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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.


x said...

That is quite an impressive line-up of rejectors. Sort of like listing all the movie-stars you asked out on a date and rejected you. Gives you some cache of glamour. Gee, makes me jealous. Can I reject you, too, so I can be on that list of fame and fortune? This whole blog makes me regret I dumped all my rejection letters, minus the couple that were personal and encouraging (very rare).

Anonymous said...

Since you asked.

I'm a writer who has judged a lot of fellowships, grant offerings, book contests, etc. Maybe I'm even one of the writers on your list. If I am, there's a good chance, depending on what you were rejected from, that I never read your work. In book contests the final judge sees a fraction of the applicants. The screeners could be other published writers, or they could be people who work for the award-giving entity, or they could be graduate students. A judge who receives a final set of books he or she doesn't really like might be tempted to dive back into the rejected books, and indeed sometimes they do. They might also despair at the idea of digging through in hopes of finding something great. Screeners are essential. No one person can judge these contests without it being a year-long full-time job.

I've also judged on a lot of panels for fellowships, which involves either coming to a consensus over who to give grants to or horse-trading: I hate your candidate and you hate mine, so let's give them both awards instead of choosing two other less interesting candidates we can agree on. Over the years there have been writers I've been passionate about and if the panel is too large and I'm the only one I and the applicant are out of luck. Often these writers have become successful. The people who have rejected them have never regretted the rejection, because they're so sure about their own taste. Same for me. There have been people whose work I just didn't like and future success didn't change my mind.

My major regret in this area is that I once gave a serious speech in a meeting about a writer whose work I really didn't like, in favor of a writer I did like. She had been doing very well in the process and after my speech I dropped out. Later I promised myself I would never argue so strongly against people, only for.

I should add that I always recuse myself if an applicant is someone I know well, or if I think my ability to judge a manuscript on anything but its literary merit is compromised.

And there's always a chance that I did read your work and didn't like it. Happens. Good work will get you so far but in the end literary taste is just taste, and therefore immeasurable.

Anonymous said...

I wish my last name was Pancake.