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Friday, May 30, 2008

The Bioethics of Rejection

By popular demand, more from Jacob Appel, the guy who wins when you lose:

Hi WR:

My last name is pronounced uh-PELL (rhymes with lapel--sort of). It's
originally Flemish.

I write whenever I can find a block of time. I wish I could say that
I had a structured schedule and I greatly admire those writers who
consistently write three hours a day, every day, even on Christmas Eve
and Thanksgiving, but I just cobble together a few hours whenever I
have the opportunity. My students often ask me when/how they should
write and I tell them I don't think that there is any magic formula.
Every writer has his or her own cycle. The trick is to find the time
and place that feel most natural. My only wisdom on the subject is
that I think one of the hardest skills to learn is when to *stop*
writing for the day--to figure out when one is too mentally depleted
to continue creating. That takes far more discipline--for me, at
least--than sitting down to start writing. This is particularly true
when the writing is going well...but stopping while you're still
performing at the top of your game is, in my opinion, a crucial skill.
Or at least one I find valuable.

I earn a living through a combination of teaching and lecturing, both
in writing and in the field of bioethics. I rarely turn a profit on
my stories, as I try to put as much of my literary earnings as
possible back into my writing budged: journal subscriptions, contest
fees, donations to worthy literary causes, etc. I think it's very
important to subscribe to and to read as many of the literary journals
that one submits to as possible, although I don't always practice what
I advocate as much as I probably should. I am truly addicted to
reading literary journals, and they have become an increasingly large
part of my monthly budget.

I hope that's helpful.

Jacob M. Appel

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Talk About Efficient Rejecting

Here's one sent in by an anonymous LROD reader:

I once received my query letter back with manuscript attached.  No note. No stamp. Just a big red letter "R" in a circle on the top of the page.  I swear this is a true story. 

Somehow I believe it. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sorry to Inform You

Here's a sadly classic rejection note sent in by an anonymous reader:

"Dear Writer: Thanks for you interest, but [name of magazine] has been discontinued. Sincerely, The Editors"

It's not you....we're just going out of business.

Or Maybe That's Just Plain Crazy

"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." -- Winston Churchill.

Dude is a Prince

Dear WR:

I confess that I am both highly flattered and somewhat dumbfounded to
be the subject of such literary interest. I assure you that I don't
think of myself as particularly successful, from a publishing
standpoint, and I have received far more rejections than acceptances.
Since I imagine some of your readers are interested in hard numbers, I
have received approximately 11,100 rejection letters over the past
fifteen years--as well as one phone rejection (from the late,
brilliant George Plimpton at the Paris Review); since I've published
eighty-two stories, that's a decidedly low acceptance to rejection
ratio. I suppose the key to the limted successes that I have had is
perseverence. And a great deal of good old-fashioned dumb luck. And
the reason I keep doing it so simple that it may disappoint some of
your readers: I love writing stories.

I do have one piece of advice for other writers: Don't take rejection
personally and never take it to heart. I've received a number of
strange, discouraging, and even provocative rejection letters over the
years, but my two favorite read as follows: The first letter stated:
"I imagine some editors find your work amusing, although I cannot
imagine why. Please don't send your work to XXXXX ever again."
Another, from a different journal, read in entirety: "Dear Mr. Appel:
Do not consider this note of rejection specific to this story.
Consider it a preemptive rejection of anything else that you are
thinking of sending our way. The Editors." The two letters hang on
my office wall. And I continue to submit to both journals in the hope
that their editors will have a change of heart or pass the editorial
baton to a more receptive audience.

I also hope that I will publish a book someday. I remain cautiously
optimistic. I suspect your readers will be among the first to
know--that they may even find out before I do.

All the best of luck with your fascinating website. I have only had
an opportunity to peruse it briefly, but I think it's one of the
cleverest sites on the internet. If there are any other specific
questions that you have, feel free to put them my way.

Jacob M. Appel

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another Editor Goes Awry

If you think the recent VQR insanity wasn't enough, Rebecca Wolff, editor of Fence Magazine has apparently told one of the writers she's published to "eat shit and die," and then brags about it on her blog, publishing the childish exchange she had with the offended writer. Thanks to Book Fox for bringing it to attention. The comments on her post are good, so it's worth checking out, but here's the exchange basically in full.  It's so sick, I couldn't resist:

"One of the strangest corollaries of being a literary journal editor is being made aware from time to time of how many contributors there are out there silently hating you for a multitude of perceived offenses, however real or unreal. The below correspondence is real, but identifying facts have been changed to preserve anonymity of contributor/correspondent. Note that I, Rebecca Wolff, was the first to get truly offensive, but also note that I have developed, over the years, a deficit of patience with contributors who act as though I am somehow out to get them. Also note that I have given myself the last word here; for all I know XXX will choose to ignore my final command and will speak to me again. I’ll keep you posted.


February 14

Hi Rebecca Wolff,

Recently you were kind enough to accept two of my poems for the current issue of Fence. Do you send out contributors copies? Just wondering because I haven’t received anything yet.

XX E. XXXXX Street Apt 16
New York, NY 1xxxx

PS Saw the website. Thanks for posting XXXXXXXX!


February 14


Did you used to live in XXXXXXXX, NJ?



February 14

Yes. My parents live there, so if you sent it there I will get it eventually.



April 6

Rebecca Wolff:

Well, I finally found the time to pick up a copy of Fence—not easy, since I work three grueling shit jobs, and don’t have time to track these things down—and it’s a good issue.

Regan Good’s poem The Atlantic House, in particular, is a knockout. I can’t say the same for the way you treat your contributors, though. I edit a XXX-page journal and even though it’s tough on me financially, I make sure every contributor gets a free copy.

The fact that you’re backed by a university and still can’t fork up a lousy contributor’s copy is unforgivable. The fact that you couldn’t even answer my simple question as to whether or not you provide complimentary copies is even worse. I guess my question wasn’t intellectually-ambitious or post-post-post-avant enough for you.



April 6

See below; eat shit and die.


Rebecca Wolff

“February 14

Did you used to live in XXXXXXXX, NJ?

February 14
Yes. My parents live there, so if you sent it there I will get it eventually.


April 20

What is this supposed to mean? I was just at my parents last week and no Fence, and this months after it came out. Is “eat shit and die” your way of saying you sent it to me? [Editor’s note: What I should have said was: “No, eat shit and die is my way of saying check your facts, you corroded node, before getting on your high horse to send me an email accusing me of not doing my job.] If you DID send it to me, you could’ve just said so and all this could have been avoided. Like I said, it never got to me. I’ve supported you for years, buying your mag and sticking up for it when my writer-friends basically condemned it.

Let me share a brief anecdote:

One spring day when I was sixteen, my friend and I were posting flyers at XXXXX Academy (private school for rich kids) for a concert our metal band was playing. The board was in the dining hall and soon as we walked into the room–two skinny long-hairs–the place went dead. Then someone yelled “Throw them out!” and we were basically driven out on a rail. It wasn’t traumatic at all, but the memory has remained for its novelty, I think it’s kind of funny, actually. But more to the point, I’ve always thought of that dining hall as being the equivalent of Fence (read: snobbery). You’ve proven me right.



April 20


I just don’t take kindly to receiving accusatory mail. Read your email to me and you will see that you are attacking me for not responding to your initial query when, in fact, as I showed you in my response (and that’s why I said “E. S. & D,” because I was proving you wrong), I DID respond to your query. Yes, I sent the issue to the NJ address; I don’t know why it never reached there but all you had to do was write back politely and say that the issue never reached there and I would gladly send another. Instead you wrote me a snotty note–I am not responsible for your or anyone’s neurotic complex about high school–implying that I had not responded to your query, when in fact I had.

If you would like to give me your correct address I will send the issue there.



April 21

Becky Coyote,

God you are a vile human being. Saw your photo at Norton Poets Online and in Poets and Writers–your looks match up with your personality perfectly. No wonder you have issues. And I feel sorry for your kid–I’m sure he’ll grow up to be mean and ugly, just like his mommy.

April 21

You’re a total loser. Never speak to me again."

Yikes! Lady editor is a piece of work, and offended writer got pretty damn low to the ground, too. Seems like more of the same.

2nd Place In A Pinch

I'm beginning to think that You Know Who is unstoppable.  This time dude didn't take first place, but won 2nd place in a contest by The Pinch, a literary journal from the University of Memphis!

Other Appel publications can be read:
More importantly, do you think you say his name like the fruit?  Or with an accent on the last syllable?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Books or Blogs: Choose Your Poison

Gawker is sporting this chart, as revised from this chart, clarifying that the people who read books intersect only vaguely with people who read blogs, or people who buy books written by bloggers.  It's a whole lot of clicking for a small joke, but I kind of liked the charts.  I thought you might too.  Slow rejection news day?  I guess so.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Junker v. Genoways (Round 2)

The Genoways and Junker bout from yesterday is going strong for Round 2.  Who's going to win this one? (Who cares?)  It's kind of interesting to watch them pummel each other and insult each other's lit mags.  At the same time, as some fine commenter on this blog pointed out, maybe they should get back to reading the slush pile and looking for work

A Book Only Charles Bukowski Could Love

An anonymous submitter gives us this joy today:

Dear [Writer]: Thank you for seeking me out. I must be one of hundreds that you have sent this email to. I sense that you are “gritty” and can most likely handle any and all feedback, especially as a connoisseur of, what was it, the greasy spoon eating establishment. My first reaction is this—what a shame that Bukowski is dead. I must admit that you would find my review elitist and polysyllabic—something unbecoming and unpleasant to the ethos which I think you are seeking to express. I appreciate being contacted, but feel that I am the wrong person to review your work. 

Says the writer:  I had sent a single page letter, personable, but professional. There was no sample of the writing contained in it. The response was so off-base, cruel, and out of whack that it didn't really sting. I was kind of mesmerized by it. He somehow made some connection between myself and the late poet Charles Bukowski (my novel has no basis around any of that), and he also acquired this bizarre idea that I ate in dive restaurants (there was no mention of food or any such thing in my business-like query letter). This guy jumped to a strange conclusion, and then ran with it, even describing how he feels I wouldn't understand words with more than one syllable. All without having seen a single word of the book. 

Seems like a real disconnect. Maybe this was a mistakenly addressed rejection.  That's got to happen sometimes. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What Are Your Stats?

A very industrious anonymous LROD reader, sent in these impressive rejection stats:

Total Career Figures

@ 283A-0M-729R
out of 1009 responses

As of May 17th, 2008

Total Submitted: 1572
Total A/R/M: 1009
Total Resolved: 1457
Total Pending: 134
Acceptances: 283
Rejections: 729
Maybes: 0
Rescinsions (RC): 228
Returns (RT):
Accept Percent: 26.08%
Reject Percent: 74.97%
Return(RT+ARM): 20.01%
Rescind(RC+ARM): 17.74%

Total Accepted: 552
Total Novel: 1
Total Fiction: 3
Total Spoken: 9
Total Graphic: 3
Essays: 2

Junker v. Genoways

Looks like now the editors of VQR  (Ted Genowasy) and Zyzzyva (Howard Junker) are going at each other.  Have a read here.  What I love is how Genoways, who has apologized for ridiculing slush pile writers, cannot pass a chance to justify his actions.  Funny.  Says Genoways of Junker, who has claimed to be shocked at VQR's offensive comments:  "Of course, two weeks ago—on the Zyzzyva blog—Junker likened his own slush pile to a “barrel of crap” and a week before that compared it to John Bunyan’s “slough of despond.” (For those of you not up on your Pilgrim’s Progress, one scholar cited on Wikipedia explains that it is 'the low ground where the scum and filth of a guilty conscience, caused by conviction of sin, continually gather.')"  Oh dear.  To me they seem so alike that they should be at a bar having a drink, not pummeling each other in public.  But what do I know?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wikipedia is My Life!

Some kind LROD anonymouse made a nice little nest over at Wikipedia. Check it out.

One correction: Rosemary Ahern is an editor formerly of Washington Square Press, not an agent. And I love that Jacob Appel is included.  I hope he gets his own Wikipedia entry, just for fun.  He deserves it (more than I do).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Suicide Rejection

The Cum Hither Global (nice name) reports that a literary critic and podcaster named J. Johnson Edwards penned a romance novel to prove how ridiculously easy it is to master the genre, and then took to his house with an axe and had to be put on suicide watch after receiving his first (FIRST!) rejection.  The story is reported in full here, unlinked and unverifiable.  I guess it's a joke, right?  (You know how I sometimes miss a joke.) It'd be funnier if it were real.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Iowa MFA Grad Speaks Out

I love the LROD commenter "Iowa Grad" who posted over on the Blah, Blah, Blah post (66 comments and going strong; you people are insane).  Minus the MFA, I feel as if Iowa Grad and I are kindred souls.   Here it is, his/her searing response to one of the bitter bobs (not me, though I am bitter):

Hey, angry anon: I have an MFA from Iowa. I earned it in the late '80s, wrote three unpublished novels before publishing my first book eleven years after getting the degree. I also taught as an adjunct at several colleges, sometimes earning a whopping sum of $1,000 per month for teaching four classes, with no health benefits or retirement, etc. It's been twenty years now since I got my degree, and I've published a few books and have a good job, but I still get rejections from little magazines and book publishers alike. That's part of the business, buddy. No one owes you squat. Nobody. Oh yeah...I'm a first-generation college student and accumulated a boat-load of debt for all three of my degrees. Based on your rants (or maybe there's more than one angry anon on here), I should have been handed a sweet book deal and a cushy job upon graduation. I guess I'm failing to see how you and I are different, except that I've worked my ass off to get where I am, and all you seem to be doing is bitching and moaning. I'm exhausted by the anti-MFA rant. I've never -- ever -- had an editor or agent ask me where I went to school, and I quit mentioning it on my cover letter once I realized that, no, it didn't get me anything. Hell, I'll go one step further and say that there's probably more anti-Iowa folks out there than pro-Iowa folks ready to open their doors and hand me a fat check. One more thing: Would I care if you liked my work? If you did, great; but if you didn't, no, not really.

New No-Win Nonfiction Contest (JoAnn Beard)

Looks like we've got another no-win contest on our hands, friends. Fuel for another debate? Or just too boring?  Either way, this just came in from an anonymous LROD reader: 

"Dear Entrant,

We at Columbia: A Journal of Literature & Art, would like to thank you for your submission. There were many fantastic pieces to choose from this year, and the selection of winners was carefully considered by our judges. The fiction and poetry winners can be read in your complimentary issue of Columbia, and runners-up can be found on
After much deliberation, nonfiction judge JoAnn Beard exercised her right not to select a winner, as written in our contest rules.

We encourage you to enter our 2009 contests. Judges will be announced on our Web site in the fall."

JoAnn Beard has judged a lot of contests and has once before refused to choose all the winners, as reported here on LROD; maybe it's a habit of hers.  Anyway, I'm pretty sure she's rejected me several times along the way, though I didn't submit for this particular contest.  But could it really be that not one creative nonfiction piece was good enough for publication?  Thanks for sending this, "A Lonely Writer in the Trenches." Given the insult of this rejection, I hope you are a poet and fiction writer.

Not You, Not Ever

Announces its Spring 2008 issue now available online and featuring:

Richard Bausch         Italy, Winter 1944
Lisa Cupolo               Bread
Louise Jarvis Flynn A Windfall
Barry Gifford            The Age of Fable
Jeanie Kortum         Stones
Reese Kwon              Superhero
Mattox Roesch        All the Way Rider
Holly Wilson           Where’s the Beauty, Jimmy?


Matthew Dickman
Mike O’Connor
Alberto Álvaro Ríos
Jennifer Tonge

Lynn Ahrens        Going Hollywood
Rick Bass             Oil
Tom Grimes       The Leash
Donald Hall        Gaudeamus Igitur

Marvin Bell
Amy Bloom
T. Coraghessan Boyle
Robert Olen Butler
Stuart Dybek
David Guterson
Jim Harrison
Min Jin Lee
Cynthia Ozick
Jane Smiley
Ayelet Waldman
and many others

Stephen Crane     The Blue Hotel

Go to

The Narrative First-Person Story Contest, with $7,000 in prizes,
is accepting entries of fiction and nonfiction. Entry deadline: July 31.

Note From W,R:  This came today, following an email from earlier in the week with fabulous photographs of a very fancy party and all the literati smiling like fat cats.  As for this announcement, though, what's with the works in progress?  They won't publish your finished masterpiece, but they will publish the mindless scraps of famous writers.  Oh boy, that's taking reality too far.  I like the finished products, thank you. And, also many others? How many others?  Who's left? (Besides you and me, that is.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why Waste Paper?

Here's one from today's mailbag: "I once received my query letter and manuscript returned from an agent without a rejection letter. Just a charming rubber stamp message on the top of my letter.  It said REFUSED."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


My petulant banner ad at the bottom of the blog has changed yet again. Where once they sported faulty links to rejectioncheerleaders, potties, and medical devices, now my ads feature higher education.  Yesterday, LROD was promoting business school ads.  Nice!  Looks like those bastards at Google AdSense are trying to tell me to get a real job. 

Bakeless Doesn't Rise

I sent in a book of creative nonfiction for the 2008 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize.  Sadly, though, no dough.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Oh, if only every author came with his or her own huge, eager readership fan base. Wouldn't the publishing houses snap us all up? Now, you can build your own legit audience, and HarperCollins is going to help you.  It's yet another attempt by the publishing industry to harness the electrical juice of the online community.  HarperCollins UK calls it Authonomy.
Here's what Victoria Barnsley, CEO and publisher oF HCUK, says: 

“Very often we hear from budding new authors who tell us their script was loved by their family, book group or wide circle of friends. Authonomy™ is an opportunity for these authors to woo a large audience, get an army of support behind them, and really test whether their work has got what it takes to make it.”

Ho-hum.  Actually, I only know about this travesty from my own huge, eager readership fan base (just kidding, guys), but thanks puc.

VQR Rejection

An anonymous LROD reader, sends us this fuel for our recent fire:

Dear [name of rejected writer]:

Thanks for your recent submission to VQR. While the piece had obvious merit it just doesn't fit our needs at present. We wish we could offer a more personal response to your submission, but the number of manuscripts we receive makes this impossible. Please know, however, that we've read your work and appreciate your interest in our journal. Please do keep us in mind in the future.

Best regards,
The Editors

Says our rejected friend: "I sent this not even four days ago and I got a rejection, which makes me blatantly hate the journal even more. Why don't they just have their rejections instead say, "We wish we could read your work, but the number of manuscripts makes this impossible." At least then they'd be being honest. Anyway, thought I'd share."

BTW, keep reading the stories Ted Genoways posted. We don't want to look like schmoes, or anything, do we?

Janet Maslin Does James Frey

Everyone is in a tizzy about Janet Maslin's review of James Frey's new book Bright Shiny Morning. (By everyone I mean Galley Cat and New York Observer.) Maslin writes the entire review in an imitation of Frey's style:

He wrote a book but it was bad, liar bad, faker bad, it got him in trouble. A million little pieces. It was the name of the book. It was also how hard he got hit. He had to sit there on the couch. Everybody saw. The television celebrity book club woman got mad, she let him have it. He had to sit there on the couch. He squirmed, he cringed. Everybody watched, everybody blamed him. Then it was over. Then he was gone.

He waited. They forgot about him. He tried again.

The review goes on.  It is a rave.  It is clever.  Whatever.

These Years of Struggle May Be Your Best

About all our hopes and dreams to become recognized as important writers, the New York Times offers this little Doris Lessing ditty: 

Doris Lessing, the 2007 Nobel prize winner in literature, told the BBC that receiving the prize was “a bloody disaster” that brought so much attention from the news media that writing a full-length novel was next to impossible. “All I do is give interviews and spend time being photographed,” Ms. Lessing, 88, complained in a radio broadcast on Sunday. Discussing her writing, she said: “It has stopped; I don’t have any energy anymore. This is why I keep telling anyone younger than me, don’t imagine you’ll have it forever. Use it while you’ve got it, because it’ll go; it’s sliding away like water down a plug hole.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rejection Letters in Space

The great thing about the world wide web is that you can find pretty much anything you are lookning for...even rejection letters.  Above are a few I located for your reading (dis)pleasure.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

David Sedaris is My Hero

Concerning the question about how real creative nonfiction needs to be, David Sedaris told the Christian Science Monitor: "We live in a time when our government is telling us some pretty profound lies. And then James Frey writes a book, and it turns out some of it's not true. No one asked for their vote back, but everyone wanted back the money they'd spent on that book. We're in the shadow of huge lies and getting angry about the small ones." I say, Amen to that, Brother. (Sedaris' new book When You Are Engulfed in Flames is due out soon, and he claims it is "real-ish.")  Of course, Galley Cat misses the point entirely. What do you people say?  How much real does there need to be?  Or can we let the artist decide?

Ward Six Responds to Genoways

Our friend, and all around good-do bee, Rhian Ellis at Ward Six read all the VQR stories Ted Genoways put up for consideration.  She gets a gold star.  Her thoughts are here, for those who are interested.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Blog Articles on Rejection

In case you need a little bolstering of the spirit today, here's some stuff to read:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Back in the Drawer, Please

Lest we lose our focus, an anonymous novelist wrote in to share the following advice, found hidden in the middle of a publishing rejection:

"Many best selling novelists had to write two or three books before they hit their stride. You clearly have talent, and I hope you will continue to write. I think this story would benefit from being put in a drawer for some months while you complete another book."

Bold, no?

 I had a friend who used to keep his novel manuscript in the refrigerator. He said it kept it crisp between rejections.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Surprise, Surprise

The Guardian reports that there's a self-published short-story collection among the finalists of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize: Mary Rochford's Gilded Shadows. You can read a sample and buy her book here.

When In Doubt Stop Global Warming

Edward Nawotka at has an article covering Bob Miller's new "HarperCollins Studio," as everyone is calling the proposed experiment in nontraditional book-sales (i.e. stiffing the authors on their advances by offering profit- sharing, not buying back books from book stores, and bundling hardcover, nonfiction books with e-book versions of the same titles.)  
Here are some highlights:

"Returns date back to the Depression, when publishers implemented the practice as a way to ensure that bookstores would continue stocking new books.

Today, publishers have convinced retailers that stacks of books piled high in the aisles will attract customers and spawn bestsellers. It's a leaky theory posing little risk for booksellers. If the books don't sell, they're only out the cost of shipping and handling the returns.

``Let's face it, returns are bad for everyone, and things have to change,'' Miller said in a telephone interview last month. ``The only way to make it happen was to start something entirely from scratch.''

My favorite part of the article is the part where The Bob Miller Project appears to be about saving the environment by reducing global warming (no more trucks shipping books back and forth, no more unread books in the landfill), rather than about the dollar in the publisher's pocket. Galley Cat seems to have bought the old green publishing argument hook, line and sinker.  It's actually a brilliant marketing ploy because who's going to argue that books aren't to blame for boiling the environment.  (Certainly not me.)

Another Editor Responds

As requested by a commenter to this post from a few days ago, editor Howard Junker sent in the following response:

"Thanks for hungering for a response from me.

Actually, I was not alerted to your post until I did my usual Technorati search of blog mentions. When I tried to comment on your post, no window opened.

So, with regard to Roger D. Coleman's story, I published it because I liked it, which is the criterion I use for every piece. I found it strange in many ways, especially in its phrasing.

I chose to publish it as submitted, which is what many writers seem to want, because I did not think I could intervene in a small way without ruining the overall effect.

Yet I thought it only fair to let the reader know that this was a special case,an unedited story...for a reason.

I admire Coleman's courage and tenacity. Although his mind has been struck a grievous blow, he soldiers on. He continues to publish-some six or seven stories in the past year. Other editors obviously like his stuff, although I don't know whether they edit it or not.

Best regards,
Howard Junker"

I'm amazed that the "special snowflakes" on this blog (as we've been called) demand a response and get one.  Ask and you shall receive.  Also, I always end up kind of liking the charming Mr. Junker in the end, don't you?

Blah, Blah, Blah

VQR's Ted Genoways stopped by on LROD's comment section yesterday to join the discussion. He wants us to read his stories at VQR by "all by young writers" (as if that is going to be a selling point for us old shoes), and then to explain to him how they represent "one type of sensibility," which is an ongoing accusation about literary magazines in general. Feel free to read his stories and comment, if you wish.  Or read these stories instead.

Here's what Ted said:

"The thing that provokes me from my silence, however, is the obvious fact that you criticize the fiction from VQR while evidencing the fact that you haven't read a word of it.

So let me help. Here is a healthy dose of fiction, a half dozen stories, from recent issues--all of by young writers. You want to complain? Let's be specific:

When you finish reading, I hope you will explain to me how these stories represent "one type of sensibility." Of course, I guess they represent MY one sensibility, but if you think there's a sameness here, I'd very much like to hear your description of what it is--not in generalities, but in the specifics of what appears in our pages."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What Were You People Thinking?

According to the Gawksters, Penguin Books co-hosted a project in which 1,500 people on the Internet attempted to write a novel, but it turned out bad.  The project is called A Million Penguins, which brings to mind my own novel-writing angst times a million and makes my head pop off.  Anyway, the novel has been roundly declared "terrible," which, duh, we could have told you.  Here's an excerpt from the opening paragraph:

"The deep waters, black as ink, began to swell and recede into an uncertain distance. A gray ominous mist obscured the horizon. The ocean expanse seemed to darken in disapproval. Crashing tides sounded groans of agonized discontent. The ocean pulsed with a frightening, vital force. Although hard to imagine, life existed beneath. It's infinite underbelly was teeming with life, a monstrous collection of finned, tentacled, toxic, and slimy parts...."

Blech!  But I guess they didn't spend 10 years of their precious life revising like I did.  

Anyway, hey, editors at Penguin: next time you want to publish a high-concept novel, don't waste your time on gimmicks; contact me instead.  I've got a really good literary book waiting for you.  And what could be better than successfully publishing the most rejected writer around?  Seriously.  That's interesting, isn't it?  Okay, never mind.

Short Stories Alive and Well--Online

As our friend over at BookFox posted, storySouth has announced its Million Writers Award Notable Short Stories of 2007.  For all of you disheartened at the state of the short story, it's worth a trip over to read the links of some of the finest short fiction published on the web.  

VQR Apology...Sort Of

After posting some questionable insider editorial comments displaying a less-than-professional attitude toward submitting writers on its blog, VQR apologized for the offense.  Having stirred up hornets everywhere, what else could the lit mag editors do? The apology starts out so well:

"VQR wishes to apologize to any writers who took offense to our recent blog entries, in which we made public anonymized snippets from internal correspondence regarding our submissions. It seems obvious—and is regrettable—that some writers got the idea that VQR delights in belittling unsolicited submissions. Nothing could be further from the truth. This publication—and, indeed, its long-standing reputation—is built on a tradition of finding fine work by new writers amid the slush pile...."

The paragraph goes on to list all the well-known literati who have graced the pages of VQR But then quickly takes a turn toward blame of the unknown writer:

"In short, the tone of our blog post did not correctly represent our commitment to our authors. This is a disservice to our submitters, our readers, and our goals. However, I do think that the comments, if not their public airing, are a fair response to many of the submissions we receive and accurately reflect the righteous indignation that we often feel as readers. Too much of what we see these days strikes us as merely competent—well-crafted but passionless in its execution or, just as often, passionate only about the minor travails of the world of its author. No editor nor writer feels more strongly about the possibility of finding the universal in the small, but we also ravenously crave great writing that takes on big issues. Gutsy, fearless, hard-nosed writing. Writing that matters. Its absence makes us ill-tempered; it makes us question our enterprise. We work hard and want to see evidence of equal effort from writers. Such discussions, however, should be undertaken more thoughtfully than we have done thus far on the blog. I hope personally to rectify that situation and soon. Some writers have demanded to know why we have grown to feel such frustration toward our submitters. It’s a question worthy of a thoughtful answer—and will likely be as controversial as anything Waldo has said. But at least the discussion will center on what we consider the shortcomings of American writing, not a few comments meant to be private expressions of disappointment and frustration."

Oh, of course, it's the writers' fault for being shitty writers.  Should have known. You can read the full apology here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Sign of the Times? A Beginning of the End?

After a 10-year reign as king of books, Peter W. Olson has been pressured to step down as the CEO of Random House for falling short on profits.  Oh dear, my friends.  I fear the meaning of this for the future of books.  Perhaps we have come to the edge?  

Quote of the Day

Says Mr. Warren Adler in a comment over at Ward Six:

"Flush your rejections down the toilet. Above all do not let the bastards beat you down. I have survived five decades of rejections and most of the rejectors are now either drunks, dead, or in real estate."

Recession Hits Print Media

I just read several depression posts at The Write News, which evidences some downsizing in print media:
I don't think this bodes very well for anyone.

A Letter From Today's Mailbag

Dear Writer Rejected,

Your blog is compulsively readable, and more than that, gives consolation and catharsis to other lost souls afloat on a sea of obscurity.

There's one thing I've always wondered about small lit mags, and maybe you or one of your readers will have insight into this. I'm virtually unpublished (published one short story, a couple years ago, in a volume that no one seems to have read), but I seem to get a lot of what I'm calling "nibbles." (Fishing metaphor.) I've gotten a lot of xeroxed form-rejections, but also a number of (mostly electronic) rejections which are much harder to decipher. They will call me by name and refer to my story by name, and then say vaguely encouraging things about my writing along the lines of "well written but not for us." Some of them have gotten me quite excited because they imply that someone at the journal actually read portions of my story, maybe even (imagine!) the whole thing.

But this may not actually signify more than the versatility of the rejection letter in the age of email. After all, how hard can it be to generate a form rejection that inserts individual names and names of stories? I keep imagining that journals have different levels of form rejections, and that maybe I've made it to one of the higher levels--but I have no real evidence for this, at all.

For example, I sent a story in to the SQ love story contest. Below is the letter I got back this week. It assures me that my entry "received close attention and positive responses." And a (desperate) part of me wants to believe that, at the same time that another part of me is sure that this is a 100% form rejection that everyone who did not win the contest received. It's a nice rejection letter (much better than many) but I can't help feeling that they're being extra nice because I coughed up the $20 entry fee! 

By the way, It's very strange that Narrative took over Story Quarterly, and now runs it, but on a single site and in such a way that you simply cannot tell the difference between one journal and the other! Anyway, here's the letter:

Dear [Redacted],

Thank you for your entry in our recent Love Story
Contest. “[Redacted]” was carefully read and
considered by our editors in a very challenging
process of selecting winners and finalists from among
many strong entries. The judging involved many rounds
of reading, discussion, and decision making, in which
your entry received close attention and positive
responses. We regret that in the end “[Redacted]” was
not one of our winners this time. We’re very grateful
for your participation in the contest, and we hope
you’ll keep Narrative in mind for your work in the

An announcement of the winning stories will soon go
out to the magazine’s readership, along with news of
future contests.

Again, many thanks for sending your work, and please
accept our best wishes.


The Editors

Dude: It's natural to want to believe that every form letter is actually a personalized missive indicating that you're a good writer.  We've all held that misguided belief at one time or another; some of us for years.  But after you've been around a while, you get to know the difference between standard form and personalized rejection (not that the latter is much consolation). Here's a thought for you to mull today:  Just because the above is a form letter doesn't mean you're not a good writer. You probably are. But, sorry, Virginia, it is just a form letter.  Still, don't give up hope entirely. We haven't. Well, some of us have, but not all.  I haven't.  I still send my stories out.  And sometimes, when I really need to get published to make myself feel better, I just aim a little lower in terms of lit mag quality.  
Keep plugging, 

Anyone else want to chime in?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Speaking of Gimmicks...

Since we've been on the topic of gimmicks and condescending editorial processes that should remain private, an anonymous reader sent this report in from the front. Looks like Howard Junker at Zyzzyva is at it again; this time, he is interested in fiction with a hook. Here are excerpts from the story, according to our anonymous spy:

"Alien Fusion," by Roger D. Coleman:

(from first paragraph):

"Bruce's "intended" canceled at the last minute due to Bruce's parental disapproval. Bruce decided to take the vacation by himself. He had made the reservation and could not get his money back. Besides, he thought to himself, I need a rest from my father's bank--where I work."

(couple paragraphs down)

"He went into the house, put down his squash racket. Dressed in his white trousers with his white corded sweater and threw his strong arm around his mother. (sic)
"Hello, Mom."
He hugger her (sic). His mother seemed tall with a good tan."

(penultimate paragraph):

"Bruce's parents were worried when they heard he met Butch. They were pleasantly surprised out (sic) was an attractive girl. They blessed the union and Bruce became the president of the bank (sic--no ending period)"

The submitter of this tidbit goes on to say: "The story goes on this way, awfully, for a few pages. Then Howard Junker puts in the footnote: RCD had a stroke but continues to write; this story is presented as submitted. He already "ages" rejections. After publishing this, in this form, I don't know how much more condescending he can get."

Friday, May 2, 2008

Remember Story Quarterly's Love Story Contest?

Remember how we weren't going to submit our love to SQ, which is hosted by Narrative Magazine, and we didn't? Well, Maud Newton did.  (Her friends Marie and a Alexi egged her on, she says, and she did it on the very last day possible, and she sent in an essay, not a story.)  

She won 2nd place.  Here are all the winners (not you):

First Place ($2,500) Elizabeth Stuckey-French Interview with a Moron
Second Place ($1,500) Maud Newton Conversations You Have at Twenty
Third Place ($750) Janet Burroway Blackout

Now they are stumping the new contest: 1st person story contest (essays welcome).  They must be raking in the dough to give it such big prizes, no?

Barf-o You, VQ

A commenter on this blog named PUC (thank you all for picking names; it makes the anonymice nest less confusing), found this delightful insight from Virginia Quarterly Review. It's a list of comments from their screening readers, which probably ought to have been left a private joke, but now appears on the VQR blog posted by Waldo Jaquith, as follows:

"Since I often get a laugh out of reading through some of the notes that our beleaguered readers provide for these particularly unfortunate submissions, it seems worthwhile to share them.  Here are some of my favorites:
  • The emotional problems of clipping fingernails. Actually the best of his submissions.
  • OK, I’m just going to say it. This writing is plain ugly.
  • “Soon he fitted his body into mine like a puzzle piece.” NONONONONONONONONO!
  • Planet of the Apes fan-fiction! Have we no standards?
  • Why does the speaker’s wife only want babies from Chinese shacks? This is the craziest poem. And the scariest. I feel like we should the call the cops on this guy. (There should be a category called “Inappropriate to Humanity.”)
  • Unpublished Faulkner. Should remain unpublished.
  • I can’t enumerate all the ways in which this is horrible.....[more here, but I lost heart]
  • This guy has either the best or the worst cover letter ever. As for the poem, barf-o."
Charming! (There are more comments from LROD readers in response to yesterday's post, if you are interested.)

Dude Sums it All Up

L.A. Poet, commenting on this blog, sums up the recent raging debate at LROD pretty nicely. Dude is sharp, no?  Dude-Einstein. Dude-Vinci.  Anyway, here's what it adds up to:

"Read over these posts, to my mind there are a few different issues being raised here:

* Academic journals sponsored and run by universities are not playing fair (or smart): if they have low circulation, there's no reason why they can't publish everything on the web, make the print copies an extra souvenir or sentimental type bonus or even stop print altogether; certainly pay their writers just as they pay the printers and make it a point that they do so or do not publish. Paying pro rates of $1/word or more is a drop in the bucket for them. If you can't pay, then stop publishing until you can! Make it a moral issue - fairness to the working writer. That the university can't stand exploiting writers. Combine with other struggling journals at other schools then if you can't get funding; but whatever you do, pay the writers. So pressure on universities to pay writers and improve distribution (or place it all on the web).

* Commercial magazines are lost on gimmicks and making the lowest common denominator even lower than it is. They largely ignore fiction or assign "cute" sound bite stories. So, pressure on the commercial editors to print more work of substance, especially fiction.

* Demands of exclusive submission are wrong and exploitative when they take months, even years, tying up work and coming with no response but form letters. Exclusivity should only be honored for paying journals that reply in a timely manner, so list out those journals that demand exclusive and don't pay or take unreasonable amounts of time, and state that no writer should follow the rule of exclusivity for them. Even The New Yorker is amiss here, what with waits of a year or more.

* Non-academic non-commercial magazines like Smokelong Quarterly can't pay, but they can have useful toehold for the struggling writer. So if they recognize the issues addressed here, maybe some kind of solidarity with all of these complaints?

* There is some kind of spoken or unspoken divide between academics and non-academics. Do some journals really prefer writers with MFAs, or even teachers as some posts contend? Maybe list out some contents of these journals and see. If true, call them on it. If false, take it back and shut up already.

* Agents today are mostly shallow and without taste, certainly without Amanda Urban level ambition. So why do we even need them? Pressure on publishers to look at unagented manuscripts?

* This blog is getting quite popular. Not an issue but how much longer can they keep ignoring what's being publicly stated here? The silence is deafening.

What I would do is list some names, maybe invite some to comment. I would amplify this. The Esquire examples were great. So is the example of AGNI. I'd love to see some response to this stuff. Call them to task, name some names. Let them defend their position (or consider changing it). Wonder if they would care to comment? After all, they're committed to literature. This is a big issue, raised in a high profile blog. How could they possibly refuse?"