Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fiction in a Bottle on a Napkin from a Letter?

Commercial Magazines are in trouble this week with kiddie porn in Vanity Fair (though I happen to think the shot by Leibovitz was rather artful, but clearly against the kid's branding).  

With writers commenting here, the trouble is with Esquire:  in particular Esquire's Napkin Project and Letter-Inspired Fiction.  

My take is that the world is pushing hard to make fiction something gimmicky so that the reality-TV-watching, data-bombarded, Internet-using, non-book-reading public will find it cute.  I don't like cute fiction, but that's just me.  And since when have we aimed for Regular Joe Nonreader as the audience?  I think it's a mistake. You?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Your "No Sim-Sub" Policy is Stupid

Lest we go too far afield with our recent debates about editors, agents and editors, an anonymous reader sent us this tidbit for consideration:

"I once received a rejection from a small literary journal TWO YEARS after submission. The rejection, which is now long gone, was 80% apology and 20% rejection with an invitation to resubmit using simultaneous submissions, which was strictly against the lit mag's policy.  What the editors didn't know is that I always send my poems out to at least 6 magazines at a time, regardless of policies against multiple submissions. In my view, the world moves too fast for me to sit around waiting forever while minds are made up...or more accurately not made up."

It begs the question: Do you send your stuff out simultaneously even when not permitted to do so? Should magazines do away with exclusive read policies?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dear Commercial Magazine Editor

Oh boy. We've got ourselves another writer's manifesto in the making. This is a response to the heated debate going on here at LROD. I added internal links to this anonymous commenter's response, so that readers could follow along with the issues. Have at it, friends:

"To Dave Clapper: I'm an anon who has nothing against you, sir, and I have no problem with you or any other editor publishing your "friends" or even soliciting. In fact, I think that's a GOOD thing. It certainly is natural, normal, pure human nature -- and, in fact, to DENY it is wrong, I believe.

Naturally, as a writer, I also want to be "friends" with good editors. And I believe that if I write well enough, and send the right editors the right kind of things, that I will of COURSE become their "friend."

However, I do have a problem with this. A big one. And that is that the editors of commercial magazines, web sites, and all other publications do not WANT good literature. None of them publish it. And of course there is the fact that the commercial short story market is almost completely extinct. But Dave, honestly, I have no beef with you and I do wish you the best -- but I do not read Smokelong nor do I submit to it, simply because I don't believe in these journals where the authors are unpaid. I'm not an academic, not an MFA rich kid so I don't have the luxury to submit to such journals. I am a working writer. I have belonged to the National Writers Union (which recommended its members to NEVER write for a magazine that pays less than a dollar word).

There was a time when fiction was relevant. And when there were good editors. And when you could make a living as a writer, and didn't have to become a professor instead. I want that world to come back, that world where fiction is popular, is read by many people, is commercially available -- and is something that good writers can make a living off of.

So my beef is not with you, sir -- your journal, although I don't read it, I do wish it the best -- but my beef is with the editors and publishers of the commercial magazines. The ones I've learned about on LROD, the ones whose work records have been detailed time and time again on this blog. The ones that killed the short story, and subsequently killed literature.

You know the ones. Someone posted on here before, suggesting a boycott of all Hearst and Conde Nast publications. Yes! That's it, those are the ones. From Redbook to Men's Journal, Details to GQ, Vanity Fair to the Saturday Evening Post, these commercial magazines are terrible, filth-ridden rags. Very base, very stupid, and poorly written, too. But I took up an LROD suggestion, and sought out an antique issue of one of my target magazines. (Actually I found a bundle of them at a book sale.) And I began to read. And first thing I thought of was how REFRESHING it was to read articles that didn't have that smarmy tone that every magazine seems to have now. And articles that were SINCERE about living, even the simple things. And I also thought that most college kids today couldn't even PARSE a 1960's copy of Saturday Review or an old Esquire or Cosmopolitan. That's so absolutely pathetic.

I write for a living. And I can write an article for a magazine like Vogue about something with a third-grade mentality (but graphically sexual), and be paid two dollars a word for my "efforts." But when I do that, I feel like I'm a drug dealer on a playground or something -- it's disgusting. And I am paid obscenely well for stupid, stupid non-fiction "profile" pieces, "trend" pieces, and all manner of fluff. Again, up to two dollars a word for this stuff.

But these editors have zero interest at all in fiction. Most of them no longer print any fiction at all. If you read a GQ of today, you'll never ever realize that even in the early 90's, they used to print serious articles and serious fiction, 7,000 word short stories. The few that do print fiction, like Esquire, print only the basest, dumbest crap you've ever seen put into words. Some of it was featured here on LROD. Look in the archives and follow the links. Please, READ this stuff. Read that "story" about Heath Ledger. The sad thing is, we'll have more and more of that kind of crap from these magazines.

So I'm angry about this, and I want to do something about it. I voice my disgust with it. I say, "Voice it loud. Let the world hear it. (Especially their advertisers.)" Get them where it hurts, let everybody know that we don't think they are cool, we don't think they are smart, and we don't want to be seen TOUCHING their filthy magazines. Yes, I call these editors to task. I think it's time to name names, to call these people up, invite them to discuss -- let them defend their positions. Let's hear it from them. Why do they shovel out this crap to the world, when so many people are obviously hungering for something more?"

Friday, April 25, 2008

No Agent? No Sweat...New Trend?

Our new friend, Dave Clapper, editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, offers us this article about Steve Almond's experience going agentless, which another commenter has disputed, saying Almond has had an agent for years, but I think he says as much in the article. But anyway, perhaps a new trend is born! Shall we all go boldly forth into the world of books without an agent? (Frankly, I've been doing it on and off for years, but, you know, this time it would be planned because I'm a winner, not a loser.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Slim News Day?

Mediabistro's Galley Cat has been stumping former hot-chick book publicist Sloane Crosley's book of essays  I Was Told There'd Be Cake so much that someone sent in this anonymous complaint: "Enough with the Cake Already,"  which made me laugh. And just to give you an idea about how Sloane crazy they are over there, here are the frenzied posts from the cake-smitten pussies.
Yuck. On so many levels, here.  Just yuck.

The Agent Question

A great question came in from the anonymice peanut gallery. This one will probably rile up the agents, but what the heck. We already stirred up some editors. Let's see what you all think.

"I'm feeling quite anxious and I have a request for you, WR.

Been a while since anyone has had any good agent gossip but some time back there was a discussion about how no agents today were like Binky Urban or The Jackal Andrew Wylie or even tried to be like them. Cynic that I am, I (alas) have to agree with that sentiment. I feel that "serious" writers are basically SOL right now.

And when I see stuff like the newest agent at
Lippincott, Massie, McQuilkin who is responsible for "The Handjob Handbook: A Work of Non-Friction " (sorry) or the agent at Levine Greenberg who herself is writing some kind of "diarrhea cookbook" (sorry) or the young agent whose "cutting-edge" interests includes a new dictionary for descriptions of the sex act (sorry), well I get more than anxious.

So if you're soliciting another Ask LROD, I would like to know: who are the best serious literary agents out there now (under 65, please, but preferably under 50)? Any up-and-comers worthy of note, agents who wouldn't be caught dead peddling the above tomes? Or are all agents (especially the young ones) basically incompetent, rude idiots now, too?"

Simultaneous, Yet Conflicting

From an anonymous reader:

"Best synchronised rejects I had, in a single day, from 2 sim subs. sometime in 2004:

1) You can write, but can't tell a story.

2) You can tell a mean story, but can't write.

helpful huh?"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cop Show or Short Story?

An anonymous reader sent this rejection story in.  It's a good one:

"This happened around 1995 when I just starting to dabble in short stories. I finished a little short story (probably 3-4 pages) about a cop discovering either a murder scene or a scene of domestic abuse (Hell, I don’t remember). If I recall, it was sort of poignant but probably not particularly well written. I wound up submitting it to Caffeine Magazine which I was aware of because it was handed out for free at various coffee houses in LA. The story seems to have made it past the initial reader because when I got the rejection letter back, it actually had (brief) written comments from three judges. One of those judges gave me the funnest rejection I ever received. He wrote (paraphrasing here as I got rid of the original letter 13 years ago): 'Next week’s episode of TJ Hooker?'

But wait there's more, a side note and some sleuthing:

"The story was later accepted by an Australian Goth Zine called Dark Angel Magazine and actually was a seminal (am I using that word correctly?) moment in my slow-as-a-glacier development as a write.

On and off again for the last decade, I’ve snooped around the internet trying to determine the fate of the editor of Dark Angel magazine. The problem is that I never knew her real name (She went by the moniker “Azriel”) I know that she left the magazine and went to the US to manage a band, but she has left little in the way of traces of her existence.

Caffeine still exists (in virtual form) and you can find a nice description of the original, paper version of the magazine on Rob Cohen’s Linked-In page: (I don’t know Rob in any way, shape or form)."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fire Storm At "Get Real"

Looks like my post about getting some friends in high places has caused a bit of a sh*t storm in the comments section at Kelly Spitzer's blog.  She and her participants don't exactly appreciate my reaction, which seems like a pretty natural one for a writer, rejected like me.  I always enjoy Kelly Spitzer's blog, and link to her interesting discussions often, calling her the Spitzmeister, and sending all of you over there for an insider's view.  I guess I'm just never going to be popular among the editor set, whether big guns or small potatoes.

Anyhoo...they are mad as hornets over there at me (one commenter called me a "dork," and another called me an "asshat," and there's some question about my balls, which is kind of fun.) 

So, Kelly, who is pissed, and never mentions all the good press I give her, has asked the following question:  

"I guess my problem with Writer, Rejected and [another blogger] Vanessa’s comments are lack of evidence. Can either of you back up your argument? Do you have personal experience? An editor who rejected you because they solicited a piece instead, maybe? I’d like to know! I’d be stunned and find that despicable, but at least I’d understand where you’re coming from."

Hello? Has Kelly read LROD and my 9 million rejections? I would bet (but can't prove) that a few editors have solicited a writer from another lit mag, or from a friendly workshop, or from their friends on Face Book, after passing my work up.  But what does that prove?  They will just say what they always say, which is that I'm clearly not worthy of being published.  

Anyone want to answer her question about why editor solicitation is so irritating a practice to the serious writer who banks on good writing to open doors?

Feeling Anxious?

Anxiety is the essential condition of intellectual and artistic creation 
and everything that is finest in human history.  

--Charles Frankel

Monday, April 21, 2008

Brilliant Colson Whitehead

A funny article about faux-memoirist Margaret B. Jones (aka Seltzer) in New York Magazine's Book/Author Profile section called "Flava of the Month" by Colson Whitehead.
The article totally trumps the faux-journalistic-fiction piece at Esquire about dead Heath Ledger because, well, it's funny, and doesn't wreck the joke with  an apology or excuse for itself.  Totally worth the read.  Go here to check it out.

All The World's A Staged Rejection

Hey, look!  The playwrights have found us....those poor, poor rejected souls!  (I think writing for the stage is even more of a losing proposition than writing books.  "The theater is dead!" they all.  Maybe so.)  This anonymous playwright seems close to success: the Eugene O'Neill Conference is a huge deal.  I think the rejection is pretty nicely worded.  

The anonymous playwright notes that there had formerly been some trouble with the $35.00 submission/reading fee, which is considered high among playwrights, but wasn't bringing in enough dough to keep the Conference solvent.  

For a while, the O'Neill Conference organizers proposed eliminating the open admissions policy, allowing only playwrights with an agent to submit, because they wanted to cut down on number of submissions needing to be read to reduce costs.  To raise funds, the O'Neill also dreamed up a little idea to demand a percentage of profits from any play accepted into the conference IN PERPETUITY to ensure an ongoing endowment.  Whew!  That seems steep and a little unfair.
Fortunately, a group of established playwrights thought this was outrageous, and so they circulated a protest letter asking everyone to boycott the O'Neill until the Conference organizers did away with the new proposed policy.  These famous folks (Christopher Durang, Marsha Norman) thought that closing the open admission policy would hinder the success of lesser known talents.  Ultimately, the boycott worked, and the O'Neill rescinded the exclusionary policy.  As noted in this rejection, the O'Neill is starting a fund named after Wendy Wasserstein to keep the project funded without taking money away from struggling playwrights.

It makes it all sound like a supportive cozy club with the famous playwrights helping their own lesser-known comrades.  Sounds nice.  

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Express Lane: 12 Rejections or Less

I wanted to see just how fast they are over at Subtropics. So, I mailed a hardcopy of my story off via the snail, and this came in my e-mailbox exactly 7 days later! I particularly appreciated the closing ad for the new issue for the Subtropics double issue, featuring none other than  stolen baboon, who has gotten in front and center, (not you):

From: Subtropics Magazine
Date: April 18, 2008 2:33:55 PM EDT
Subject: "[title of story]"

Thanks very much for sending us your work. We have now had a chance to read it, and feel that it isn't right for SUBTROPICS. But we appreciate your thinking of us.

Please note that we have updated our website and submissions guidelines.

The Editors

SUBTROPICS 6 will be published in May 2008, a double issue with two covers! Featuring stories by
Jacob M. Appel, John Brandon, Nadia Kalman, and Celeste Ng; an essay by Timothy Cook; a novella by Peter Wells; and 41 poets, including Peter Cooley, Averill Curdy, Richard Kenney, John Kinsella, Kathleen Rooney, Reginald Shepherd, A. E. Stallings, G. C. Waldrep, and Suzanne Zweizig. In translation: poems by Silvio D'Arzo, Tomaz Salamun, and Hai Zi and a story by Ricardo Silva Romero.

Now that is damn fast, oddly fast, in fact. (I think I might send a whole bunch more, just to see if they can keep it up, kind of an experiment in express rejecting.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

So Dark The Night by Cliff Burns

In response to fiery Cliff J. Burns, the Canadian author who couldn't get his latest novel published, and so released it as a free e-book on his website, GalleyCat (those pussies) had this to say, and more"As we've discussed on Galleycat time and time again, agents have what they're looking for and editors have what they're looking for and it's not always what the public wants to read or the author wants to sell. All authors have met with this frustration, but not many have lashed out as fiercely as Burns."

Mr. Burns does sound bitter (in a good way) and a wee bit angry at women when he uses the c-word (never advisable) to describe editors.  Burns also says, "So when you hear me say what dumb motherfuckers editors are, know this isn't merely a bitter, frustrated writer lashing out; my views are based on nearly a quarter century of dealing with airheads, folks in position of power and influence who possess the I.Q.'s of lower order marsupials." 

But since when does G-Cat care about feminism?  I'm pretty sure they just wanted to slap the dude down with this little rant:  "And while your headline ACCORDING TO CANADIAN STANDARDS, I'M A BEST-SELLING AUTHOR!!! Smacks of self importance, the fact that your "site has received over 2500 hits and [your] occult thriller has been downloaded hundreds of times," it is not enough to make you a bestseller. First of all, your book is free so no sales can be reported to the Toronto Star. Second, free downloads don't equal cash sales in the real world, so had it been published there's the possibility that only 25 copies would have been sold in the past month."

My, my, my.  Looks to like someone wants to start a cat fight.

Narrative Gives Free Pass (Wants to Pick Your Brain)

Date: April 17, 2008 1:47:37 PM EDT
To: Writer, Rejected
Subject: Free Pass to Narrative Backstage


Please help Narrative shape its offerings to your interests by taking a moment to answer a few survey questions. In return, we want to give you a six-month free pass to Narrative Backstage, where you’ll go behind the scenes of great writing with Rick Bass, Ann Beattie, Charles D’Ambrosio, Jayne Anne Phillips, Robert Stone, and many others.

Our survey is short and will take only a few minutes to complete:
Go to

Perhaps some of you fine rejected writers out there should go to Narrative Magazine and help shape offerings to your interest....or at last give them a piece of your mind.

UPDATE: In case you had any question about where this boat is headed, the four main questions in the survey are as follows:

1) Would you like to see more offerings of hard-copy books by well-known and important new authors from Narrative?
2) Would you like to see more offering of downloadable digital books and stories?
3) How many books have you purchased in the last 10 months?
4) Have you purchased a book featured in Narrative's First & Second Looks sections?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Get Some Friends in High Places...Now!

Kelly Spitzer gets real and asks a few editors/writers if they've ever been solicited/solicited others for manuscripts. The answers may make you start to think that getting published is who you know, not what you write. Seriously, some of the candid responses will make your hair curl. Check it out here.  

A Lit Blog is A Lit Blog is A Lit Blog

MetaFilter Community Blog posted a list of lit blogs under the title "Literature Isn't Dead, It Just Smells Funny," including Paper Cuts, Quick Study, The Millions, After the MFA, Syntax of Things, and our friend BookFox among others.  The article ends with a link to LROD:

"Pft, I'd rather just stay home, read my New Yorker and count my short story rejections," you say?  Well there are even a few blogs for you, too!


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How About This For Unbelievable?

Rather than your fine novel/short story collection/memoir/nonfiction creation, this b.s. got a book deal. According to GalleyCat, it's because Gawker posted a link to the chart and a literary agent picked it up and sold it. I can't really imagine how dressing "like a douchebag" (a chart no less) is going to be a book, or why...but whatever. What do I know about publishing? Clearly not enough, and yet somehow if this is what's hot in literature, I don't want to know more. 

(Downright depressing.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kindness Is A Form Letter

An anonymous LROD reader sent in this literary magazine rejection with the rejecter omitted. But at this late stage in the game, we know a Howard Junker Special when we see one, complete (the submitter of this rejection added) with the word "onward" written at the bottom.  Here it is:

Gentle Writer:

Please forgive me for returning your work and for not offering comments or suggestions. I would like to say something to make up for my ungraciousness, but I don't think a few quick remarks would really help.  The truth is I have so little space, I must return almost everything -- 99% -- of what's sent to me, including a lot that interests me and even some pieces I admire. (Also, I make mistakes; my taste is erratic, my judgment flawed.)

The important thing is this: Do not be discouraged by this or any other momentary setback.  The road is long; the struggle must go on.

Then, too, the ways of the Muse are strange.  When she does visit again, I hope you will give her my best regards.

Keep the faith.


When I am feeling cynical, I feel this letter is insincere, but just now as I was typing it in, I thought it seemed kind of nice.  Maybe I've given the old Junk Man too much grief.  It's not his fault that he only has a few pages an issue for publishing great work--or that my Muse is indeed quite strange-acting and looks like an ugly dog named Rodolfo (see photo above).  I should really give the guy a break; he even posted about rejection on his blog this week.

(Also just wondering: What does your strange Muse look like?)

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Letters, Same Old Rejection

Here's another old finalist notification I dug up from my files.  I was a finalist for the New Letters fiction contest, but in the end it led to nothing but a close call. Not even publication in the journal, which is kind of a bummer.  But, oh well.  I like the letter head on this one.

Friday, April 11, 2008

What You're Doing All Wrong (by Just Trying to Be a Good Writer)

Or How to Succeed as A Writer:
  • The Rob Lowe (Lower Than Low) Approach: Write a proposal for the story of your life during the writer's strike, insist that only you should write the book, get the book in a huge bidding war for undisclosed sums....and then, oh yeah, decide you're too busy and cancel.
  • Dale Peck's Not-Sci-Fi Strategy: Insult other literary writers in print, and then hook up with a hugely successful television producer of a hugely successful show ("Heroes") and get a deal to write a so-called "alt history" triology for a cool $3 Million. 
  • Michael Chabon's Spider Bites: Be pretty famous and literary and award-winning anyway, but still let people download your defunct screenplay "Spider Man 2, The Film," just to keep it real (and also to sell copies of your new book of essays.)
  • The Dooce Plan: Write all sorts of shit about your work colleagues on your blog and get fired by your boss, who doesn't understand why you would do such a thing, then get involved in a law suit. When the suit settles, land a two book deal with Kennsington Rebel Base Books, which you should back out of and then get involved in another law suit.  Become so rich off your blog anyway that your husband can quit his job, too.
  • The Cake Walk (AKA Sloane Crosley takes over the world):  Be a 29-year-old book publicist with many, many, many media connections and get your book of essays way over exposed. Read a writing sample here, or here, or decide if she has any talent.

Even the Movies Say No

It's nearly impossible to win a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, but I thought I'd send this rejection up the flag pole just the same. Maybe we should discuss the movies: adaptations, independent projects, our stories imprinted on celluloid? I've actually only ever written one screenplay, an adaptation of a short story of mine, which is maybe, possibly, potentially, feasibly, if-the-moon-is-in-the-right-house currently under development. We'll see. Finalizing the script is a strange and slightly uncomfortable process with lots of people involved (though luckily, I am the only writer), but exciting just the same. I think the odds in the movies may be even worse than the odds for getting a book published, so I feel pretty lucky even just to be on the fringes of the process. And of course it all happened by chance.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Zadie Smith School of No Award

Think of what a bummer it must be to be nominated in a Pulitzer Prize category for which it is decided no one is good enough to win. (Come on, not even Jacob Appel?) Portfolio has an interesting commentary on the "no award" notation in the Editorial Writing Category of the Pulitzer this year.  Guess, Zadie's not the only one, though I doubt the Pulitzer will offer up an explanation.

Write Your Own Rejection

Since we live in an age that blurs reality with fiction, why shouldn't we write our own rejections? One incredibly creative rejected writer did just that, sent in his own invented rejection. Here it is:

Do you know what kind of letter of rejection I would get from Gaston – remember -- Gaston the near-sighted editor in Aunt Rachel’s Fur who rejected the noodle novels – do you know what kind of rejection letter I would get from him if I were to submit [title of novel] to les ├ęditions de l’Amour Fou?

This is what Gaston would write :

Dear Sir,

Though we recognize your talent as a story-teller, and appreciate the humor and the style of your writing, we cannot take a risk with this book because we cannot determine in which category of books it should be marketed. It does not appear to be a novel since the main characters are in fact yourself and your wife. And yet it cannot be classified as an autobiography since there are so many fictional elements in it. Nor could it be considered a travelogue because of the lack of geographical precision. Moreover we cannot consider it as work of history because of the dubious historical references. We doubt that even though the language is at time poetic we could present this book as a long poem.

Madame Trucmuche and I discussed the potential marketability of your book in terms of its usefulness to farmers, but rejected this idea since most farmers are still illiterate in the provinces. The only alternative would be to have you rewrite the book from the point of view of the old man in the language of the old man, we might then consider this book as a manual of French slang but that would mean rewriting this book in French, since that is the language of the old man.

Finally we feel that this book in comparison with the other book you submitted to us which unfortunately we did not accept because of its obsession with noodles that this one is not postmodern enough. In fact that is really the primary reason that we are returning your manuscript to you. We feel that [title of novel] is too traditional and too realistic. That it is on your part a retreat from the experimental work you have done so courageously until now without ever compromising your work. In this sense [title of novel] may appear to your readers as a regression. As a failure.

Yours sadly,
Gaston Le Myope

P.S. We forgot to mention that another reason for not taking the risk with this book is its obvious lack of respect on the part of the author for his native country and its inhabitants.

If Norman Mailer could write his own obituary decades before his death, then it is encumbent upon us to write our own rejections. Have at it, friends. What would yours say?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Speaking of Book Buyers...

Looks like Amazon, which has bought its own print-on-demand (POD) subsidiary, BookSurge, also has its own ideas about how to do business.  According to GalleyCat and Publisher's Weekly, Amazon is threatening to disable all the "buy buttons" for any titles-on-demand that aren't printed by BookSurge.  Some bloggers are crying "Monopoly!"  That's one word for it. 

Must Have Been the Indigestion

An anonymous published author sent this one in from the archives, saying he/she simply couldn't help but share: Dear Writer, Rejected:  I spent my entire lunch break reading [title of novel], and while I found it to be very creative, I'm afraid it's not for me. The author adds: A simple "no thanks" minus the lunch, would have been fine.  

Let's file this one under TMI.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Laundry List Rejections

One industrious LROD reader compiled a list of rejections received for his two novels. I'm assuming he took some liberties when summarizing the main rejection messages. Here's the list:

we find this book too complicated for our readers
we think there are too many "fucks" in this book
we wouldn't be able to sell more than 12 copies of this book
we cannot take a risk with such a postmodern novel
we could face a law suit with this book
we find this book totally unreadable
we find this book too narrow in scope
we think the characters need fleshing out
we think this book could use a good rewriting -- it's too short
we are tired of publishing books about the Holocaust
we are looking for books that teach people how to improve their lives
we think your book would make the readers suffer
we think your book needs a happy ending
we think nobody gives a shit about the lives of farmers in Southern France
we love the subject of the book, but at the present time the relations between England and France, being what they are, your book would not receive favorable attention from British readers

Reads kind of like a poem, doesn't it?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Is Blogging Killing You?

The New York Times published this "trendy" nonsense about blog deaths, amusingly followed up by Gawker's take on the matter.  Here's a highlight:  "In the last few months, two bloggers--ages 50 and 60--dropped dead of heart attacks.  Times for a trend piece! "Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing...." As for me, not being paid a blog-gone cent and not writing for a news machine, I find blogging relaxing; it has actually resurrected me from the dead.  What about you people?

Yiyun Li -- Judge Not My Secret

As promised, here's the actual rejection I got from the Iowa Review. It's hard to be disgruntled when the fiction judge doesn't choose your story from "a small group of finalists" for the Iowa Review Fiction Award, but I'll tell you, it's not impossible. Remember last spring when everyone (even Oprah) was talking about the book, The Secret, which posited that if you just think positively, you can make your dreams come true? Well, I was so desperate that I gave it a try by sending positive energy out to the universe and to the judge Yiyun Li. I even slept with the finalist notification under my pillow and tried to doze positively all night long. As it turns out, The Secret is one of the worst books I never read. BTW, though, one of the best short story collections I've read recently is Yiyun Li's A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Even though she didn't pick me, you should read her book; it's really good.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Book Future: No Advances, No Returns

Looks like HarperCollins is going to lead the way to a new future in book selling by cutting author advances and refusing book returns, according to articles in the New York Times , USA Today , and GalleyCat.  In short, long-time Hyperion President Robert S. Miller will be heading up a new experimental publishing company at HarperCollins that aims to conduct business against the norm.  Here's a summary from GalleyCat:

"According to the press release, 'Miller will publish approximately 25 popular-priced books per year in multiple physical and digital formats including those as yet unspecified, with the aim to combine the best practices of trade publishing while taking full advantage of the internet for sales, marketing and distribution.  Authors will be compensated through a profit sharing model as opposed to a traditional royalty, and books will be promoted utilizing on-line publicity, adverting, and marketing.' Translation, probably: Whatever it is Bob will be publishing will be printed on demand, or you will be able to read it on your Kindle type device, or, eventually, by using implanted technology in your eyeballs that will allow you to turn pages by blinking."

I imagine this turn of events will make agents nervous, as it may render them irrelevant or at least unprofitable.  It probably won't affect the Big Authors, though, who will still get a 50% cut of the profits for their best sellers, and of course the little authors will get nothing...or less than nothing, as the case may be. I wonder if this will make publishers in general more likely to publish untested authors?  Oh, why, be optimistic now.  In truth it will probably have no impact on my inability to get published.

So Close, And Yet So Far

Not to put too fine of a point on my argument from a day ago, but last year at this time, I was earnestly carrying the above notification that I was a finalist for an Iowa Review Award in my pocket and keeping it under my pillow.  As you may have guessed, I was not chosen as a winner (I'll post the rejection soon). 

Still, finalist was pretty good for a hack without an MFA.  

Sexy Librarian by Julia Weist

When did you start writing the book? I began writing Sexy Librarian in the summer of 2006, when I was traveling cross-country visiting public libraries for an art project I was working on. When I began the manuscript, I had no serious expectations for it to be published; my intention was to collect rejection letters from commercial publishing houses. I displayed these letters as art works within an exhibition about failed literature.

Did you use an agent?/How long did it take to find a publisher? I submitted the unagented manuscript for Sexy Librarian to six publishing houses: Harlequin, Tor, Avon, Dorchester, Moonlit Romance, and Triskelion. Each passed and notified me of their decision with standard form letters. Ellen Lupton, a curator, saw the rejection letters in my exhibition and offered to publish the book independently. She hadn't read any content when she made the offer, but was interested in the potential for distributing the story in context of the overall project. More information about the original exhibition can be found here:

What prompted your interest in writing the manuscript if getting it published was somewhat of an accident? I am interested in understanding collective fantasy via the obscure, rather than the popular. I wanted to write a love story that was formulaic, but included anecdotes of my own life, to see if my experiences could be of value, commercially, to the paperback romance industry. The rejection of the manuscript revealed something about prescriptive desire and the hearts of the Midwestern women who fuel the paperback romance business. I learned, for example, that sexually transmitted diseases are considered a "turn off," within the Romance genre.

Where were you when you received the offer for the book to be published? I was at the opening of the exhibition in which the rejection letters were being shown. Ellen made a verbal offer to publish it, but I immediately declined, concerned as I was that the project stay true to its original intention of exploring failed literature within the mainstream commercial publishing world. It became clear quickly, however, that publishing the project independently could begin a new chapter. I am interested now in monitoring the book's success within public libraries. In this context readers can seek out the narrative without financial commitment.

Who was the first person you told about the book deal? I told my brother as we were heading to the show's after party. When Ellen sent me the contract, I sat down with my whole family and we reviewed it together. We had a long discussion about whether or not it was the right direction for the project. This was not a typical case of dreams coming true: I had never before imagined myself as a novelist. I'm a sculptor! But then I began to see the potential for the novel to be a sculpture, and that encouraged me to move forward with it.

How long did it take to finish the first draft? Because of our production schedule, I had only two months to write the first draft.

How many revisions did you write? Two.

Who read your drafts? Ellen edited the novel. Jennifer Tobias, art librarian extraordinaire and the book's critical essayist, provided a "library realness" edit. This involved fact checking things like whether or not it was structurally feasible that the steel cantilever shelving in the Minneapolis Public Library could hold the weight of a fornicating couple. My brother, who is an art writer and curator, also contributed an overall edit.

How did you decide which comments were important and which you didn't need to heed? I wanted to preserve the true character of the first three chapters—the proposal that I sent to the Slush pile—so that there could be transparency in terms of what they rejected. It was pretty rough stuff, though, so we had to compromise at times and edit those pages into more polished fiction.

Has your philosophy on getting published changed? Would you do anything differently now? I don't know if I would do anything differently. I believe the narrative is successful in preserving the raw vulnerability of offering this story up for public consumption, failing, and finding an outlet for more precisely judging it's potential relevance. There isn't just one moment in the publishing process when a writer can be rejected. If your book gets published, but no one reads it, that's another kind of heartbreak.

What words of advice would you give to a writer on the journey toward publication? Failure is funnier than success, and more romantic.
I love that rejection is incorporated into Julia's publication story as a positive force! That's good stuff. Go here to buy a copy of Julia's fascinating book today.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Is it the Blog that Killed the Writer?

The New York Observer has yet another take on the decline and fall of the writer.  The article is written by Doree Shafrir, who used to blog for Gawker, but appears to have made her way to so-called "legit" journalism, a trend that everyone in the article says is unlikely!  Funny.

Rejection Shredding Party Anyone?

John Wilkens, a writer for San Diego's Union-Tribune, posted a fun article called "For Spurned Writers, a Shred of Dignity," over at  The article gives a little plug to LROD, but it's mainly about the kind of party we'd all love to attend: rejected writers gathered around a paper shredder.  For that alone, the article and hostile reader's comments are worth a peek.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Publish (Your Own), or Perish

At the risk of losing more readers due to the hairy ongoing debate over academic writing and literary journals, I want to make a public response to this dude's comment:
a nameless (and blameless) editor said...

"Sigh. I have been irritated by these comments on this blog and only wonder what the motive could possibly be. Will some people never learn?This is not the day of Flannery O'Connor or F. Scott Fitzgerald or whoever your heroes happen to be. Their day is past. You probably don't use a typewriter to draft your stories, either. In case you haven't noticed, literature is more or less an academic industry now and the MFA has become its gold standard, even outside of the so called "ivory tower"; almost every literary agent under 30 has an MFA. You expect to be taken seriously without one? Think about it, people.I hold a fiction editor post at an upper tier journal. While we are technically open to anyone, I do have to wonder about those outside academia who are submitting. I have to question your motive.

And I'll tell you why my serious attention is given to submissions that come from an MFA graduate or student. First, because it shows dedication: he or she is serious about the writing craft; this person has decided to make the craft his or her professional career. Second, because it shows that a qualified authority has also seen at least some ability in this person's writing, and is guiding them appropriately. But there is also an unavoidable third reason. As a teacher my salary does comes from student tuition, and I say with confidence that all teachers in my position realize this. It behooves us to support the very system that keeps us going, so common sense says to pay closer attention and give extra support to those who are part of it. You don't have to have the MFA yet, but as long as you're working on it, it shows that you're serious.

Even if you choose to ignore me, think of the practical considerations, people. If you don't have an MFA or aren't working on one, I have to ask: what are you doing??? This is an academic journal of new writing; almost everyone who reads it is teaching writing or somehow connected to the "ivory tower".

Among journals, we are among the more generous; besides the token copies and discounts, we pay $20 per page for literary fiction. It usually works out to around $200 for an accepted story. This is a nice perk, but if you're not a student, you're simply taking these funds away from those emerging or established professionals they were intended for. Surely you don't expect to survive on acceptance monies alone!"

Dude: First, why blameless? I don't even get that; you must feel guilty about something. Second, I don't have an MFA, and I have won your upper-tier journal's literary contest, or at least I've been a runner-up in several just like yours. And if you are the Iowa Review (which I know you're not because D.H. would never write such classist drivel), I've been a finalist for your fiction award. Readers: I say it's worth all the money I laid out for those academic review contests, every cent, because the conests are blind, and it never mattered that I didn't have an MFA, and now I get to shove it in this nameless editor's face (not my usual style, but justified, I think). Also, I say this: it's a pretty sad state of affairs when editors of well-established academic journals admit that they would rather publish work by their own (or other) MFA students, than publish good writing. Period.

The death of fiction: case closed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

In Defense of Academe

In response to a blog post from yesterday, a hostile commenter left this bit of muscle, when I'd written: "As for the criticism of literary academia on this blog, I welcome it, along with any other critical thought about any other topic, including the blog itself. I think a lively exchange of ideas is healthy, don't you?"

"No. Not if you're criticizing academia. Without it there would be no journals, nowhere to publish fiction or poetry, no awards or support of any kind for writers. Remember that. How dare these uneducated (and probably unpublished) writers criticize the MFA, the academic system, and journals? Probably because these journals reject their work. There is no substitute for paying your dues and learning. Go back to school, work your way up. You'll be happier, and in the end you will be published."

I hope such a narrow, ungenerous response does not represent what we might find inside those ivory towers! But anyway, we've been dancing around this topic for months, so we might as well have it.

Question of the Month: "To MFA or not to MFA?"

Readers, you decide.

Flannery O'Connor

April 1st brings that special time of the year when I package up my latest unpublished short story collection, write a check for $25, and send it off to the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction at the University of Georgia Press. (Above is last year's rejection.)  Why do I do it? I believe I have this fine lady's rejection to blame.