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Friday, August 31, 2007

Colorado Rocky Mountain High

This is another reversal I sent to the Colorado Review. It says: "Please note that one of the stories I submitted for the Nelligan Prize was accepted for publication at another fine literary journal. I therefore must respectfully withdraw the story. Please note that my other submissions are still valid. I look forward to hearing the results in July." Needless to say, July brought more rejection.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Red States

These are two reversal rejection to Iowa Review and Idaho Review, which I sent to the editors when a story of mine got accepted for publication elsewhere. Note how gracious David Hamilton is; he writes: "Congratulations to you; that's very nice indeed. Thanks for letting us know."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You Can Ring My Bell

Another anonymous rejection send in:

"Thank you for thinking of me with your query. I'm sorry to say that, though I don't know why, this one just isn't ringing my bells. So I'm afraid I'm not the right agent for this novel. I wish you the very best of luck and success with it. "

Shall we play the agent guessing game again? Anyone know who might have written this one?

It Just Takes One (Update)

A blogger named Peterc nailed the "only one yes" rejection on the head. He left a comment that says: "Go to March 15 here: and find enlightenment."

Follow this link and you will find the following:

"Dear Author: Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Literary Agency your query. We’d like to apologize in advance for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter. Rest assured that we do read every query letter carefully and, unfortunately, this project is not right for us. Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" to find the right match. Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.

Sincerely, Kristin Nelson, Sara Megibow"

I feel a little bad because Kristin Nelson, author of the blog Pub Rants, seems very nice and quite interested in writing a good rejection. Maybe she should just strike the last two lines?

It Just Takes One

An anonymous reader sent in the following rejection from an anonymous agent: "We'd like to apologize for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter. Rest assured that we do read every query letter carefully and, unfortunately, this project is not right for us. Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" to find the right match." Can anyone enlighten us on who in the publishing world would say such a thing in such a way? (It's so much more fun when you know.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Big Ugly Rejection

Elizabeth at Big Ugly Review sent this rejection; it says: "We received more than 500 submissions to the 'Theme Name' issue, and our decisions were not easy to make. Ultimately, we decided to go with other stories for this issues." Other stories, as in not yours. Kind of nicely evasive, I think.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mystery Reversal Rejection

I don't know who Randall Fuller is, or what his fiction contest was, but apparently I withdrew my story because it got published somewhere else. It says: "I must request the withdrawal of one of my stories, "Title of Story," from your fiction contest, as it has been selected for publication elsewhere. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter." Ah, the pleasure.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Eating Crowe

Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger Agency sent this one: "I am sorry that I don't think I am the right agent for your work. Thanks so much for considering me, and I wish you all the best." Short but sweet, just like I like 'em. I also appreciate that she doesn't feel the need to sign off with any of the industry favorites, such as "Best," "Regards," or worse: "Cheers."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Quotation Progression

Here are some more esteemed thoughts to add to the recent debates underway on this blog:

"An editor should have a pimp for a brother, so he'd have somebody to look up to."
— Gene Fowler
"Editors are extremely fallible people, all of them."
— Maxwell E. Perkins
"Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers."
— T.S. Eliot
"Anybody can make an easy deal, but only a true agent can sell a dog."
— Irving Swifty Lazar
"The difference between journalism and literature is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read."
— Oscar Wilde
"Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing."
— Sylvia Plath

Thursday, August 23, 2007

LuLu TP Campaign

Here's another idea for what to do with your literary rejections in case you don't wish to send them to this blog for anonymous posting. Apparently the idea comes from Winston Churchill, who is said to have written in reply to an unpleasant letter: "Dear Sir, I am in the smallest room of the house. I have your letter before me. Soon it will be behind me." You've got to hand it to the LuLu-ites; they are clever if nothing else.

Sad News

Grace Paley died. I saw her recently when she was very sick. May she rest in storyteller's peace, where I hope they allow gum-chewing. She was a gracious person, a decent human being, a fierce activist, and a helpful teacher and friend to emerging writers. She will be missed.

As Good As it Gets?

An anonymous blogger left the following comment on a recent post. You can see the comments section for my reply, but I wonder what you all think of this angry little rant:

"The publishing world is as good as it can be. There are already more books published each year than the market can really support, with publishing houses taking chances on new authors who will probably lose the company a lot of money and never earn back their modest advance. There are already more people employed whose sole purpose is to read manuscripts all day than the market can support. Ever wonder why most lit jobs pay so shitty? Because they hire 2 people to do the job of 1 person, and it's STILL a hard industry to break into because there are 6 people vying for those 2 jobs that could be done by 1 person. So I'd really like to know what you think needs to be done to make it better, besides publishing you specifically. Because, believe me, the cream always rises to the top - if someone goes so long with nothing but rejection, there's always a good reason, a fundamental flaw in their writing. You need tp step back and see what the common thread in all your rejections is - I'd be happy to point it out for you if you can't figure it out yourself, because it's fairly obvious from what you've posted to your blog thus far. But really, you're such a ball of negative energy, nothing short of getting published will appease you. Over on her blog, The Rejecter hit it on the head when she said that no rejection letter will ever be met with anything that isn't whining, no matter how nicely phrased it is. People like you make it such a no-win situation, no wonder most eds are switching to form letters - why bother trying to write a nice, constructive rejection letter when it will be met with the same sour bitterness that a "Fuck you, no way!" would have been. Might as well save your time and energy. "

Never Say Never

This rejection was sent in by reader who explains that supposedly never rejects anything. It says: "Thank you for your submission to the International Open Amateur Poetry Competition. Unfortunately, after careful review of your contest entry, I am sorry to inform you that your poem "_" was not chosen for publication and is no longer eligible for contest prizes. We understand that poetry is a form of artistic expression and that it is not always understood by those who read it."

Apparently the submission's title was so overtly sexual that wouldn't even print it in the rejection letter, hence the empty quotation marks. The rejected poet explains: "I submitted to them because I was entering the Wergle Flomp Free Poetry Contest which 'seeks the best humor poem that has been sent to a vanity poetry contest as a joke.'" Oddly, the rejected poet notes having received the same rejection via email several times, and says this about it: "Hey, you can't have a bad dirty joke poem rejected too often."

The King Sayeth No

A reader sent this rejection in from an online journal called The King's English with the following comment: "They said they wanted poetry, I sent poetry, and they replied with that old chesnut, 'doesn't meet our needs.' Of course, nowhere in the guidelines does it say what they need. I'd almost rather they said that they didn't like it, and maybe even give a reason."

I'd rather they'd actually used some approximation of King James's English in the rejection, wouldn't you? Something like: "Deareth Writerest: The King dost thank thou for submitting to the journal of his Royal Language. We regreteth, nonetheless, to informest thou that thy work doth sucketh. However, best of lucketh to thou elseth-wherest."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Multiple Choice Question

Writer is to Agent/Editor as blank is to blank yielded the following replies:

1) Writer is to agent/editor as horny nerd is to aloof homecoming queen
2) Writer is to agent/editor as pauper is to prince
3) Writer is to agent/editor as fly is to horse
4) Writer is to agent/editor as mosquito is to human
5) Writer is to agent/editor as monkey is to dignitary
6) Writer is to agent/editor as bird flu is to chicken
7) Writer is to agent/editor as flea is to cat
8) Writer is to agent/editor as ebola is to the population
9) Writer is to agent/editor as student is to mentor
10) Writer is to agent/editor as student is to Harvard recruiter
11) Writer is to agent/editor as partygoer is to bouncer
12) Writer is to agent/editor as ho is to pimp

Which is most apt, and why?

Not Cool Enough

No matter that I have actually been published on the site, I will never be as cool as McSweeney's. No one can be. It's like high school. They are popular; we are nerds. Sometimes they say "hi" in the hall, but mostly not. It's okay, though; I actually don't mind admiring them from afar.

Here's a sample McSweeney's email rejection, which I rather appreciate:

McSweeney's thanks you for your recent submission. We rely on submissions like yours, and a good portion of what we publish comes unsolicited, through the mail.

Unfortunately, we can't find a place for this piece in our next few issues. Nevertheless, please feel free to submit more work in the future. Our themes and tastes change.

Thanks again for your efforts and for letting us see your work.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Personal Best Rejection

A reader sent me this link to a blogger who posts a particularly arrogant rejection from a particularly harsh agent on her blog:

Check it out.

Monday, August 20, 2007

As Blank is to Blank

An anonymous editor posted the following statement on this blog a few days ago:

"Publishing a book or taking on a new client is like entering into a romantic relationship, you have to be really sure of your feelings and feel them deeply before you make that leap. When you meet different people, some you connect with and some you don't, for whatever reason, nothing that anyone can really understand or put into words...."

A blogger took issue with the sentiment, as follows:

"So do I understand you correctly, that editors and agents are like the supermodels of the publishing world, so selective in choosing their mates, as it were, do they have to be? When we submit to a publication, we're doing the writing equivalent of asking (the newly single) Padma Lakshmi out on a date? And does that make the successful asker-outer the Salman Rushdie of the lit world? Oh, wait. Oh, shit. It's like some kind of recursive literary nightmare."

Any thoughts on the matter? Is writer really to agent/editor, as lover is to lover? Or is there a bigger power dynamic about which agent/editor could take more care, so that the equation does not devolve to writer is to agent/editor as lover is to abusive lover? Or perhaps what we are dealing with here is: Writer is to agent/editor as ugly suitor is to comely love object?

How would you fill in the blanks:

Writer is to agent/editor, as __________ is to _____________.

The Whalen Wall

Here's a rejection from the agent Kimberly Whalen (who had me sign a Trident release before she'd read my novel--probably agency policy), sent from her assistant's email address. She writes: "Unfortunately, [title of novel], while quite interesting, is just not quite right for my list." I actually think it's a decent statement: simple without any flowery metaphors. Quite.

Anyway, note the p.s. about my absent SASE. I must have gotten tired and lazy and disorganized, or maybe I just lost the will to live.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More Publishing Crimes

What rejecting editors told the great ones:*

John Dos Passos: "I am rather offended."
Gustave Flaubert: "Utterly superfluous."
F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Does not culminate in anything."
Radclyffe Hall: "Will be regarded as propaganda."
Thomas Hardy: "Too abominable to be tolerated."
James Joyce: "Rather discursive and the point of view is not an attractive one."
Sherwood Anderson: "Far too gloomy."
Mary Higgins Clark: "We found the heroine as boring as her husband had."
Ayn Rand: "Unsaleable and unpublishable."

*From Rotten Rejections, edited by Andre Bernard (Pushcart Press, 1990)

Not for Laurie Liss

Something about the syntax of this rejection made me feel as if I'd sent in porn instead of literature. The assistant to Laurie Liss writes: "After carefully considering your sample materials, Laurie has decided that while you write skillfully, this material is just not for her." Maybe it's simply third-person assistant speak, which is at least more honest than an assistant pretending to be an agent, rejecting you.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Literary Fantasy #5

Me and Rosemary Ahern are 13,000 feet in the air, skydiving over Andalusia near Midgeville, GA, the home of Flannery O'Connor. As we clasp hands in a free fall, I remember what it is I've been meaning to say. "O. Henry, Joyce Carol Oates and Flannery O'Connor walk into a bar," I shout. She shakes her head. "I can't hear you, Doodles; the wind!" She releases her rip cord and a tremendous gust carries her up toward the sun.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Extremely Careful and Incredibly Rejected

Here's a rejection by Michelle Tessler, which came before Carlisle & Company exploded and broke into a million tiny agencies. She writes: "I am extremely careful about taking on new fiction, as it is quite difficult to place in the current marketplace."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rosemary Ahern No More?

A comment posted on yesterday's blog entry made me laugh out loud. It says:

"Dude, your Rosemary Ahern thing is getting kind of creepy. You're like an abused dog who will latch on to anyone who shows them a drop of kindness. Unfortunately, I can tell you you're reading WAY too much into Ahern's rejection, because in this business, even the nicest rejection is still likely to be a partial form rejection. My collection of short stories was turned down by her, and she compared my writing to Joyce Carol Oates. Two of my friends were also rejected by her, and I showed your letter to them. Their rejections were near-identical to both yours and mine. One friend got compared to O. Henry, and the other was compared to... surprise! ... Flannery O'Connor. So please, please, quit it with the creepy and unsettling Rosemary fixation, or she might slap a restraining order on your sad ass."

Thank God for other mean writers. Otherwise, we'd continue to live out our delusional dreams and feel special in our own little self-addressed stamped envelopes. (Though, here's a question, does no one get a good blog metaphor around here?) Anyway, Dude, I will pay you $50 if you send me all three of these rejection letters for some interesting anonymous posting. What do you say?

UPDATE ON THIS POST: It appears that I have been duped, and that the comment above left by so-called "Joyce Carol Oates" is a joke (or a lie). A funny one, but apparently untrue.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Flannery Tomfoolery

It's probably a bad omen that my manuscript was among those lost in transit to the judge of the Flannery O'Connor Fiction Short Fiction competition and had to be replaced. I felt bad for the person who sent this email and had to deal with the administrative nightmare that probably ensued. An oath: if I do win the Flannery O'Connor prize (which I won't), I am going to call up Rosemary Ahern and read her my novel over the phone page by page until she agrees to publish me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Genre Rejection

Shortly after submitting my short story collection for the University of Michigan Press' Michigan Literary Fiction Awards, my manuscript was returned with this note . It says: "Please find enclosed your submission for this year's University of Michigan Press' Michigan Literary Fiction Awards. Please note that this year we are no longer accepting for the category of short story collection, and are only accepting submissions for the novel category." Even small presses are turning their back on the humble short story. I find that depressing, but it was nice of them to return the crisp, unread manuscript.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Muddy Waters

This formidable Curtis Brown agent, Mitchell S. Waters, had a lot to say about the books I should be writing when we spoke on the phone after the above email exchange. He wanted to represent my novel, but only after I'd turned it into something else.

Talk about misguided rewrites! Being desperate for representation, I undertook a fairly complex revision, got the new "improved" book to him, and then never heard another word. Only later did I realize that the rewrite sent me down a really wrong path. It took me about a year to get untangled and back to the story I wanted to tell.

Note: this was not the agent's fault, but my own.

Writers beware of being too eager to please. Be true only to the story; in the end, I've found, nothing else (and no one else) matters.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bad Books

James Joyce's Dubliners was rejected by 22 editors.

Dr. Seuss's first story was rejected by 27 editors (and called silly nonsense to boot).

Navokov's Lolita was rejected by more than 40 editors.

Famously, John Gardner wrote: "One should fight like the devil the temptation to think well of editors....By the nature of their profession they read too much, with the result they grow jaded and cannot recognize talent though it dances in front of their eyes."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Anon Agent's Sample Rejection

An anonymous agent (commenting here under the name Good Copy) sent this as an example of a very kind rejection letter. It says: "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read [title of novel], and I am sorry not to be offering to represent it. Your writing is fluid, funny and energetic and I enjoyed many aspects of the novel. However, I feel that there are too many threads in the book that do not contribute to the overall narrative, making the book seem slightly unfocused. When you write about the relationship between the narrator and his dying mother, the writing seems more focused and poignant, and I found myself wanting more details of that relationship, or family history. I was completely absorbed by the intensity of these passages—much more than the passages devoted to _______and _________. Also, I was a little distracted by the ghosts that appear throughout the book, despite the fact that they provide colorful dialogue and comic relief.

I am sorry not to be more helpful, and wish you the best of luck elsewhere."

What do you think, bloggers? Is this a rejection you'd like to get in the mail?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Not You, Not You & Not You (3)

Perhaps I am the biggest sucker of all for entering so many fiction and creative nonfiction contests, where they send back an announcement of the winners (never you) in your own self-addressed stamped envelope. However, let it be known that I do write off the expense on my taxes every year, to the tune of all those $20 contests fees, doubling as payment for a subscription. I write them off against all the money I've earned from my creative writing in a given year, which usually adds up to about a buck three-eighty, except for years when I win grants or awards (upwards of $25K once).

I don't know; sometimes I find these little contests quaint and comforting. They remind me that I'm still alive as a writer.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Grinberg and Bear It

Here is an example of gracious rejecting in action. The agent Jill Grinberg rejected my short story collection and novel with using a kind, yet fairly standard love metaphor: "I've now finally had a chance to finish reading your work. While I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity to consider your manuscripts--it was a pleasure to read them--I'm afraid in my heart of hearts I just didn't fall enough in love with the material to feel comfortable offering representation." Note that she didn't feel compelled to tell me all that was wrong with my work or offer perfunctory criticism to get me off her back. Just a gentle no was all that was necessary.

Somehow I hadn't managed to include an SASE, but did Jill Grinberg yell at me, or fob me meanly off to her assistant so as to imply that I was taking up too much time? Did anyone treat me as if I were a big needy freak and get all weird when I wanted to stop by and pick up my manuscripts? No. Jill Grinberg was very, very nice. She wrote: "I know you mentioned wanting to pick up the manuscripts in your email. I will give them to my assistant Kirsten Wolf to hold for you." When I was trying to figure out logistics because I was out of town at a writer's colony (i.e., should I have a friend pick up the manuscripts? Should I send postage to have them sent back?), the comforting assistant wrote: "Whichever [way] is easier for you--I'm more than happy to put them in the mail if you would like to provide postage. Let me know--I have the manuscripts here waiting for your decision either way." They are living proof that agents can and do act like decent human beings from time to time, offering up a little dignity to the already humiliated party. A class act, I'd say.

I ended up sending a check, and my manuscripts were sent safely back.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Unethical Me?

A person gets desperate, right? Once -- even after I'd been informed that Linda Ascher had left The New Yorker -- I submitted a new story to her in a letter that implied she was slightly more enthusiastic about more work than she really was. I figured she owed me that much for her rude rejection, and I thought it might help me get a foot in the door with whoever the new editor was. But in the end it was the same old kick in the teeth: "Dear Writer, Rejected: Unfortunately Ms. Ascher is no longer with The New Yorker. Thank you for continuing to consider us."

Better Ads

While the fine folks at Google Abuse never responded to my plea for help over inappropriate advertising, the banner ads at the foot of this blog appear to be different now, somehow more apt. I'm not sure if that is intentional or not. But I feel better.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Rejection Reversal

Very rarely does one get the pleasure of the reverse rejection.

This amazing moment occurs when your story is accepted somewhere, and you get to write and announce this fact to all the other literary journals where your same story is simultaneously under consideration, so that essentially you are rejecting them. I sent this reverse rejection to the editors of The Boston Review. It says: "Please note that a story [title of story] I submitted for your consideration was named as a runner-up in the [title of fancy literary journal] fiction contest and will be published in those prestigious pages later this year. I'm not sure who exactly needs to act on this information to make sure my story does not needlessly take up your time and energy. Perhaps Junot Diaz (of whom I am a big fan. I'm actually kind of sorry that he won't be reading my work.) Either way, please note that I must respectfully withdraw my submission. Thanks so much and congratulations on your first-rate publication. I'll submit more stories at later dates. Best, Writer, Rejected P.S. Would one of you be so kind as to write me back and let me know this information was passed along to the appropriate party?"

Brad Plumer, Editorial Assistant at the Boston Review, wrote back: "It's all taken care of. Thanks for letting us know, and congratulations! (And by all means, feel free to keep submitting.)" It's a little bit too bad because I think I would have liked being rejected by Junot Diaz.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Not You, Not You & Not You (2)

Same old story with the fiction contests. They send you an announcement of the winners (not you) in an envelope you addressed and stamped yourself several months earlier. These are rejections with a slightly more impressive letterhead than the last bunch I posted.

Friday, August 3, 2007

One Story, Same Story

The whole magazine is just one story. The rejection says: "With so many strong submissions it was difficult to choose the finalists and even more difficult to select a winner." It's like the magnification of rejection. Why even bother?

Jane Friedman's Brand of Optimism

In a Forbes Magazine interview piece entitled "A New Leaf for Publishing," the CEO of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, claims that publishing is healthy and strong. Come again, fancy lady?

She says: "I think the book business is the healthiest I have seen it in a very long time. We are seeing a breadth of titles selling in many different channels of distribution. We are no longer publishing for the independents only, the chains only, the big box merchandisers only, the online sellers only. We are selling across the board. The health is the breadth, diversity and range. That's good for business, and more importantly, it's good for society. "

She says: "...I try to recognize the importance of every single book. The author is most important; and before the author comes the editor. So we do everything we can on the editorial side and that brings us the right authors. "

Then she clarifies: "For example, we printed 400,000 copies of The Making of the Titanic. The movie was coming out at that time. HarperCollins was very busy supply chaining everything--strangling everything--because it had been bleeding money. There was a highly committed woman in charge of supply chain. She came to me and said "we have some very good vibes about the movie" and added, "We are going to print 40,000 copies." And I said, "No, we are going to print 400,000," and she turned absolutely pale, did not know where to run and report on me. And we subsequently sold a million copies of a $20 book."

(Oh. The Making of the Titanic is what she means by books. That is very important for society.)

Sadly, Jane Friedman has never rejected me.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Golden Appel?

Who is this Jacob Appel? Why does he win everything?

A reader pointed out he has been named in many of these contests, and I found him again this morning on the announcement for the 2007 New Millenium Writings Contest, which I did not win.

Perhaps Jacob Appel will write in and tell us his secret for so much success.

(Speaking of ubiquitous, does anyone else get these incessant emails from Don Williams, who administers the New millenium Writings Contests, which seem to run ALL YEAR LONG.)

Wooden Nicholl

This one came in yesterday's mail. The Nicholl Fellowships are very, very competitive and prestigious. See the little gold statue on the letterhead? That's how prestigious. Unfortunately, I didn't even come close this time to making it as one of the 254 quarterfinalists out of 5,050 entries.

On a related note, however, something good is underway with my film script, but I can't say what just yet. Keep your fingers crossed for me, though. Maybe I can turn all this bad luck around.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Unsolicited Rejection

I didn't even submit a story for this contest, and they still sent me a rejection. Maybe I'm just on some random list somewhere called the Regularly Rejected. Maybe they figured I'd just plain appreciate being included.

KEEP WRITING, yourself.