Posts in "Rejections" category

A Short Story Collection Ten Years in the Making

Glimmer Train offers a wonderful essay by Allison Amend in which she details the many hurdles she had to leap to publish her short story collection, “Things That Pass for Love,” now slated for publication by OV Books in October 2008. (It has a great cover image) It’s also a testament to the difficulty of publishing short story collections — Amend has an MFA from Iowa and has published in venues like Atlantic Monthly, One Story, StoryQuarterly, and Prairie Schooner. (via EWN)

Literary Rejections and Slush Pile Wars

There’s been a flurry of discussion in the blogosphere lately about what an editor should and should not say about submissions. LROD started with some complaints about VQR editor Ted Genoways, then Howard Junker of ZYZZYVA condemns Ted Genoways, and Ted Genoways responds, and Will Entrekin takes issue with the editor of Fence, the editor of Clarkesworld and myself.

The ethical issue in regards to cover letters might simply be about publishing private correspondence: writers submit a private text to the editor, and expect (in an unspoken contract) that it will remain private. Editors, by talking about or excerpting that text, break that contract. However, I believe that when this “private” correspondence is a mass submission to hundreds of journals, and when the letter betrays a complete lack of familiarity with the journal – calling it by the wrong name, or no name at all; misspelling the name of the editor, or writing a former editor, or no editor name at all; submitting an 85 page manuscript to a journal that publishes nothing over 20 pages – that this contract no longer retains its former strength. Also, as long as the editor offers the cover letter anonymously, they are only showing their submitters that the basic, professional courtesy of passing familiarity with the journal needs to be exercised when they submit. I don’t believe that it is abusing or disrespecting normal submitters in any way. 

That would be the end of it except for those who are skittish and fearful. These are the people who are scared that their work will be ridiculed next. So when these people see the comments by the readers at VQR – “this is the worst thing I’ve ever read” – they are worried that the object of scorn is their own work. It seems rather obvious that these individuals are unpublished, because published authors are quite aware that part of the risk of publishing, or even trying to be published, is fraught with the possibility of ridicule. Look at Scott Snyder: he lands a story in VQR, quite a laudable feat, and people post on Literary Rejections on Display quite nasty things, like they couldn’t make it past the first paragraph, that the entire story lacked authenticity, and that the writing was terrible. I imagine this to be the case with every published story and book (if anyone talks about it all). Once you publish, prepare for an onslaught. There will always be someone out there telling you that your work is subliterate. There will always be someone, no matter how high your accomplishments, that will tell you that you couldn’t cobble together a fourth-grade-level sentence. If you think editors wield a heavy critical stick, try the general public. Which is not to excuse everything that an editor says: they too must exercise judgment. But offering anonymous slush pile critiques is nothing compared to what you’d actually receive in book reviews. 

But to come back to what Genoways talked about, trying to reassure submitters – that none of the people mocked by the slush pile reviewers were the complainers. I’m sure he was right. I know, from my experience reading slush piles, the vast majority of pieces are merely mediocre. Mocking only comes about in regards to the 1% that is jaw-dropping terrible. If you really, really worry that you’re in that 1%, then either you have self-esteem issues or you need to work a bit longer on your craft, because you have to be in the top 1% to make it into these journals. To assume that all submissions don’t merit humor is simply to have never actually read a slush pile. However, I know that laughing in the slush pile room among fellow editors is vastly different than publishing those sentiments on the Internet. So is the problem with witnessing the mockery rather than simply knowing that it exists behind closed doors? Because it will always exist behind closed doors: no way to stop that. 

If the people complaining have no fear that their manuscripts are being mocked, and they are only concerned with protecting others less talented than themselves, then that is a different topic. Then it becomes: Is an editor acting professionally by talking about their slush pile? I believe it to be an editorial choice. I have no problem with editors that talk about outlandish submitters, and I have no trouble with editors that don’t talk. I see nothing intrinsically disrespectful about complaining in an abstract, anonymous way about the quality of submissions received. Only the people with thin skins are likely to be put off. The people with thick enough skins to handle it are likely to be the better writers anyway. 

But that’s cover letters. Let’s consider the manuscripts themselves. I would avoid publishing or talking about the actual text of submitted story or stories. There are many bad writers out there, and it does little good to condemn them. Even in a workshop setting, I believe it necessary to praise the author for something, even if the story on the whole needs vast improvement. But I don’t know an editor that has made slush pile manuscripts available – Ted Genoways shared the comments of his slush pile readers, which I believe are fairly typical of slush pile readings (if you’ve ever read a slush pile, you would likely say similar things). On the back cover of ZYZZYVA, Howard Junker often offers excerpts from cover letters, which are funny or naïve. But I’m not aware of editors that actually share bad manuscripts, and I hope that it stays that way. 

Let me say it: I admire the vast percentage of people who submit to the Southern California Review. To anyone who doesn’t screw up our basic identity, I offer a fair and careful consideration of their manuscript. I admire people who submit for the eighth time to our journal, because even if we don’t accept that eighth one, I admire their tenacity. I love that rush from finding a brilliant manuscript. I love the whole process because I am engaged in this same process, the same postage-and-manila-envelope scheme, collecting the same stack of rejection slips. So fight on, and know that if you have even the slightest bit of respect for the literary journal, the literary journal will extend that respect right back to you.

Scott Snyder and the Voodoo Rejections

I just started reading Scott Snyder’s “Voodoo Heart,” a wonderful collection of short stories originally published in venues like One-Story, Epoch, and Tin House, and published as a collection in 2006. There’s an interview with him over at Literary Rejections on Display, but I just wanted to excerpt this staggering anecdote:

I once sent a story out to a journal – I won’t say which one – and quickly got my SASE back in the mail with a form rejection inside. Which was fine, except that about two weeks later, I got another envelope in the mail, this time one the magazine’s own envelopes, with their own postage, my address hand-written on the cover. And inside was another form rejection for the same story. Which had me wondering, was the story that bad? You had to reject it twice? On your own dime? And then, about three weeks later, I got another letter from the same magazine, rejecting the story again! In one of their own envelopes, own postage, etc. So they actually paid to reject me twice more than necessary. They hated the story that much! Now fast forward to about six months later. I’m doing a small reading with some school friends. I have one friend who runs a small art gallery in Brooklyn (South First – it’s a great place) and she asked if some of us wanted to read there to promote an upcoming show that had a literary theme. I was thrilled to do it. I hadn’t really done many readings at all. So at the reading I read the story that had gotten rejected 3 times. And afterwards someone comes up to me who happens to be an editor at that same magazine that rejected the story so many times and asks if I’ll show it to them. A couple months later, a tuned up version of the story is published in that same magazine.

The Death of Simultaneous Submission?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about a new software called CrossCheck, which is billed as a plagarism program. Most writers, who unlike academics are not quoting and paraphrasing, are hardly ever in danger of plagiarism. But the program actually goes one step beyond crosschecking other previously published articles, and also checks other currently submitted articles: “At Elsevier, a leading journal publisher, an article submitted simultaneously to two Elsevier publications will be automatically flagged.”

Every writer I know ignores the prohibitions against “Simultaneous Submissions” (Or Sim Subs, if you want to be informal about it). And since print submissions are still in vogue, it would be difficult to enter all submissions into a database and crosscheck them against other journals to guard against simultaneous submission. But now that electronic submissions are becoming increasingly popular — especially the program offered by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) — it would be very easy for code to be written that would flag articles that had been submitted simultaneously. And it would even be worse than in the academic realm, because there are far more programs to upload submissions in the academic realm than in the creative realm, and so only one program might apply to a large number of journals. While my first move to escape detection would be to use different titles for the same story — just like a writer does in the short story collection by Robert Bolano, “Last Evenings on Earth” — a program like CrossCheck would check the entire story, not just the title. Those damn computers: Sometimes I feel like I’m playing chess against HAL.

For now — and I should emphasize the “now” — this program is only available to academic journals, and hasn’t yet crossed over to the literary realm (as far as I know). But I think this kind of possibility might serve as a slight deterrent to those writers who continue to cry and beg and implore journals to switch to electronic submissions. Let it be said: there are some definite downsides to the electronic format. Although I have to admit — with postage rising yet again, it might be a downside I’ll eventually be willing to accept.

Your Novel Uses The Word “The” Too Many Times

Over at Literary Rejections on Display, there’s a list of reasons why agents/publishers rejected a particular author’s last two manuscripts. It’s hilarious, as long as you don’t get depressed easily. And couldn’t you see this in one of the sidebars of Harper’s Magazine?

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

Literary Rejection

Sorry for not posting on Sunday night/Monday morning, as is my custom. I was busied by academic and other forces beyond imagining. Or rather, few enjoy imagining them, so I won’t bore you with details. Anyhow, a few bits on rejection.

I can’t help but like Literary Rejections on Display. I mean, it’s like the literary equivalent of a guilty pleasure, like reading People magazine. How fun is it to complain about getting an anonymous rejection slip by some editor in under 48 hours? Even when I disagree with the posts, I still like them and laugh or sympathize. As an editor of a literary journal who parcels out quite a few rejections buy drugs online no prescription myself, I have a firm belief that editors know their business and know what belongs in their journal. Perhaps I tell myself that to make myself feel right about rejecting stories, or to make myself feel better about getting rejected (yes, being stoical is the key). But mosey on over and enjoy the litany of complaints and whines.

The Willesden Herald has a lovely piece on what was wrong with all the submissions they received, and the flaws that caused them to immediately throw a story in the rubbish bin. (If you remember, this is the contest where Zadie Smith decided not to crown a winner.)

Rejections, Raymond Carver, and Kelly Link

Over at The Millions, there is a great post on what to do with your rejection slips. There is a suggestion about a dress. There is also one about a tux. And there is the famous reminder that Steven King impales his on a nail. Me, I just keep them in a big stack, but I’ve been considering creating some kind of visual art with them. I was thinking about a gallery space where I could use them as wallpaper, and then hang a huge ball, an earth ball, from the ceiling, which would also be pasted with them. But best of all, I would use string and dangle them at various heights, so visitors feel like they’re walking through a snowfall of rejection. Cheerful, isn’t it? And yes, I’ve thought too much about it.

Dan Green at The Reading Experience has a great post on the recent ruckus of publishing the pre-edited versions of Raymond Carver’s stories. Despite the die-hard fans who clamor for what they see as the “real” Carver, and the academics who always need more sources for their dissertations, I’ve said before that this is not in Carver’s best interests. Green says that this will tarnish Carver’s reputation, making it difficult to ever read him without questioning whether this is Carver or his editor Gordon Lish, and I agree.

Jamelah Earle at Litkicks has a list of five favorite short stories — haven’t read the one by James Baldwin, but of course Flannery O’Connor is a favorite.

Ninth Letter reinterprets Kelly Link’s short story “The Girl Detective” by way of a video art piece. Kelly Link rocks, and Ninth Letter continually surprises me with the way they keep on stretching the conventional notions of “literary journal.” The video’s quite fun, too. (via Luna Park)