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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Converse College

I've lost the will to live, which means I can't bring myself to black out the information on all these contest notifications. So, instead, I'd just like to post as is and congratulate all the winners.

Hostile Much?

Concerning the post entitled Urban Legend?, editor, rejecting said...

"We wouldn't treat writers like monkeys if you didn't act like monkeys. No means no. A rejection doesn't mean "try again later" or "revise and resubmit" or "we're just not a good fit", it means you're not good enough. When you get a rejection, suck it up and try someone else, keep trying until you find someone with low enough standards to take you on, but for the love of god don't keep pestering someone who's already had to wade through your dreck once...that's just cruel."

Yowzer. Touched a nerve. Plus, here's a question. If we suck so bad, why write a letter that implies something else and then expect us to get your secret "you suck" code? I think a simple, You are not good enough for us, but good luck would be refeshing and at the very least honest.
What do writers think? Would you rather be treated like a monkey or be told the truth?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Wylie Coyote

The Wylie Agency: What was I thinking? Even the stationery is cold. The latest breaking news on this front is that Wylie takes on a new writer. She's dead. Maybe that's the trick.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Urban Legend?

I once knew someone who worked briefly in a literary agency and told a story about one of the crazy agents who insisted on rejecting people from the slush pile using a fake name based on a famous movie character.

This diabolical scheme allowed that if the rejected writers ever tried to make contact by writing a letter, or sending another manuscript, the whole agency would know because the writer's letter would be addressed to Norma Desmond or Holly Golightly, or who knows, even Marge Gunderson.

And you thought they didn't treat us like monkeys.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hemingway Rejection

Author and granddaughter of "Papa" himself, Lorian Hemingway runs a pretty nice little short story competition every year. I find her rejection letters to be painfully nice and strangely comforting. She writes: "It is difficult to express how much your stroies mean to me. I know from my own experience what a risk it is to send a story out to someone you have never met, and to trust that person with the heart of your writing. Knowing the trust you have put in me brings a certain sense of sanctity to the reading of your stories, and I emerge from it touched by a new perspective on the human experience."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Glutton for Punishment?

On July 27, 2007, at 9:23 PM, Editor, Advising said as a comment on this blog...

"....I got mad this week, and I knew exactly where to come to vent. I am posting this for you, WR, both because I think you need to hear it and because I trust that you will repost it so that everyone can partake in some intelligent discussion based on what I say.

Do you want to know why I got mad this week? Because the submission piles on my desk have become so completely out of control that I am being buried alive. I'm not sure if you understand exactly how much editors and agents actually have to read on a day to day basis. You know how much I took home to read this weekend? Almost 900 pages. And my desk looks like a small bomb went off. Last weekend, a large part of the English-speaking world (and probably other countries too) locked themselves away to read 700-something pages of Harry Potter. I lock myself away MOST weekends to read the same amount (or more) of material. Some of it is good, most of it is sheer CRAP!I barely read real books anymore. I don't have time. Most of my free time is spent reading submissions, or the books that is publishing. When I do make time to read an already-published book, I am usually reading a comparison title for a book I am editing or hope to edit. I pray for the moments when I have time to read something that has nothing to do with work.And yet, I love my job. I really do. And I do what I do because I wouldn't have it any other way. But before you post your next rejection letter, I want you to think long and hard about the other side of things. Rejections aren't personal. They are business. They don't always mean you're not good enough (although sometimes they do) and if you always take your rejections that way, it is going to turn you into a very bitter writer (if it hasn't already).

The next time you post a rejection letter, remember what we editors and agents go through. Because it's not always pleasant for us either, and we're sorry we can't always send the most perfect rejection letter, but we have neither the time nor the energy to stroke everyone's ego equally. I've begun a process where I am going to go through everything on my desk and if it is good or has merit in some way, put it aside for more reading but if it is not good or won't work for us, I am rejecting very quickly. No more pleasant letters, no more worrying about encouraging things to say to the authors. Because apparently you and your ilk don't appreciate them anyway and I am inundated.

You make me angry, WR. Not because I don't understand what you are trying to do, but because I don't agree with it. You have a severely limited view of what goes on in the publishing industry and you are taking your bitterness and anger out on the people who are actually nice enough to get back to you in some way. You're lucky -- some days I just want to take half of my pile and throw it in the garbage. But I wouldn't do that. I'd rather send a quickly written rejection letter with some reasons why it didn't work for me than leave the person hanging for a response that will never come.

Be glad you receive rejection letters -- it's the sign that you are a true writer in this businessand the feedback you are receiving is like free advice from the professionals at the heart of the industry. Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to start reading a pile that feels like the Bible and Merriam-Webster combined. But I'll be eagerly checking back to see when and if a heated discussion begins."

Yowzer. Where to start? Have at it, bloggers.

Rejection Pin Up

This Story rejection from long ago was posted on my bulletin board for years. The handwritten note says: "Thank you for letting us consider your work--and thank you to [name of a writer friend] for pointing you in STORY'S direction. I found much to admire in [name of story] in particular; we're sorry to have to disappoint you on these." I'm not sure why I thought it pin-up worthy; maybe because it made me feel like the literary world is a small and friendly place. Or maybe because in the intervening years, Story sadly ceased to exist. You can see the thumb tack marks in the corner of the original.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Literati Roll

If we consider that in losing a fiction contest, the appointed judge is actually making an indirect rejection, then I have been rejected by the following luminaries:

Mary Gaitskill
Aimee Bender
Andrea Barrett
Yiyun Li
Carole Maso
Jo Ann Beard
Stuart Dybek
Pam Houston

Martha Cooley
Stacey D'Erasmo
Ann Pancake
Nell Freudenberger

Elizabeth McCracken

Among others.

I'd love to know how the whole contest judging thing works. Like, how many stories do they receive to make their selection? Do they ever regret their decisions? Do they ever recognize stories they've read in other contests? Do they ever stumble across the published books of writers whom they had decided weren't good enough?

Maybe someone will comment and fill us in.

Classic Coke, Revised

A reader sent this one in, and it's just such a rite of rejection passage that I decided to post it, though I've had New Yorker rejections on this blog before. The example above has become the standard form letter, though there is one older version that used to praise the "evident merit" of the submission. I guess upon revision the editors decided to remove such "effusiveness" in order to keep writers from feeling encouraged to send in more of their crappy stories.

Let's take a moment of silence together to admire the beauty of this classic: such sleek lines, such stature, such dashed hopes. Ahh! That tastes good.

Even in Indiana

Here's another one. When Indiana Review tells you who won the fiction contest (not you), there's a little tiny tear off at the bottom in case by some small, small chance you are the rejected loser who wants to subscribe!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shenandoah Hustle?

Well, not to put to fine a point on it, but looky at what I found in my treasure trove today. A rejection from Shenandoah (which I had understood to be NOT a crappy rag, but what do I know). It says: "We thrive on unsolicited manuscripts, and 90% of what we publish comes from this always surprising pool of work. We are pleased that you are willing to share your perceptions and carefully wroght sentences with us." Somehow it's not comforting that they get 90% of published work from the slush pile--BUT NOT MY SUBMISSION. Anyhoo, in the same envelope, as cursed by commenters on this blog, is a subscription form conveniently filled out with my name and address. I could even have charged it on my Master Card. But, as you may have guessed, I did no such thing.
Clue: fishing for subscribers from the rejected pile is not likely to produce successful outcomes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rejection Poem

Here's this dude's gut-wrencher, which actually quotes from a rejection letter in a poem, while he poetically bespeaks indigestible shit. Hmm? Literary rejection is a heavy topic, methinks.

The rejection in the poem says the editors are looking for poetry that: "Aim[s] towards capturing a certain essence that paints a picture of divine beauty that cannot be reached within any other art form; something to immerse the reader into a welcomed world of arresting images that jerk the eyes onto the page and leaves the reels of the mind turning long after the poem is finished." Um, come again?

Rejection YouTube Style

A reader sent in this video take on literary rejections as posted on YouTube.

Crazy-Lady Font

I love that ME Parker writes a little note at the top of the rejection to divulge your novel's standing, even though you didn't win the Dana Award. This particular year my novel was in the top 15%, the following year it was top 5%. But the mish-mosh of fonts gave me a headache and made me think of a houseful of cats, which was disturbing. So I stopped applying.

Now He Tells Me

On the topic of entering fiction contests, one commenter (Cliff Burns) says this: "Never, EVER enter contests that charge an entry fee. Why subsidize their lousy rag with your hard- earned money? One press in Vermont recently tried to charge for a $35 "reading" fee before they would consider a poetry manuscript. I wrote to the publisher telling them that in the 20+ years I've been a professional writer, it's always been my experience that the author was paid by the editor/publisher, NOT vice versa. One final pet peeve: when a magazine turns down a story/submission with a form note and then has the GALL to include information urging you to subscribe to their crappy little magazine. What a bloody laugh... " While I think of the $10/15 entrance fee more as supporting the arts, this advice does come a little late, Cliff. I've only sent stories to a million contests at small literary journals (you may call them crappy rags, if you like)--and once in awhile I have even won and taken home the booty.

Bloggers: What do you have to say on the topic? Are fiction contests just a rip off, or a way to finance alternative literary voices?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not You, Not You & Not You

I have so many of these babies. More than you can shake a stick at, as my mother used to say. Maybe I will arrange them in future posts by size, color and cheerfulness.

Glick Side Step

This particular phraseology seems popular among agents. "Blah, blah, blah. I must therefore step aside and let another agent take this on." Guess they go to the same dancing school.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

When Life Says No

This fine "editorial fellow" passed it on up, but got back a no. The letter says: "I showed it to the editors of the Life section, and unfortuantely we're not going to be able to express interest in it at this time. Feel free to pitch us again, though."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Literary Fantasy #4

Me and Rosemary Ahern are taking a little detour on my globe-trotting book tour to make a pilgrimage to Vatican City in honor of Flannery O'Connor.
"In 1958, O'Connor traveled to Europe to be blessed by Pius Xll," Rosemary says when we are midflight over the Atlantic. "She had lupus, but her family never told her. Isn't that sad?"
I consider all that is unfair in this crazy world, including secrets and families and all forms of rejection. "Everything that rises...." I sigh.
Rosemary smiles wistfully and looks out the window.
"Amen to convergence, Doodles," she says. "Amen indeed."

So Like Totally Never!

An anonymous writer reports getting the above Valley Girl rejection-in-advance from Swink. It says: "We're very shorthanded at the moment, so you many [sic] not hear back from us for a while, but don't despair! We'll respond as soon as we can. We apologize in advance for the delay, but please, please, please don't email to nudge us about your submission. We know it's a drag to wait but rest assured we WILL be in touch with you eventually, one way or another, we swear." The writer additionally reports never having heard from Darcy & Karen again.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Eat All Your Veggies, Too

Carve Magazine has a new editor who apparently used to be my 5th grade teacher: "Remember, editorial decisions are very subjective, so continue writing and you will find a home for your fiction."

Erin Hosier Benchwarmer Rejection

This agent rejects me for some specific reasons I won't divulge here. (Same old, same old, really.) But I like her flair with the metaphor. She decides not to play in my little novel-writing game, but will "watch from the sidelines." She wants me to "let her know how I make out. " Tackles and fumbles so far, Erin. But thanks for the interest.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Just Saying...

And Even Then, Only Cereal Boxes

Male suit: So, you're a literary agent? That's so cool. How's it going?
Lady suit: I just sold my first book! And the movie rights were optioned the same day!
Male suit: Totally exciting. What's the book about?
Lady suit: Oh, I don't know. I haven't actually read it.
Male suit: That's cool. I didn't really read much until I started college.

--A train

Overheard by: Max Perkins Is Rolling in His Grave
via Overheard in New York, Jul 19, 2007

Kitchen Renovation Rejection

I received an email today from a writer who tells this fine story:

"A prominent agent at William Morris once tried to seduce me away from my agency at a book party and afterwards with several charming follow-up phone calls. When I sent her my new manuscript, I was greeted with radio silence...for months. I finally called her assistant, who said she'd try to figure out what was going on. Several weeks later, I got a phone call back from the assistant saying that the agent (whose name, BTW, begins with an S) was renovating her kitchen and so couldn't read my work. I received my packaged-up, apparently untouched, manuscript the next day by messenger."

Have an outrageous rejection story? Send it to You can't believe how good getting it off your chest will make you feel.

Unlucky 18

This rejection from the Potomac Review announces that my "blinded" work was not selected by an independent judge who made the final decision for this fiction contest. At the end of the letter, the editor adds: "We thought you might like to know that your story was among the top 18 finalists from which the winner was selected." Ironic because 18 just happens to be my lucky number.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pride and Prejudice

Some dude named David Lassman changed the titles and character names of a few Jane Austen novels and sent a bunch of chapters to 18 British agents and publishers, who--guess what--rejected them. Check it out at cementedminds (as reported today in the Daily Mail). Wouldn't those be great letters to post?

et tu, Oprah?

A reader sent this one in, but it begs the question. Why hath she forsaken us?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rejection Contest Winners

The results of the Rejection Templates Revisited Contest have been tallied by an independent panel of rejection experts who stopped bellyaching and whining long enough to hand down a decision.

First Place goes to:

J. Brisbin said...
Dear Writer:This is going to hurt me a lot more than it's going to hurt you. I realize you worked really hard on this and probably poured your soul out into it, but the accountants say your book won't sell. Accountants actually run things in this day-and-age, and let me tell you, after that whole Enron thing, they're all a little edgy. You do NOT want to piss off an accountant these days. In order to let you down easy (and to avoid possibly getting hate mail every week for the next year and a half), I'll close by telling you that another agent might jump at the chance to represent you, yadda, yadda. It's completely untrue, of course, but you creative types are so emotionally unstable that I can't risk a lawsuit by telling you what I really think and having you run out and rob a bank with tree limbs duct-taped to your body like that guy did not too long ago and then blame it all on me telling you the God's-honest truth about the steaming pile of hooey you so carefully packaged and sent to us. Have a great day! Hope you make manager at McDonald's soon!

Second Place goes to:

The Quoibler said...
Dear Writer: My hands tremble as I write this missive by candlelight. Outside, the snow falls silently, interrupted only by the gunshots snuffing out the lives of my colleagues. The guards pace... one, two... their boots crunch. Do they know what I'm telling you? Will I be next? I shouldn't be writing. It's not allowed. Not like this. But your manuscript--I weep as I frantically scribble--was just too perfect. I read it twice before they took it from me like a babe removed from the bosom of its mother. I ran after the beasts, spitting at their ignorance as they dropped the package into the flames, laughing. The butt of a rifle met my belly and then all when dark. When I awoke, I was here in my cell, beaten but not defeated. I found this scrap of paper. I am weak from hunger and thirst as I scrawl in my own blood; still, it's important I make contact with you:Your work was outstanding. Really and truly. But I am not allowed to work with you for reasons you must never try to discover. Yes, Writer. You are among the best. I wish you great success and... dear God... are they back?... I hear the thud... the keys jangling... avenge me! The Editor

Third Place goes to:

aj said...
Dear Writer: It's not you. It's me. Sincerely, Gloria Loomis

*****And honorable mention for getting the joke to Editor, Advising who said: "Wow. If I thought you were serious with those template ideas, I would have a lot to say about them."

Match Dot Com?

Even though this agent liked my ability to balance sorrow, she is sorry not to be my match. She doesn't doubt that another agent will have a different take. That's pretty much what Dr. Phil says.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Literary Fantasy #3

Rosemary Ahern is in the middle of editing my novel for publication when she calls me on the cell.
"Doodles?" she says. "Is that you?"
It is four in the morning, so I'm not sure.
"Mmmummsssa," I manage. "Bleeedoo."
"Listen, never mind," she says."I whipped up a great excerpt for The New Yorker. Maloney and Asher want to print it."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Anonymous Agent Speaks Out

Agent Anonymous said...
"As a literary agent, I can only speak from personal experience here and I know that there are as many opinions on this as there are grains of sand. But to put my (admittedly subjective)thoughts out there: first off, I think this blog is A GOOD THING. Frankly, it doesn't matter whether the aim is to vent or change the industry or simply to get published. It's interesting enough, debate is always healthy and I'm pretty certain that the legions of the rejected will draw comfort in a There-Despite-The-Grace-of-God-Also-Go-I manner rather than hurl themselves off a cliff. However.... Last week my office received 273 unsolicited submissions by post, roughly 90% of which were fiction. We have an employee whose job it is to do a first trawl through that pile (which this week fills three large mail sacks). Often enough, he will arrange for those sacks to be delivered to his apartment where he works on them further over the week-end. He has no other job. At the end of each week, he will send us a list of recommendations for titles to be looked at further, which generally consist of between 5 and 10 books in every 200-500 submisssions. The hard reality is, however, that none of our seven staff, myself included, has time to read during work hours - as we are busy sending out submissions, drafting and checking contracts, sorting out publicity tours, meeting foreign publishers or film people et al - which means that we then have to evaluate the best of the unsolicited material at week-ends and in the evenings, and to balance doing so against the demands of our partners, children and friends. That said, I am a firm believer in the fact that the cream always rises, and that great - or even just good - work stands out. But like everyone else in this business I also know that I regularly turn down work which goes on to sell, and sometimes to sell for huge amounts of money. That's fine (although it may occasionally rankle) as we all know that this business is about mapping one's own personal taste onto the wider background of a market which is itself always in a constant state of flux. This is a gambler's business, after all, and all we can do is to set our hares running. That said, about 2 to 3 times a year we will take something on that comes to us unsolicited - unannounced, knocking randomly on the door - and some of our best clients have come to us that way. Two such authors have won the leading national literary fiction prizes of their publication years; and another has become a big household name in the commercial fiction arena. So it happens, believe me. And I know that I have turned down people who have done just as well with other agents and publishers and, in the main, have no problem with that. But the flip-side is that in a few weeks' time we shall probably have to send all 273 of the writers who kindly sent material in last week a rejection letter. We will probably send each of those 273 writers a polite rejection letter which is carefully written so as not to invite its recipient to enter into a dialogue with us. We are not, and cannot purport to be, a writing school and thus to engage in that sort of editorial debate would be to the detriment of our existing clients. A handful of unsolicited writers will, however, receive an individual letter which will offer some advice, encouragement or suggestions. And very, very rarely, as this week-end, I will sit down as I did on Friday night with a typescript of a novel fulsomely recommended by our reader and finish it, as I just have, and know that I am looking at pure gold. This was novel which brought me alive, which spoke to me on some deep, deep level, and so well-written and all-round good that I now find myself utterly frustrated in a nail-biting sort of way to discover that its author is away and cannot be contacted for a week. But that feeling of discovery, and unalloyed joy, is why we are all in this business - lightning can strike us all."

I hope she gets to represent the vacationing author, and I hope lightning doesn't strike her (or us), because she sounds pretty great. Anyway, mice, what do you say now?

Amy Williams, No Fool

This one is pretty standard: "While you are a strong writer, and have written a nicely atmospheric piece with intriguing characters, I am sorry to report that I must decline representing your novel. I just never quite fell into the story the way I must..." I went to school with someone named Amy Williams. She didn't fall for my stories either.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Susan Gingsburg Infomercial

Sorry about yesterday (Friday 13th). I don't blog on unlucky days. But here's a spot-on rejection from Susan Ginsburg at Writer's House. You can't read the very specific, razor-sharp comments she gave me because now you have me all paranoid about editors and agents tracking me down for a lynching. But take it from me, she is one smart cookie. As it turns out, I *am* instituting nearly all of her suggestions detailed in the letter for how to fix my novel. For me the revision has been a long and uncomfortable journey involving many years of work and therapy sessions and consultations with my writers' groups and new agent, but I realize as I look back today that what I'm doing now is exactly what Ginsburg keenly pointed out in one single, elegant paragraph several years ago. The Gins is like a Ginsu Knife; she is a-okay with me.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rejection Templates Revisited

The Quoibler and one of the anonymice on this blog are on to something when they suggest honest, refreshing rejection templates. Agents and editors should update their stock letters by consulting with actual writers on the topic. In fact, agencies and publishing company's should *hire* writers to write the rejection templates. It's a diabolical plan, but it just might work. We'll come up with something fresh. Like, let's see, how about:

  • "Dear Writer, Rejected: You seem cool, but you need to rewrite. I don't know why or how, but if you sit in a quiet place for about a week, or on top of a mountain briefly, it will come to you. I'm pretty sure. Yours, Rejecting Agent"

  • "Come on, Writer: I know you can do better than this. How about a little spell checking and grammar consistency? Perhaps some more interesting details (alternate options: emotional heat, drama, plot, narrative continuity, depth, sex-appeal, spunk, etc.)? Writing isn't the same as being a parking lot attendant. You've got to sweat; you've got to dig deep into your emotional center and feel the pain of what you are trying to say; you've got to demonstrate some originality and truth. It's got to hurt, baby. Until then, no can do. --Agent of Truth"

  • "Yo Writer: You came sooo close, but my job sucks and the market is horrendeous. Did you know that 80% of Americans didn't even purchase one single lousy book last year? So what am I supposed to do? Risk it all on you, even though your short stories are going to sink the entire publishing company, for which I work. I mean, if block-buster short-story writer Alice Munro has trouble moving more than 50,000 books out of the Barnes & Noble, what the hell can we expect from you? (I know, know, she's Canadian, but still.) This isn't a dream world. This is a business. If you still feel like writing after this dressing down, you probably are the real thing, but that doesn't mean I (or anybody else) is going to publish you. So, keep your day job. And buck up. Maybe someone will discover your work when you're dead. Sorry to disappoint. I'm as depressed as you are about it, but I gotta' go get a latte and some gum. Sincerely, Agent 007"

  • "Maestro: If only I could publish you, but I just can't. It's too complicated to explain, but the situation involves my ridiculous bosses and my own lack of acquisitioning power. The corporate structure is killing me. Do you have any idea who owns us now? This huge corporate conglomeration is no joke. So, why don't you try a small, independent press or LuLu? In fact, tell them I sent you. Tell them I'm a fan--of theirs and yours. Maybe it will help because you really deserve to be in libraries until the end of days. And instead of just saying "no" to a book I think is flawless (or at least pretty damn good), I'm going to go out of my way and try to help you get published, pretty much without lifting a finger. Just go ahead and use my name liberally all over town. See if that and two bucks will get you on the subway. Warmly, Not-so-Evil Editor"

Okay, writers, your turn. This is a call for submission. The Quoibler wants to make an anthology, but we'll settle for some blogging fun.

Post your ideal rejection template here.

(BTW, come up with a name other than anonymous, mice, so we can identify and publish the best top three by "name".)

What Fragile Souls We Writers Be

Funny blog entry about rejections over at Justin Stanley's place. Also devastating, but in a good way. Check it out.

More Agent Negoogligence

Over at the Art of the Grand Gesture blog, they are naming names. File this one under the category of non-responsive. Check it out.

Based on the information, I am adding the following to my negoogligence list:
  • Anne Edelstein
  • Elaine Markson
  • McIntosh & Otis (in particular, Elizabeth Winick)
  • Kelly Harms at Jane Rotrosen
  • Harold Schmidt
  • Alex Glass at Trident
p.s. Also, while on the topic, Hello Google? I've reported advertising abuse. Have you joined the ranks of the rude? Are you just never going to write back?

Same, Same

Here are rejection form letters from two assistants at two separate literary agencies.
One says: "In this competitive climate I must be completely enthusiastic to take on a new writer. I wish you the best in your pursuit of enthusiastic representation."
The other says: "In this very competitive market, we are simply not enthusiastic enough about our ability to sell this work to offer you representation. We wish you the best of luck placing this successfully."
Clearly they went to the same school of competitive market enthusiasm.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Literary Fantasy #2

Me and Rosemary Ahern are taking a road trip to Savannah, Georgia to the childhood home of Flannery O'Connor. We zip down the Interstate in an open convertible.
"Pass the cheese doodles," she says.
I can't hear her over Bruce Springstein blasting on the radio. Also, I am asleep.
"Doodles!" she demands. "Wake up, writer!"
But I am busy dreaming about books.

Strictly Sundance--No Finalists Here

This email from Sundance says: "Congratulations! Your submission [name of screenplay] has been chosen by our selection committee for the next round of the review process. Please send your completed script to the Sundance Institute Office, etc."

The small print at the bottom says: "There is not an official name/designation to this part of the application process. We see it strictly as the next step. We do not give it the title of Second or Final round, Finalist, or Semi-Finalist."

I guess they don't want you to jump the gun and go patting yourself on the back or prematurely calling yourself something impressive. As you may have guessed, my script wasn't chosen. (I did receive a very nice rejection, but it's too detailed to post, since now I understand that I have to protect myself from getting blacklisted from the movie industry, as well as the literary world.)

Oh Dunces, Dunces!

In a rejection letter to John Kennedy Toole, an editor called A Confederacy of Dunces "obsessively foul and grotesque." Simon & Schuster editors considered the manuscript briefly, but ultimately decided it wasn't "really about anything." Toole killed himself. Then won a Pulitzer.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sarabandito, Old Chap

This is Sarabande Books' announcement of its Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, complete with famous judge, book contract, and prize money--none of which I won, obviously. What I'm wondering, though, is whether every rejection included the impersonal address of "writer" crossed out with name inked in and a cozy British-sounding notation at the bottom of the page. It says: "Thanks so much for sending. *Do* try us again next year?"

Anybody know?

Molly Friedrich, Tapped Out on Fiction

This agent is saying no to the query, not even the manuscripts, I think. She says: "While your books sound intriguing: both intelligent and well-written, I'm afraid I'm just not sufficiently interested to pursue them with you. I'm sorry that I'm forced to be so painfully discriminating, but I'm taking on close to nothing right these days. I only seem to bend when something truly inspries me, and honestly, I find that I may just be tapped out on most fiction." A+ for brutal honesty and not wasting money on postage.

Storey Says No to Stories

You know you're desperate when you start placing bets on small independent presses (Tin House Books) with hugely limited capacity. Like you're going to be the one. It takes a lot of ego strength.
This was a decent rejection, though.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Black Out

More grumbling from the anonymice on this blog. One anonymous writes: "I've read numerous comments on this blog. I've read lots of very good arguments for Writer, Rejected to black out the names of the editors, and not a single argument, good, bad, or indifferent, for leaving the names. So, WR, allow me to pose a question: why do you leave them unblacked?"

Did you ever go to one of those sites where anonymous students rate their teachers who are listed by name, subject, and school? Little squirts giving the teacher a grade and leaving a pithy evaluatory comment, so other students can use the information if they deem it valuable?

An example of a powerless underclass banding together, speaking up, and being heard? Or an exercise in futility? Who knows. But that's the idea, mice. Don't worry so much.

Remembrance of Rejections Past

Even Proust got rejected:
  • "I only troubled myself so far as to open one of the notebooks of your manuscripts; I opened it at random, and, as luck would have it, my attention soon plunged into the cup of camomile tea on page 62--then tripped, at page 64, on the phrase...'visible vertebra of a forehead.'"
  • "I may be dead from the neck up, but I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep."

Shh! Stories Sleeping

This editor found my story collection to be "a bit quiet." Probably the stories were just taking a little nap for a minute. You should see them when they are at a party. Very rowdy.

Not You!

River City sends you a list of winners, not you. The bottom says: "We thank everyone for participating, and wish you further luck." Further luck to lose more fiction contests?

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Someone sent this rejection in for me to post. Samantha Schnee, a Senior Editor at Zoetrope, says this to the writer: "Thank you for sending these wonderful stories my way. I found [titles] the most compelling. I found [character names'] descriptions of love (their own and the love they feel for their [blank]) particulalry evocative. However, I would have liked a more definitive exploration of what actually happened." Wouldn't we all?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Literary Fantasy #1

Me and Rosemary Ahern are sunning together on a remote beach, sipping Mojitos and watching the surf. We are reading out loud to one another from the complete works of Flannery O'Connor.
"Pass me the sunscreen," she says.
"Publish me," I answer.

Future Ass Bite?

One anonymous commenter has written: "I'm just saying, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Writer, Rejected to black out specifics on the rejection letters, specific names and agencies, keep it anonymous. Form rejection letters from lit mags are different, that's not as damaging, but calling people out by name on a blog? Yeah, I won't lie, that will come back to bite you in the ass. Trust me, I've worked at both lit agencies and publishing houses...writers have been rejected for far, far less." What about publishing's long history of wooing bad boys and slutty girls? Are editors and agents really as touchy (vindictive) as this insider implies? Or do you think if the project is good enough, the buyer won't care who the writer is? (Think: O.J. + Judith Regan=If I Did It, Here's How....)

You Can Call Me Al

Sister: The least you can do when rejecting me is get my name right. (Readers can't see because of the black marker, but she called me something that was nearly my name.) Though, really, why should I care. No is no--no matter the name.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Who is Winning this War?

Kurt Vonnegut (may he rest in peace) used to say that he always felt a sense of camaraderie when he met another novelist. He said that he felt all novelists had been through a similar war together. And so it goes.

FLA Hematoma

The paper for this standard rejection slip from The Florida Review is just big enough to cause a medium-sized bruise. They should go for a smaller piece of paper, I think. It saves trees and minimizes damage to the writer.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hello, Kitty!

How I wish Rosemary Ahern would post a GAK! acceptance on this blog. (Or perhaps a little hello.) Sometimes a writer just needs a teensy dose of editorial kindness.

Glimmer Train Wreck

This is a rejection that used to come as an auto-notify email from Glimmer Train. It says: "Although we won't be publishing this particular piece, we do thank you for sending [title of story]. It was a good read." It was just a form email, though. They didn't really mean that yours (or anybody's, or everybody's) was a good read. Now they have a whole new system that rejects via your account, which announces the status of your submission, without need of a letter. I prefer it that way, actually. Once I had kind of a run in with one of the Glimmer Sisters; I don't remember whether it was Linda or Susan, but she yelled at me for (allegedly) not following some vague directions I couldn't even find on the website, but then she instantly wrote back an apology note, saying she hadn't had her coffee and would I please excuse her, or something like that. It was weird. I can't find the email or I'd post it. Anyway, it made me shy away from ever submitting again, not that the Glim was ever going to publish little old me.

Lisa Bankoff Eyeballs

Lisa Bankoff's kiss off (above) is somehow so genuine and appealing that you kind of feel like she's your best friend who is really slammed at work and can't take time to chat, but really, really wishes she could. She manages to avoid the usual trap of sounding like she says the same old tired thing to everyone, even if she does, which takes talent. Her rejection says: "Many thanks for this, but I'm up to my eyeballs with unread manuscripts and can't offer to pursue [name of project]. I wish you well." Well done! I wish we were friends.

Have I Blacklisted Myself?

Here's an anonymous comment I received today: "As an editor in the industry, I feel compelled to comment. I hope you realize that, while you may not agree with some of the rejections you receive, and some of them probably are utter shit, that a lot of the time when someone is saying something vague or giving you extensive compliments and still rejecting, that it is because they are just not interested. Maybe they think, with a little attention from an editor, your work would sell -- but they might not be interested enough to be married to the project. They are also working with stacks upon stacks of submissions that continue to roll in, day after day. Enough so that they HAVE to have help from assistants and interns, who may not write the most descriptive decline but who are at least getting an answer to you. I certainly hope you haven't blacklisted yourself with this blog. It's a tricky industry and while you may see this as a place to air your frustrations about being rejected, it is also incredibly unprofessional to be posting the things you do. Especially since you do not black out the names of the people you are corresponding with." I thought we were just having some good clean fun. What do you think?

Excuses, Excuses

Rejecting parties who got it all wrong:
  • James Joyce, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man: "It is not possible to get hold of an intelligent audience in wartime." And: "...a good work but it won't pay."
  • John Knowles, A Separate Peace: "...embarrassingly overwrought...strikes me as much overdone, and even pretentious...I feel rather hopeless about this having a future."
  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick: "It is very long, rather old-fashioned, and in our opinion not deserving."
  • Pearl Buck, The Good Earth: "Regret the American public is not interested in anything on China."
  • Emily Dickinson, Untitled (Poetry Manuscript): "The rhymes are all wrong."

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Jane Dystel's Friend to the Rescue

Got the following comment yesterday. Looks like I touched a nerve:

"You're kidding me here...right? Seeeeriously, Jan, (you're Jan Brady, right?) if Jane Dystel turned you down, it was because she didn't think your "epic, moving, diatribe," was right for her. It's not personal - but you sure are petty. Get. Over. It. Move on! Stop sniffling over Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!I know Jane personally, she has impeccable taste and she's been in the biz looooooong before YOU came along. But you're right...."whine, whine, whine...wha..wha..wha..poor me got a rejection!" My god, GROW UP! If you got an agent and you got a book deal - then go write something productive, cuz this is just a waste of time for my eyes to read."

Dude, you read the post wrong; Jane Dystel never rejected me personally. Still, I take you at your word; I'm sure she is a lovely lady, as are most of the editors and agents who turn us down on a regular basis. This isn't a moral judgment; it's just a little steam we're letting off about a tanking system that has become absurd. Anyway, I absolutely adore your extended 70's-sitcom metaphor. It's pure genius! Do you write novels?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Junker Refuses to Oppose Ahern

Howard Junker sent me the following email message: "thank you but i decline to dethrone Queen Ahearne [sic], and if elected i will abdicate. or abscond, whichever comes first. in any case, i will kick the ass of anyone who thinks, falsely, that they once stole my potato chips. " (Apparently, the caps lock key on his computer is also broken.)

Thoughts on the matter: 1) Members of publishing royalty stick together. 2) These people live to reject me...for whatever, not even writing this time. 3) I think Junker surmised that he wasn't going to win (the popular vote was leaning in the other direction); so this was a good tactic to avoid rejection. Maybe we should all withdraw our projects and refuse to participate? 4) Still, Junker is a good sport.

Monday, July 2, 2007

No, Really. Don't Bother

No word from Google Abuse. What now?

I guess I'll wait until after the holiday to write again, or try another avenue. I really want to get the banner ad thing straightened out for reasons I have detailed elsewhere on this blog. What if I were really being abused, would Google simply decide not to write back? That seems like negoogligence.

It reminds me of the following agents, who just didn't bother ever to respond:
  • Elyse Cheney
  • Gail Hochman

Please feel free to add to the list if you've experienced agent negoogligence yourself.

Denise Shannon Uses the Royal "We"

Short but sweet--and no interest whatsoever. Not even an inkling. The letter says: "Thank you for your query. I'm sorry to say this is not a project of interest. We wish you the best of luck in finding an advocate for your work." At least "they" wish me luck.

Editor Posts Rejection Letter He Wrote on Blog

This guy posted a rejection letter he wrote to some poor writer on his own blog, which is called "A Place For Strangers and Beggars: Where story tellers and friends hang out." It's actually a defense of the form letter because it took the guy a whole 15 minutes to write an actual letter, which he thinks is a lot. He also notes that: "It's probable that sending feedback will just encourage the writer to send more stuff, or, worse, to send me notes asking for me to elaborate on a point or, even worse yet, to send me a note explaining in depth why I am full of it, but maybe, just maybe, it will help." Guess he really does consider some writers to be beggars.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Betsy Lerner Not-So-Smooth Hand-Off

Here's a funny exchange. It goes like this:
  • Betsy Lerner gets a copy of my query and accidentally sends a note to me that she meant to send to her colleague. "Erin: Do you have any interest in this writer? B"
  • I write her back and say: Oops..I think you meant to send this to Erin.
  • Betsy Lerner writes back to me and says: "Indeed! Oops. And I'm sorry. I'm very tired and your energy struck me as something that my colleague Erin might like--So with your permission and now knowledge--I'll forward it to her...Betsy"
Though "Do you have any interest" is hardly an endorsement, it could have been much worse. I guess it's kind of a passive rejection because I think BL didn't have any interest.  Oh well. 

Update:  I have recently had a much worse email accident, handled gracefully by the unintended recipient of my message, an editor of journal publishing an essay of mine.  We are all susceptible...I think BL handled it nicely.

...And Then Emma Sweeney Kept My Book

No sugar coating here. Emma Sweeney writes: "I had started your book and was having a problem with the narrative voice--it wasn't engaging because it was so intrusive." (Wowser; but what did you really think?) I had some big back and forth with this agent for a while, but the letters are really too annoying to post. Eventually, she insisted on having a copy of my published book of stories, which she later neglected to return, and then stopped writing me back when I bugged her about it, until finally someone in the agency sent me an email to say my book was lost forever. But don't worry about it, or anything. Despite the fact that the damn thing is out of print, I always reserve a few copies to throw away on agents who string me along heartlessly. Consider it a parting gift.

Google Self-Abuse?

Wrote to "Google abuse" today about the problem I am having. I hope they let me blog from jail. Probably, they do. If I end up there, please send cake.