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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Long Road to Rejection

I published something in Post Road once, I think. This was sent in by an LROD reader:
Dear Writer: We appreciate the opportunity to read "Title", but unfortunately this submission was not a right fit for Post Road.Thank you for considering us. Sincerely, The Editors of Post Road

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Letter From A Reformed Editor

Dear WR,

I'm a long-time reader of LROD and first want to say best of luck on your new literary journey. I just wanted to share with you and your readers my experience as a writer-turned-editor of a zine. If anyone is thinking of becoming the same thing, I hope they don't repeat my mistakes.

I have been on the receiving end of more rejections than I can count and I got the point where could no longer bear to be just another insignificant, replaceable little cog in the literary machine. I wanted to be someone who turned the crank--an editor. So in 2009 I started an online lit mag, which thank God no longer exists. I'm withholding its name because I don't want to face backlash from former contributors.

I started out as a good editor, adopted a submission policy that was painless, with just a few simple formatting guidelines that made it easier for me to upload the stories and poems to the site. Reprints and sim subs were OK by me. I sent out polite, encouraging form rejections and called authors by their names instead of "writer." I responded after a few weeks tops. I couldn't pay, but I did nominate stories for Pushcarts, Best-of-the-Webs, and tried to promote good writing.

The magazine's masthead listed several fake names of editors and readers so people wouldn't think it was just another personal website masquerading as a literary journal. In reality, there were only 1 and 1/4 people running the zine: me, and friend who occasionally read batches of poetry submissions. Looking back, it was a mistake to accept poetry. I can recognize bad poetry and know when to reject it, but I'm clueless when it comes to distinguishing between ok and good poetry.

Things went well during the first few months after its inception. I received a manageable trickle of submissions thanks to Duotrope, and I could find enough decent stories and poems to put out an issue every month or so. But as the magazine gained more of a following, reading the submissions became impossible.

The overall quality of stories decreased drastically as their number grew. In the early phase, one out of ten submissions was good enough to publish by my standards. When things got out of control, maybe one out of 250. Even if I had switched to a quarterly schedule, I wouldn't have had enough time to find enough publishable pieces.

I don't want to rag on some of the awful riterz I've had the displeasure of reading. But there was one guy who kept submitting stupid stories ripped off from episodes of popular TV shows (Lost, Mad Men, the Sopranos). Clunky prose, stilted dialogue, inconsistent use of tense and person, not knowing the difference between dessert and desert, or then and than -- and turns out this guy was a current MFA student at a university two towns over from where I lived. He's not even the worst; there was also an ESL guy from Croatia who insisted that his pieces were "endowed of top editing by top English speak." ESL man might have been a prankster; every story was a variation on man meets hooker, hooker under-delivers, man stiffs hooker.

Anyway, one weekend afternoon in late 2010, I was frantically skimming submissions trying to find at least a handful I could bear to publish. I was past the deadline and there was a backlog of months-old stories and poems that still hadn't been read. Even when I filtered out the kooks, and the idiots who sent attachments when I specifically said not to, the slush pile was winning and I was losing.

I took a deep breath and evaluated the situation objectively. Would a sane person do what I was doing? Why was I doing this? Was I getting the fulfillment of being an editor? No. And I wasn't even making good literary contacts. My writing time was being sacrificed for the sake of reading bad writing. I needed to stop immediately, and so I did.

I logged out of my submissions manager, opened up Paint, and created an image that said H4CK3D. I then logged in to my server, deleted all the files from my site, and uploaded the image. Problem solved. My online literary magazine was officially hacked and could no longer publish anything or process new submissions. I didn't notify my past contributors or the authors of pending submissions. I just tore it all down, walked away and never looked back.

It was a shitty thing to do, but really for the best. Everyone whose stories I published could resubmit them to better journals and forget the whole thing even existed. Hell, I've had my stories unpublished when online zines shut down, and I just resubmitted them elsewhere. Other editors don't care.

The experience made me realize several things that I was unaware of or had overlooked before:

  • Being an editor isn't all that it's cracked up to be (unless you edit the Paris Review or New Yorker).
  • Don't let "editors" get you down about your writing. Anyone can call himself an editor.
  • Some editors are more aptly called "selectors," since they do very little editing. Anyone can be a selector.
  • Blowhard editors, like some who have commented here, probably start out as nice people, but reading so much crap for so long will warp your attitude towards writers. I'm glad I stopped before I became a dick.
  • Slow response times and curt form rejections really are nothing personal.
  • The slush pile is as bad as everyone says it is. At a non-paying zine, even worse.
  • On the bright side, if you are college-educated and read and write on a regular basis, your stories are probably in the top 10% of submissions. Even if you think you are a mediocre writer, there are tons of writers much worse. The fact that you can recognize mediocrity in your own writing is a point in your favor. Having to read so much dreck actually improved my self-confidence as a writer, though I don't recommend anyone try it for themselves.

How to not run a zine into the ground:

  • Have an actual staff! You can't do it on your own, don't even try!
  • Pay your writers. It's the right thing to do and your magazine will be better for it. If you can't make enough money from ads, subscriptions, and contest fees, you shouldn't be in this business. Exposure isn't payment.

Not to mention, how to be a better submitter:

  • Follow the damn guidelines. They are not arbitrary.
  • Proofread
  • Don't copy another story/movie/TV show. Chances are your editor is more well-read than you think and will spot it. We're not all boobs!
  • A cover letter with awards, publications, and degrees won't help you if your story sucks.
  • Don't worry if you can't write a cover letter with a list of awards, publications, and degrees. Lit mags want to publish stories, not cover letters. Good writing can stand on its own.
  • Thank the readers/editors for reading your submission. It may work in your favor.

And how to be a bolder submitter:

  • Always sim sub.
  • Never stop submitting to a journal just because they've rejected all of your previous submissions.
  • Don't be afraid to resend a rejected story if you've reworked it
  • If you can handle criticism, don't be afraid to ask why your submission was rejected. You might actually get a response.
  • Thank the editor for his comments, even if they are idiotic and the guy's a dick. Never stoop to being a dick.

I hope that this is of value to some of your readers, thanks for taking the time to read my missive!

Editor, Resigned

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No Fit Rejection

Dear Writer: We appreciate the opportunity to read "Title", but unfortunately this submission was not a right fit for Post Road.Thank you for considering us. Sincerely, The Editors of Post Road

Friday, October 21, 2011

Go Team Fiction!

There's an advertisement in that thar rejection:
Thank you for your submission to Able Muse. We have read your story carefully and unfortunately it did not meet our present needs. The best way to find out what we publish is by reading Able Muse. The latest issue, No. 11, Summer 2011 is available in print and online at. We invite our readers to get all the details on subscription information. --For the Fiction Team at Able Muse.
Sorry for the spotty posting; a family member had emergency surgery and I've been shuffling to the hospital and back. Everything is okay, but it's been quite a season of urgent matters. Luckily, all is turning out well in the end.

p.s. Writing Update: I am, it turns out, working with Secret Agent Man on a proposal for the nonfiction book....shhh! Also, I contacted an editor who once almost bought my second short story collection (still unpublished) and she is going to have a look at my novel and give me her professional editing opinion. I am paying her for this service, so it's a hired opinion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Missouri Misery

Thank you for giving us the chance to consider “Title” for publication in The Missouri Review. Though it does not fit our current needs, we appreciate your interest in our magazine and your commitment to quality writing. We wish you the best of luck publishing your work and hope you’ll consider sending us more in the future. Sincerely, The Editors

Monday, October 17, 2011

Publishing News Flash (Go Back to The Old Way)

This just in: Harper Perennial has figured out how to fix publishing; don't give writers big advances. Here's a highlight:
Harper Perennial’s model isn’t unique, but it’s an intriguing case study in what an imprint needs to do to distinguish itself in an increasingly stratified market. What it does is innovative and exciting, but also traditional. The imprint nurtures young writers, orchestrates creative — occasionally quite elaborate — marketing schemes, and packages its content in gorgeously designed paperback originals.  There is no star system, no bidding wars, no big names...and the imprint keeps its costs down by offering most writers modest advances for first novels and debut story collections.
Well, I do have to say that the Blockbuster, Super-Star, MacDonald's Cheeseburger Model of publishing did pretty much fuck us over, those of us who were never going to get a 6-figure advance. So, maybe it's not so terrible to scale back the horrors of capitalism-gone-mad. Seems like they've just gone back to the old way of publishing books and making them attractive to readers.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Emerge It Somewhere Else, Bub

Dear Emerging Voices Applicant:  
Thank you for applying to the 2012 Emerging Voices Fellowship. We regret we are unable to offer you a place in the 2012 program.  
There were an overwhelming number of exceptional applicants, and unfortunately, a very limited number of spots available for Fellows. We wish you the best of luck in the future.  
Sincerely, Libby Flores,  
Program Manager, 
Emerging Voices & The Mark Program 
PEN Center USA 
A community of writers defending freedom of expression and building a literary culture

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

You Can't Keep A Crazy Mo-Fo Down

One thing I do pretty well, surly and happy mice, is bounce back. I'm already working a new angle on the new non-fiction book proposal and making traction with a new agent. Your loss, Agent 99, and the 98 who came before! (Actually, when I put it that way, I see something effed-up about my formula.) It's just not that personal. I once had lunch with this editor who'd passed up an insanely successful, pulitzer-prize-winning literary book. I asked her if she regretted letting the opportunity pass, and she said. "Naw, I just didn't like it that much!" I did hear the faint sound of "ka-ching, ka-ching" ringing somewhere behind her dead eyes, but she did seem to believe her own b.s. Whatever. They have their own formulas for success and they are working in a dying business, or so everyone says.  It does occur to me that maybe after a while you stop feeling the blows so acutely when you are being pummeled.  Not sure.  But, anyway, onward! as Howard Junker would say. Let's not let anything hold us back now.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Modelland by Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks, people. Another effing inspirational YA book to egg you along your journey as  writer. All you need to do is be famous in some other way first. Super model to literary author. What's your path? To tell the truth, despite how ridiculously breezy she makes it all look--she even drives and writes her novel at the same time--I still kind of like her. I don't know why. Call me crazy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rahlly We Do

News soon about this crazy proposal.  In the meantime, here's one from the Kenyon Review:
Thank you for submitting your story. We regret that we are unable to use "Title." Your work has received careful consideration, which sometimes means a response less prompt than we would wish. Unfortunately, the large number of submissions prevents us from commenting on many worthy manuscripts. We do appreciate your interest in The Kenyon Review. --The Editors

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What's It All About?

Says the witty submitter of this rejection, "I am a forty-something in a twenty-something world."
Thank you for your recent query regarding representation. Having considered this, we've concluded that LMQ is not going to be the right fit for your project, but of course wish you all the best with it. Sincerely, LMQ [for Jason Anthony]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New York City Rejection Line

In case you don't want to do it yourself, some good creative New Yorkers will do it for you.  Check it out by playing this mp3. Or call the line yourself: (212) 479-7990. This is what you'll hear: "Welcome to the New York City Rejection Line.  Unfortunately, the person who gave you this number does not want to talk to you or speak to you again. We would like to take this opportunity to officially reject you. If you want to hear from our comfort specialist, press 1. If you want to hear a sad poem written by a kindred spirit, press 2." Maybe there should be a literary equivalent?

p.s. No cancer...phew.

Monday, October 3, 2011


An inspiring story from the editor of Anderbo:
I started writing my first short story, "Boys Who Do the Bop" in 1976 (I was born in 1950). I finished writing it in 1982 and promptly submitted it to The New Yorker -- and it was rejected. Over the next six years I submitted it to publications large and tiny (including two re-submissions to The New Yorker) but nothing but rejections came back. I wrote no other stories, just kept sending out "Boys Who Do the Bop". Then, in the spring of 1988, the story was finally accepted -- by The New Yorker! (By this time I was 37 1/2). Rick Rofihe, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief,
He also included his new revised rejection letter, complete with handy resource links: is an all-volunteer organization. We are able to use less than 1/2 of 1% of what comes in; most submissions receive a response within 6 to 96 hours.
Effective August 1st, 2011: Due to the increasing number of submissions we are receiving, we cannot consider more than one submission from any individual in a 3-month period. Other literary sites of interest:*