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Friday, July 31, 2009

Rejection Pep Talk by Mary J Dressel

Need a pep talk?  Go here

A highlight: With the two pages of suggestions were the words, “Revise and send back.” My heart skipped to the moon over that one. Did I revise? Did I re-send it? You bet I did. To give you an idea of how the publishing world works I have to say that yes, I did all the revisions that was suggested to me, and I sent it in. They had my manuscript for TWO YEARS! By time someone actually read it, with revisions… the editor who gave the suggestions, had moved on. I asked for it back. This is how it works. Editors move on. Rejections come, and rejections go. You cry. You laugh. The one thing you will want to do is NEVER give up on yourself, or your writing. If you keep getting rejected over and over, it might be time to do a big revision. Do it! Keep pushing, keep polishing, and keep submitting. Keep at IT! Don’t give up! You will soon learn that rejections are a part of a writer’s life. Like it or not-this is how it is. But, when, and I say WHEN not IF, you get accepted-it will be the most fun, proud thing you’ve ever done! Honest!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rejection of the Great Depression Era

More archival rejections reveal that our Miss Horlbeck left behind a scrapbook of 138 rejections letters received between 1933 and 1937. Ladies and Germs, she was the foremother of this very blog. We have found our LROD leader.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cranky For Good Reason?

Have you heard of the lit journal Electric Literature?  I hadn't.  But I became interested when blogger Roxane Gay (editor of PANK) dressed them down here for literary arrogance.   

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Three Promises

From the mailbag today is the writer of the MIT Sloan Management Review rejection presented below.   Think of this as a reminder that it's tough to put your baby out in the world no matter the field -- even business writing. Says the reject excitedly via an email, "The editor actually took the time to personalize this rejection making me feel like a professional rather than objectified. I couldn't believe it! Good relations, if you ask me. I'd be happy to be rejected by them again (but more happy to be accepted, admittedly)."  Note how many times the word "paper" is used the first paragraph; looks like some editing of the rejection letter might be in order):

From: "Xxxxx Xxxxxx"
Date: July 23, 2009
To: [Name of Writer
Subject: MIT Sloan Management Review: Decision About Your Submission

Mr. Writer:

Thank you for your submission, "[Title of Article]"

After internal review of your (1) paper, we have unfortunately decided not to pursue publication of your (2) paper at this time. While your (3) paper was very interesting, we found that it would not be of sufficient value to our readers at this time. The (4) paper was a pleasure to read and certainly makes a compelling case. But unfortunately, as the (5) paper admits, some of the ideas aren't entirely novel. Because of this, we don't feel the (6) paper will have sufficient value to our readers.

We would also like you to know that streamlining our editorial review process is very important to us. We have expanded our staff, and we are endeavoring to improve our technological resources as well. We have announced a new editorial policy. The details of this new policy can be found on SMR's all new website, but the most important feature are three promises to our authors:

1) We will respond to all new submissions within 48 hours.
2) We will decide within three weeks whether to reject your paper or send it to peer review.
3) We will respond to all papers in peer review within 12 weeks.

We recognize that timeliness of ideas is an important aspect of publishing, and we hope this policy will help our authors more quickly find an outlet for their work.

We wish you the best of luck in finding an appropriate outlet for this paper, and we hope that you will consider submitting work to MIT SMR again in the future.

MIT Sloan Management Review

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rest In Peace, E. Lynn Harris

June 20, 1955-July 23, 2009
It's been a tough summer for literature, hasn't it been?
I can't imagine dying on a book tour.  
Have you ever been on one?  (Oy: the highs/the lows)
Anyway, dude died with his literary boots on and will be missed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rejection Wouldn't Hurt So Bad if Only You Had a Secretary

Cloud of Witness Blog recaps the 24 rejections John Grisham received for his book  A Time to Kill. Reports the blogger from an old interview of Grisham's:  "The first dozen publishing companies and about the same number of agents all sent their regrets. Through it all, though, Grisham said he never got depressed. “I never thought of quitting. My attitude was: ‘What the heck, let’s have some fun.’

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Can Get Arrested in this Town

Is it still news a couple days later if it still shocks the crap out of you? Henry Louis Gates Jr., author of Colored People (and he wasn't kidding), arrested in his own home?  I think it is still newsworthy.  What's the matter with people anyway?

Common Problems From the Slush Pile

I guess it's all the rage to reject via multiple choice these days.  Similar to this bit of fun, which we foolishly once thought was just a joke.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dear Miss Horlbeck

This rejection is from the archives of 1936. Apparently the Real America ("The Outspoken Magazine") was once so outspoken as to leave out the noun in the customary noun/verb syntactical formulation known as the complete sentence. I kind of like it though, as it certainly allows the editor to evade responsibility, similar to how Daddy George Bush delivered his speeches. No "I" necessary! "Enjoyed reading....Suggest you try." Very cordial and removed. Also, I wonder if the comment in the top right corner is the name of Miss Horlbeck's story, or a description of her general outlook for getting published.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Strong Cup of Rejection

Coffee House Press is only a demitasse, very small.  So, there's just no room for your manuscript.  They suggest you try another publishing house; maybe Maxwell House.  That ought to wake you up in the morning!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Angelo Bell's Film Festival Rejection

This dude's (real or fictionalized) blog entry about film festival rejection made me laugh.  Here's a highlight:  "I hate you. I hate the characters in your film. I hate your f--king film! I watched your protagonist and his lover suffer together through tremendous odds–and ultimately find love. WTF? Why can't I find love? " I liked the photo so much o I stole it and posted it here.  Funny.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Aggressive Dewey Decimals

I want to be a fake librarian at this (underground) library!  Listen to this: “Writers, publishers, bookmaker, or booklover of any stripe who has recently finished writing a book, has published a book in the past year, or just feels like taking out some aggression on a publication of your choice” will be invited to hoist their materials into a four-foot catapult to be launched into the street. There will be a shredder where you can shred rejection letters. Debutantes will parade around with the CUL's new artist-designed submission boxes, which will be placed around the city for donations. Come one, come all, there’ll be prizes, there’ll be raffles, there’ll be a catapult! It’s free and open for all ages."

p.s. Here's what it isThe Chicago Underground Library is a new model for open, location-specific archiving of independent and small press media. We are always seeking books, magazines, zines, journals, broadsides, newspapers, and art books of all types, genres, and print runs from the Chicago area. (And maybe your city, too. Be patient, or ask us how to start your own.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Better Read When You're Dead

According to the Guardian, even the sometimes incoherent scratchings of the dead are more likely to get published than you are.  Mover over literary writers of 2009, here come the hot new writers: Vladmir Nabokov, Graham Greene,  Ernest Hemingway.  This depressing  news is brought to you via Scott Jagow's Scratch Pad on American Public Media.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'm Selling Your Book on My Shoe Phone

That happy little website entitled Guide To Literary Agents has a feature called "How I Got My Agent."  I think it would be more interesting if there were one entitled, "I Was A Bad Secret Agent," or "How & Why I Fired My Agent," but I'm just stupidly curious that way.  If anyone wants to post on the latter topic, please feel free.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Is it True, Man?

While I was reading this article, "You Can't Win if You Don't Play," about literary Rejection by writer David Hunter, I was struck by the fact that in all my years blogging this tired topic I'd never heard the tidbit that Truman Capote claimed never to have received a rejection slip.  Ever.  I looked up an article in the Harvard Crimson from 1958 entitled "Cocktails with Truman Capote" by John D. Leonard stating the following: Capote never received a rejection slip. He peddled his first story to Storybook magazine when he was seventeen, "and I've sold everything since. Of course, I'm not very prolific. I've only written a total of twenty stories in all, and I spend up to five months on one short story. If it were rejected then, that would really be a disaster."

Grand River and Joy by Susan Messer

Grand River and Joy, named after a landmark intersection in Detroit, follows Harry Levine through the intersections of his life and the history of his city. It's a work of fiction set in a world that is anything but fictional, a novel about the intersections between races, classes, and religions exploding during the long, hot summers of Detroit in the 1960s. For more information and to buy the book, visit: or

When did you start writing the book? Grand River and Joy began as a short story—one of the first I wrote in my quest to become a writer. I took the story to a workshop and got some powerful responses, but it never got published, and I began to feel that I hadn’t quite told it “right.” I put it away for many years until one day, I was thrashing about, trying to decide what I wanted to work on next, and I remembered this story. So many years later, I wondered, having grown significantly as a writer, what might I make of it? I changed the narrative structure considerably, introduced new scenes and plot elements, and submitted it to a competition. Around that time, I’d also begun to think that the story had novelistic potential—with all its socioeconomic themes. I’d applied to and been accepted at an artists’ colony, and my plan was to go there to start the novel. That was about four years ago. By the way, the story won first place in the competition, and I was invited to Washington DC, where the competition sponsor was located, for an award celebration and reading. This certainly seemed to validate my intentions.

How long did it take to finish the first draft? It’s hard for me at this point to distinguish between drafts or recall how long any one of them took to write. But at about the two-year mark, I started to think I was ready to look for an agent.

How many revisions did you write? Again, this is hard to quantify. In some ways, I could say it was some almost-infinite number, because some sections, I worked on over and over and over again. In other ways, I could say I had maybe two or three complete drafts. I also had to revise for my editor, once the book was accepted. That last revision was primarily a matter of cutting. I had over 120,000 words in my manuscript, and my contract said I had to bring it down to 100,000.

Who read your drafts? Oh, boy. For years, I was in a writing group, but by the time I began the novel, I had left the group, and I found it difficult to find people whose opinions and reading/critiquing skills I trusted but who had the time to read and respond promptly (promptness is important to me). I was also afraid of being derailed or discouraged, so I was very cautious about who to ask. And I knew my feelings would be hurt, and I would also be mad, if a reader was very slow to respond or didn’t respond at all. I’m amazed when I hear about writers who say they have a whole collection of ready, responsive readers. People I know seem to be too busy.  So . . . the short answer is that not many people read my drafts. My husband read the whole thing (he’s the charming person seated behind me in the Rejection Rhumba intro), and I talked to him a lot about problems I was having and issues I was trying to work through. He was an enormous help. I had two other readers, but they read only the first chapter or two.

Did you use an agent? If not, why not?I did use an agent. And this part of the story was pretty magical. I’d been approached already by three or four agents who had seen my published short stories and essays, but I didn’t yet have a book to show them when they contacted me. I planned on getting in touch with all of them—well, two in particular who were very impressive—when the book was ready, but before I was able to do that, someone else came along. I was at a community Seder, and a woman at the table asked about my book. I said I thought I was just about ready to look for an agent, when another woman at the table said she’d be happy to connect me with her agent. I thanked her but didn’t really believe this was going to happen until a few days later, when her agent actually called, asking if she could read my manuscript. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?” About a week or two later she called to tell me how much she liked it and to offer representation. She seemed to understand the book so well, to really have the feel for what I was up to, and she had the experience to know what to do with it. I felt very comfortable with her in this lengthy conversation, so after sleeping on it for a few days, I said yes to her.

How long did it take to find a publisher? My agent submitted to about 20 editors before she made the sale. She sent it out to 13 the first time. So how long did it take? I can’t remember exactly, maybe six months? Not as long as you might think with 20 rejections. She never even seemed close to giving up, and when she went to conferences, she’d ask colleagues for ideas about where else to submit. I’m very happy with my publisher—University of Michigan Press. This seems like a meaningful home for a book about Detroit.

What is your worst rejection story?  I guess I’ll say that the worst rejection story is the one that brought me to your attention—the basis for my little performance piece called “The Rejection Rhumba.” The rejected piece had garnered multiple honors but never been published, and then that slap in the face. I felt completely humiliated when I opened that letter from the editors. Devastated. Still, I view those who publish literary magazines as angels—all that work for the sheer love of literature. It’s certainly not for the money or fame. But the process can also make people callous.

What is your best rejection story?  I suppose I’ll say that the best rejection was the same as the worst—because of where it led: to a well of playful creativity, to connections with other people, and to your kind invitation to be interviewed.

Where were you when you received the offer for the book to be published? I had just finished working out on the cross-trainer in my basement and was pretty sweaty. My agent had told me a few days earlier that she thought we might receive an offer, but the offer needed the approval of the editorial board, and they were meeting that day. So I was a little prepared for something to happen.

Who was the first person you told about the book deal? I’m sure it was my husband.

Has your philosophy on getting published changed? Not really. It still looks to me like some mix of hard work and luck.

What words of advice would you give to a writer on the journey toward publication? I’ve never been much for giving advice. Most people need to find their way on their own. I can only say what has worked for me, and that has been discipline. I’ve never left it to chance to find writing time. When I decided to get serious about writing, I designated Sunday mornings as my time (see my little essay about this on my website: And every Sunday morning, I went to my desk, ready to work. I didn’t answer the phone nor let anything else get in the way. When I decided I wanted to write the novel, I added evenings. Every night after supper, I’d get down to my writing. I do regret that I didn’t get serious about writing until relatively late in life. I wish I could have published this novel when I was 30. On the other hand, a person can’t do anything until she’s ready, and I wasn’t ready back then, so . . . this is how it turned out for me. Not so bad after all. I do have more than 300 pages written of a second novel. So I guess one piece of advice is to keep on working, no matter what, if what one wants to do is write.

Monday, July 13, 2009

In Rejection History Today

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog (where ideas matter), T.S. Eliot rejected George Orwell's Animal Farm 65 years ago today.  Eliot, moonlighting as an editor at Faber & Faber,  told the political-satire guru that his manuscript was not up to the publishing house's literary standards, hastening to say, however, that “we have no conviction . . . that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time.” Isn't it so like a rejecting editor to have no conviction?  Makes me feel better.
p.s.  Let us reflect on a famous quotation by Thomas Stearns himself: "Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Current VQR Needs

Remember the Virginia Quarterly Review incident, followed by the sort-of apology and literary cat fight? too.  Those were some interesting moments.

Your Rejection Only Makes Me Dance

A publisher accidentally sent Susan Messer private notes about a manuscript. Once she recovered from her devastation, she decided to turn the hurtful words into a performance piece entitled, "Rejection Rhumba." The sound is muffled, but you get the idea.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gargoyle: "More Lesbian Sex Please" (Less Story)

From the mail bag today, an anonymous(e) writes to tell about a rejection received from Gargoyle, noting that the literary magazine is apparently edited by a gargoyle: I sent a story to Gargoyle yesterday, (the story features a lesbian protagonist) and got this reply this morning. "I want more about the women and their sexual encounter. All the backstory just took the NOW out of it for me. I'd rethink this angle." (Do you think by "took the NOW out" he meant "kept me from climaxing"?) Perhaps there are a few other mags he should consider if he wants all sex, no context. 

GOD SAYS NO by James Hannaham

Nothing like seeing a good writer make it into print with an intriguing story.  James Hannaham's first novel, God Says No, is the story of a young black Christian struggling with desire and belief, with his love for his wife, and his appetite for other men, told in a singular, emotional voice. Driven by desperation and religious visions, the path that narrator Gary Gray takes gives a riveting picture of how life can be lived. Perhaps you will like to pick it up in a bookstore, purchase it, and read it, yes?  In the meantime, here's a good victory-over-rejection story:

When did you start writing the book? I started writing what was a very different book in 2001, put it down to write some stories in 2003, picked it up again and revamped it in the middle of graduate school in 2004, finished a draft at the MacDowell Colony in 2005, then continued revising until the manuscript was picked up by McSweeney's in January 2008, and continued to continue to revise until January of 2009. I hope I'm done now. 

So, how many revisions is that? By the end, I believe there were something like 29 drafts, some heavier than others, like when I sliced five chapters off the front. 

Who read your drafts? Who read my drafts...hahahaha! Who DIDN'T read my drafts? The first version always goes to one of my bestest friends, Clarinda Mac Low, who reads extraordinarily fast and has brilliant judgment. Then it goes to Daniel Clymer (to whom the book is dedicated) who always tells me how much he loves my writing. If Daniel ever told me he didn't like something I'd written, I'd burn it. I had a long list of writer friends take a look after that--Jennifer Egan, Jim Lewis, David Wright, Timothy Murphy, Helen Eisenbach--anybody who I thought could help it along. 

Did you use an agent? If not, why not? A shite-tonne of agents read, as Jennifer E. and I attempted to go the normal route to publication for a year or so. I would happily have used an agent, but agents weren't biting, and they all had wildly different opinions about the book, it seemed. So we decided to send it directly to three different small but reputable publishers where Jenny had personal connections—Akasic, McSweeney's, and Picador—thinking we'd get a similar response. But they were all interested, and we had a happy problem on our hands. 

How long did it take to find a publisher? Honestly, it took about 2 months to find a publisher, but it had taken a year to fail to find an agent, so I am tempted to count that time as well. 

What is your worst rejection story? My worst rejection story is probably about the agent who emailed me raving about the first section of the book before he'd finished reading it and then ended up passing. Or the two agents who represent friends of mine who still haven't gotten back to me. 

What is your best rejection story? God Says No is written in a style that purports to be the slightly clunky prose of Gary Gray, a first-time memoirist whose story has very little in common with mine. However, one agent who will remain nameless sent this response to Jenny after reading: "I REALLY wanted to love it. I am sorry to say I didn't. For one thing, I don't feel he has fully made the transition from memoir to novel. His book still reads very much like the former. And there is a naiveté about the writing which comes across as both genuine but also unpolished. I am taking on very few new clients these days and when taking the plunge try to consider the long-term future a writer might have. James Hannaham has a compelling and worthy story to tell, but I am not certain how much more he has to say or if he truly possesses the skills with which to say it." When Jenny informed this person that I wasn't Gary, the agent responded: "I am impressed to hear that this is genuinely a fiction. I suppose the fact that I so completely believed that voice is a triumph of sorts." I remember wishing I could have been this person just so I could have the experience of thinking everything in God Says No actually happened.

Where were you when you received the offer for the book to be published? No place special. Sitting by the windowsill in my apartment where my boyfriend keeps his smelly boxing gloves, getting my email.

Who was the first person you told about the book deal? I just checked my email archive for this, but I knew it'd be Jenny. By that time I was calling her my "agent agent"--you know how they say you need an agent to get an agent? That's what she did for me—and much much more. My nickname for her is Agent 99 (from Get Smart). McSweeney's made an offer via email, after a phone conversation where they'd come close to making an offer, on January 22nd. Minutes later, I emailed Jenny: "Christmas came early, 99."

Has your philosophy on getting published changed? Not significantly. Most of my friends who are writers have an average of three books out already, and I've seen what happens (or doesn't) multiple times, so I never had any illusions about what it might mean. I wasn't thinking it would make me rich or famous or change my life. At the baseline, I bet that it might increase my chances of getting a tenure-track teaching job someday, and I realized I'd be able to point to it and say I'd accomplished something—you can't exactly put an unpublished manuscript on your résumé. As for the roundabout way in which the book got accepted, it makes perfect sense in terms of the way things happen in my life. I try to do things through the accepted channels, I bang my head against the wall thinking I have to, and as soon as I decide to do it weird, it works.

What words of advice would you give to a writer on the journey toward publication? Jenny has said any number of life-changing things to me over the years, especially during the whole process of attempting to find an agent (um, still don't have one, by the way). Here are her greatest hits, as far as I'm concerned:

a) "Give yourself permission to write badly;" b) "The only collateral we have as writers is the quality of our work."

I suppose these are the bookends of the writing process. Think of (a) when drafting and (b) when revising. I don't have all that much advice when it comes to getting published. If you're a young writer and you're more concerned about getting published than you are excited about language and writing and people and the struggle to say something worthwhile before you die, maybe you should be an agent.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Your Entire Gender is Unprofitable

News flash: Economic downturn cited in literary rejection letter.  You had to know it was coming, right? Here's one posted by Write Meg! from an anonymous literary agent:  "Thank you for considering us, but due to the economy, we are reluctant to represent women’s fiction at this time." That's quite a statement.

My Literary Performance in Gloom

In case you are sitting around wondering about how your own personal literary performance (whatever that means) matches up, the poetess Donna Quesinberry has a serious exploration for you on the topic over at the in an article called Rating Personal Literary Performance.  Here's a highlight: "So how do you rate your literary performance? By the progression you make, without stress, without writer's block, without angst. If you are writing, publishing, and writing again-you are successful. If you haven't been published yet, you don't stress, you access your submission market, you re-submit. In other words, you continue to write and work with a rejection being something to put in your journal and then let go of. Don't hold onto negativity. That is a barrier to success." Bah.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Um...No It Could Not

CBSnews in Canada asks the following question: Could the next great novel be written on a cell phone?  I learned so many astonishing things from this article, such as (1) the melodramatic cellphone novel If You by "Rin" is considered a best-seller, even though it features sentences like this one: "I'm short, I'm stupid, I'm not pretty, I'm rubbish, and I've got no dreams."  (2) Another melodramatic cellphone bestseller called Love Sky by Mika was made into a movie, and (3) St. Martin's Press offered a three-"book" deal to a U.S. author Saoirse Redgrave who won a contest and "micro-published" on a website titled textnovel which looks like child's vomit.  I feel educated...and scared.

Friday, July 3, 2009

At Least I'm Not a Female Playwright

The New York Times recently ran an article ("Rethinking Gender Bias in Theater") reporting on an academic study that found discrimination in the theater community against female playwrights.  I'm not sure why this would be a shock to anybody: you can count on one hand plays by women that make it to the big stage, and certainly the people affected are well aware of the problem. But it appears to be causing quite a stir.  Other articles on the topic appear in Bloomberg, Critical Difference Blog, New York Magazine, and Salon.

Brain Impact: Rejection = Physical Pain

Self Publishing Review has an  article offering practical advice about traditional rejection, entitled: Rejection...a Pain in the What? Self-serving? Maybe.  Still, here is a highlight: In October 2003, a UCLA-led team of psychologists reported the results of their study on “rejection” and its effects on the brain. Conventional wisdom has long held that rejection is an emotion that is technically unquantifiable. However, the UCLA-led team proved otherwise. They concluded that “rejection” does, in fact, register in the brain! And further, that the mechanism by which this occurs is identical to the experience of physical pain!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Not On Our Premises

This one says:  Dear Contestant: Thank you for entering the eighth "On the Premises" short story contest.  Ten stories were selected as finalists.  We're sorry to have to inform you that yours was not among them.  The ninth short story contest will begin the same day our eighth issue is published July 13th, or thereabouts).  Look for it, and keep on writing!  Wonder how much the entry fee is each year.  It's a good racket, if you can get people to pay.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Your Work is "Gross or Disgusting in Nature"

This out-to-lunch rejection is long and involved with many choices, but the important part is circled.  Click to enlarge and read the entire range of possible reasons for rejection. It's quite amusing.