in a game of chess, where the writer is the chess player. The move is hugely important to the player, and it may help advance the game to a win. The definition of winning here (in life, not chess) of course is variable. A single literary publication or award in a reputable journal may be "a win" in several ways: (1) It may help the writer think of him or herself as a legitimate writer. (2) It may help the writer gain an agent or a publisher or a published collection of stories. (3) It may be a fact that's put on a resume and used to apply for grants. (4) The story may be read and appreciated by someone somewhere, which may also be important to the writer. Otherwise, though, in terms of importance beyond the writer, or importance in the culture, maybe an acceptance in a literary magazine (whether prestigious or not) is not so important.Is getting accepted for publication amazing? Maybe not. Or maybe only to the author of the piece; I admit that I am *always* amazed when something of mine gets published. I think it's a pretty hard-won achievement; I think the odds are against it ever happening.What is the system? I guess according to the analogy, it's a really difficult game of chess, but one in which the rules are stacked against the writer and are ever changing.It's like chess with rules that currently value big block busters and books like other books that are easily profitable because everyone knows MacDonald Cheeseburgers are proven and sell, and so write books that are a sure McThing. (Think famous pop stars and reality TV-memoirs and bloggers with a gimmick who get million dollar book advances for crap that amounts to an enjoyable glance at People Magazine--only it's a book. Think of how many times in your career you've heard that good literary fiction just doesn't sell, so sorry Charlie. The game of chess exists in a culture that wants easy money more than challenging art. And of course it's all subjective. Meaning comes from point of view alone, I think. The player cares, yes. And the player plays. (Meaning the writer writes and tries to get published, or doesn't, in whatever way s/he deems acceptable.) So, take it all with a grain of salt.
W,R: I think the word system is incorrect in your post. System makes it sound like you dislike the way literary magazines are run, how slush and agents work, or something like that...and probably you do, but the rest of your post seems to be a complaint about the CULTURE. It is a fair complaint, but the fact that literary writing (like avant garde music or intelligent film making or philosophy or whatever) is a small world in our larger culture is different from an indictment of the world of literary writing itself.
I AGREE WITH THIS QUITE BRILLIANT ANALOGY AND WILL ADD ONE THING: IN WRITING, UNLIKE IN CHESS, THERE IS NO GAME OVER. UNLESS YOU START PUBLISHING IN BAD EZINES. UNTIL THEN, THERE IS, AT EVERY STAGE OF THE GAME, A VARIETY OF MOVES YOU CAN MAKE. THIS ANALOGY ALSO EXPRESSES THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO ALL THIS WHICH IS FOCUSED BUT DISTANT. THANK YOU AND KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.
Those pop memoirs and diet books aren't crowding out literary fiction.In many ways, they can be said to be subsidizing literary fiction.
A case of rose-colored glasses above.
Another anonydope with no understanding of the field above.
No name calling. Reasonable minds can disagree and see the industry either as half full or half empty. Doesn't make someone a dope not to agree. Play nice.
Plain and simple: I know what I am talking about. The anonymous commenters here simply do not and all but admit it by refusing to sign their own names to their nonsense.Your ignorance is not superior to my knowledge.
But all is diminished by your arrogance, NM.
NM talks like he's Ray Carver or something.
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