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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We Do Not Recommend Your Work

Hey, wait a minute; there's no such thing as a fifth Wednesday. Maybe we don't recommend your journal, even if you do think we benefit from buying copies of it:
Dear Writer: Thank you for sending your work to Fifth Wednesday Journal. We have completed our review, and our readers and editors do not recommend your work for publication in the Fall 2012 issue. Please visit for information on future submission periods. Fifth Wednesday Journal editors recognize the cost of literary magazines can be prohibitive for many writers. Nevertheless, we believe that writers benefit from reading a literary magazine on a regular basis. Our offer: Send a copy of this e-mail together with a payment of $6.00 and we will send you one copy of the issue of your choice; send a payment of $15.00 and we will send you a three (3) issue subscription starting with the most recent issue released. Unfortunately, for international orders we must add postage: $6.00 for one copy and $15.00 for subscriptions. Offer expires October 1, 2012. Send a copy of this e-mail, shipping address, issue choice, and payment to: Fifth Wednesday Books, Inc. P.O. Box 4033, Lisle, IL 60532-9033 Thank you again for the opportunity to read your work. If you wish to receive our newsletters go to the website and click on the Join Our Mailing List icon. Editors at Fifth Wednesday Journal

Monday, July 30, 2012

Public Space, Private Rejection

Dear Writer McWriterson: Thank you for your patience while we read your submission. We appreciated the chance to consider "Title of Work," but unfortunately we must pass. Best of luck placing this work elsewhere. To learn more about goings-on at A Public Space, please visit your local bookstore to find our latest issue, visit us online at or join us on Twitter @apublicspace. With very best wishes, A Public Space

Thursday, July 26, 2012

MmmHmmm, Atticus Books, MmmHmmm

They want your rejections, but I was here first.

Short(er) Daughters of American Fiction

Subject: The American Short(er) Fiction Prize
Dear Writer McWriter:
You and your fellow contest entrants stunned and delighted us with your stories. We received close to 1,000 entries this year for the American Short(er) Fiction Prize, and we learned again and again that the short form is incredibly versatile and powerful. Thanks for sharing your work with us and showing us what flash fiction can do. We're sorry to report that your work did not place as a finalist. We wish you the best of luck in placing it elsewhere.
The Editors of American Short Fiction

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Girls Club by Sally Bellerose

Today, Sally Bellerose, award-winning author of  The Girls Club, amuses and amazes with stories of rejection and her ultimate victory. (I would have asked more questions, but I was afraid after the first question.) I've read this book, and it is very good. I highly recommend it.

What is your worst rejection story?
So many to choose from. It took 20 years to get The Girls Club published. I had lots of short stories and essays and poetry published in that time. Pieces of the novel were published and won prizes, including an NEA. I’d put the novel down for years at a time, then pick it back up. The manuscript went through two agents; many presses were interested, but then declined to publish.
     So, I could go with the fact that five years ago Alyson Books, a well known decades-old publisher accepted the novel, sent a great contract, and promptly went out of business. Or I could go with the agent who pursued me, promising me the moon and a lucrative book deal, only to keep my manuscript for over a year, rarely answering phone calls or emails, before finally informing me that she had “made a mistake and was not the right agent for the book.”
     Like my defunct Alyson Books contract, my worst rejection story started out as an acceptance story. Thirteen years ago an excerpt from the novel won a prize and was published ("The GirlsClub - Chapter One," in Quarterly West, edited by Margot Schilpp, University of Utah Press, 1999.) I won First Place in Best of Writers at Work.
     Writers at Work is a writer’s conference, held at the time in Park City, Utah. The prize included $1,500, publicity, free admittance to morning workshops, meeting with an editor, and a featured reading at the conference at The Yarrow Hotel, where the conference was being held.
      I arrived at the airport in Utah, where I was supposed to be greeted by a conference worker carrying a sign with my name, who was driven from the airport to the conference. This service was part of the prize. No one picked me up. No one answered the phone when I called the conference.
     I figured this was merely a bit of incompetence, much like the fact that my local newspaper never received the information from Writer’s at Work so it could run the story about how I had won the prize. I thought the fact that an organizer called me after midnight to ask for my tax information could maybe somehow be chalked up to a difference in time zones.
     When I got to the conference my name, as winner, was on the marquee outside of the hotel. This gave me a moment’s relief. But minutes later, at the registration table, the volunteers rifled through the participant packets and could find nothing with my name on it. I told them I had won First Prize in Fiction. I assured them I had been in contact with the conference organizers who knew I was coming.
     “Look,” I said, “My name is on the sign.”
     The young volunteers said they would put together a packet and I should return in an hour. I went to my room. An hour later I got my packet and found two organizers, smiling women who said, “Sorry,” and invited me to meet them for dinner, in the lobby, at 7 pm. I had been promised I would receive my $1,500 prize immediately upon arrival. I asked for the money and was told they would have a check for me when we went to diner later that evening. At 7 pm, I went to the lobby and the man behind the desk told me that the folks from Writer’s at Work had gathered and left for dinner at 6pm.
     I was beginning to think this was more than incompetence.
     These people didn’t like me. But why did they choose my work?
     Apparently the organizers of the conference and the panel of judges were two discreet sets of people and not of the same opinion regarding the quality and especially the content of my work. Dagoberto Gilb was the final judge. Gilb’s stories have appeared in The New Yorker and Harpers. (By the way, I recommend his work. He writes about many things including working class Chicano American life and culture.) At the time of this conference his most recently released book, The Magic of Blood, was on the Arizona banned book list. I have no idea why the organizers chose Gilb, not only as judge but keynote speaker.
     I was in the lobby when he arrived at the conference. He went to the registration table, a loud argument ensued. Gilb left the lobby appearing very angry.
     Later that evening, during what should have been his keynote address, it was announced, by a smiling woman, that Gilb would not be attending the conference. Another speaker, whose name and topic are not in my memory bank, spoke to the crowd.
     I am a lesbian. By this time I had finally come to the conclusion that the organizers were homophobes. I stayed. I won’t speculate what prompted Gilb to part ways with Writers at Work. As the days went on it became clear that not only my sexuality, but the themes of my novel excerpt which portrayed a working class, ill, lesbian and mother, were an affront to my hosts.
     During one “Meet and Greet” event I stood in line with the Nonfiction and Poetry winners. An organizer introduced and praised the work of the other two winners and either did not introduce me at all, or said my name without mentioning my work. Still, she smiled. She kept smiling when I again asked for my $1,500 and said, “We didn’t know you needed the money so badly.” I reminded her that I had won the money and had been promised I would receive it as soon as I arrived at the conference.
     Fortunately, Susan a friend and writing comrade of many years attended the conference. She was there to witness the snubbing, or I may have thought I was imagining it, or exaggerating events.
     What happened at the dinner in honor of the Writers at Work Winning Authors was definitely not imagined. There were several large tables, one winner from each genre seated at each table with organizers and attendees. The winners were allowed to invite a friend. Susan and I got there early. As the organizers arrived they said not a word to me or Susan and sat chatting at the other two tables.
     When a couple of late-comers arrived the only seats left were at our table. They looked around, but they were stuck with us or the floor. They could have taken chairs from our table, as a couple of others had, and squeezed in with the Poetry or Non-fiction winners, but they took a seat at our table instead. It was an awkward dinner, saved by Susan’s gracious southern upbringing.
     At the meeting to discuss my manuscript with Carol Houck Smith, book editor at W.W. Norton, there was no fake smiling. Houck Smith (may she rest in peace) got right to the point. She told me I was “very talented.” She said she personally had no trouble with the content of the book, but if I thought I was going to be the one to overcome the “shit-barrier”— yes, she used that exact term to refer to the illness the protagonist in the story referred to as “the dreaded bowel disease” in the novel—while also taking on sexuality and class, I was sorely mistaken. She said I was an unknown and this was not a subject that would “fly” in a first book.
     After this encounter I sought out an organizer and demanded my money.
     Then came my featured reading. I would have thought myself brave for reading at all, but I followed Dorothy Allred Solomon who read from her memoir, In My Father’s House, which depicted her life in as a child in her father’s iron-fisted polygamous Mormon household. Solomon, reading to an audience assembled by these organizers, in a largely Mormon area, was a poster child for brave. The audience loved her.
     When it was my turn to read, I was given a lukewarm and barely audible introduction. Unlike the readers who preceded me and read from a raised podium, I was asked to read without a mic at floor level. I smiled back at my introducer and climbed a couple of stairs to the podium and used the mic that was still turned on. Short of tackling me, there was nothing they could do. Well, someone could have pulled the plug, but no one did.
     Instead of the excerpt that had won the prize, I read the most graphic sex scene in the book. The crowd, as they say, went wild.The audience, the organizers, and the judges, as it turns out, were three distinct groups.
     After the reading an agent rushed me, and by rushed I mean ran up the center aisle to get to me after the reading. She raved about my work, assured me she was seriously interested, took my manuscript, and then strung me out for a very long time before deciding she didn’t want to represent the work.
     I am not sure if I left Utah wiser, or more confused, maybe a bit wary of smiling women, but my happy ending is this: My novel The Girls Club was published in September 2011 by Bywater Books.
     And is doing quite well, thank you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rearing its Head

Ye Old MFA Debate is happening on this blog in the comments section of a recent post.  It goes like this:

Anonymous 1: "It's gotten to the point where an MFA is a license enabling one to practice. Just like dentistry or law require a license. Can only "trained" writers produce good work? In today's literary world a discriminatory mindset prevails. -- and this is wrong. But those in academia are in the driver's seat -- and they won't change a status quo that favors them. I know -- this is an old gripe, But that doesn't make it any less valid."

Anonymous 2: "No, what makes your gripe less valid is how silly it is. . . ."

Anonymous 1: "Silly? That's it? Perfect example of the attitude I'm talking about. One that reeks of a superior dismissiveness. (BTW, what MFA program did you attend?)"

Anonymous 2: "You don't offer any evidence for your argument--that's what makes it silly. Sorry if that's elitist. Now to begin: have you considered how many people with MFAs are also getting rejected? The MFA is a chance to work with established writers and to network and to teach--in no way is it a license that 'enables one to practice.' I know plenty of MFAers who send out story after story with nothing to show. Also: can only 'trained' writers produce good work? Uh, have you been reading lately? 'Good' work is among the rarest published. 'Good' work has a hard time finding a market. Publishers aren't interested in 'good.' They want something that 'sells.' Academia in the driver's seat? Tell that to the University of Missouri Press, one of the last best places for literary fiction. Their funding has been yanked. Also: Have you considered that in order to get a job in academia, today's writers must first have published with major publishers? Lastly: you're going to dismiss Jacob Appel and his work because of his degree? That is ridiculous. Go back through this blog and read the posts where Jacob is mentioned. He has had to work and work and work. It's insulting that you would try to diminish him in any way by suggesting that he hasn't earned his success. Now, you may not like my attitude but, upon examination, yours is quite a bit worse. A real writer wouldn't begrudge anyone else his/her success, because a real writer understands how difficult it is to write. In an MFA program or not."

Anonymous 1: "You still miss my point. Sure, a lot of writers with an MFA don't get published. But at least they have a shot at getting read. Why else would almost every writer in a magazine or journal of any prestige have an MFA? The point is this: if you do NOT have an MFA, you aren't even in the running (unless you're writng in a popular genre; but I'm talking literary fiction -- by which I mean "good" fiction). Some people in the "establishment" admit this; some even lament it. I had a email discussion about the state of things with an editor in a top tier publication (east coast city) and he wrote me -- exact words: "You're right -- it's all MFA all the time. Don't know quite what to do about it." Why did he respond? Because 1) he was an editor of non-fiction and 2) he was a man in his late sixties. Anybody who writes well has my respect. But a lot of what I see published in the last ten years I don't consider to be good. Much less very good -- or great. A lot of the writers who did great work never got an MFA. Back in the day, it was."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lamest Phone-Call Rejection Ever

Seriously, person at small press? Seriously?! You who are an Associate Publisher--Really?!  
     You have me call you to get my rejection because you're too chaotically busy to write it down and send it?  How about just, "Thanks. It wasn't what we were looking for."  But instead you tell me you have notes to pass along from an editor who has departed and "another staffer."
     So I call in for my rejection, but you start rambling about Augusten Burroughs and how his memoirs work, which is confusing because you didn't read my memoir. I am writing my memoir in fact. So I just keep listening to see where this is going, and you tell me, you probably should have someone's notes in front of you because you didn't really read much of my manuscript, but you are just insanely busy, so you're working from your memory about what was wrong with the manuscript you keep referring to as my memoir.
     Finally, I can't take it anymore, so I interrupt:  "Um," says I. "You asked to read my collection of published essays based on an essay that appeared in the New York Times, not my memoir. You didn't ask for my memoir. But what you read was a collection of published essays."
     And what do you say? You say: "Oh."
     Then there is an awkward silence in which I ought to have let you merely tread water, but I was too embarrassed and somehow co-dependent.  Embarrassed for me and you and publishing in general.
     So, I launch into some long rambling something (what the hell was I saying?) that ends with, "Who would really publish a book of published essays by someone who isn't famous anyway?" and "But really you are publishing some very nice works, and thanks for the consideration." (As my friend says, Aw, no, you made her feel better?)
     I did. And I shouldn't have.  But what, really, should I have said?
     I'm thinking of two not very nice words, but you guys can probably come up with something more creative.

     What would you have said?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Call Me For Your Verbal Rejection

Remember a while back when a small press asked to read my collection of published essays? Well, I got this unprecedented response: With (name of editor's) departure, it's been especially chaotic, "but I do have her feedback, another staffers and my own to share. I am so swamped that it would honestly be easier to tell you than write it all. If you can call tomorrow afternoon, that would be a good time for me."

I dread it of course, but what can I do? Tell her to buck up and write my rejection like everyone else does? No. I will call her and be gracious and thank her for her time. After all, it's not every day that you get a phone rejection from a still-independent small press.

Monday, July 9, 2012

No Nelligan for you

Above is the photo banner for the 2012 Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction. Who is she? Who is on the phone? Why does she look so blank? Weird, no?  Anyway, below is the standard rejection for the prize sent in by an LROD reader:
Thank you for entering the 2012 Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction. As always, the selection of a winner was a difficult process as there were so many excellent stories, but we are pleased to announce that final judge Jane Hamilton has selected Matthew Shaer's "Ghosts" as this year’s winner. This story will appear in the fall/winter 2012 issue of Colorado Review, to be published in late November.

Again, thank you for entering. I hope you will consider us again for next year’s competition.

With kindest regards,
Stephanie G'Schwind
Editor, Colorado Review

Friday, July 6, 2012

Control Your Wrath, O Rejected One

The weather turned nasty out there, hurricane like last week. Maybe they shouldn't have rejected you so glibly:
Thank you for sending us your manuscript to the Antioch Review. The return of your work does not necessarily imply criticism of its merit, but may simply mean that it does not meet our present editorial needs. We regret that circumstances do not allow individual comment. The Editors

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Geniuses versus Mediocrities: Who Wins?

In this single historical rejection, we have the problem of publishing summed up very nicely:
Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller: "I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities."
(The clue phone rings for you.)