Today is my one day a week off to write and do literary things (reading counts). What am I doing today? I have a stroke essay to write and I’ve got to make progress on the slushpile. Today, I am going to divide it into “yes most definitely publish,” “maybe,” and “not accept but tell them to submit again,” and “definitely not accept,” piles.
Which brings me to the subject of litmag rejections (again).
I have some thoughts already, and forgive me if they’re not presented in a crystal clear and entirely illuminating format just yet…but I wanted to share them here.
At the literary journal I’ve just joined, the practice I’ve been told, is to send rejection emails providing the 3-4 sentences/reasons on why we’ve turned down (or accepted) the piece. This is possible because the litmag is still small with NOT a kazillion submissions like Ploughshares and The Virginia Quarterly, who have provided their own (at times colorful) opinions on the matter of rejections.
(Update: Howard added his two cents to the subject of insulting the slushpile, enlivening the dialogue again. And the VQR has responded. Not once, but twice. Meow!)
Let me be brutally honest. I quailed at the thought of having to provide feedback to each rejected piece. Aside from my workshop burnout and my aversion to giving just half-assed feedback, I was afraid of opening a dialogue that might travel down twisted and precarious paths as well as the immense time investment in such a task.
Additionally, would I, as a writer, appreciate the reasons for rejection from an editor? I think my ego might be further bruised by the additional information–but then again, I would probably find the data useful. But quite honestly, a rejection is STILL a rejection, aptly put by one of my mentors. The feedback in this case is not workshop critique, but a rejection letter.
And furthermore, what is the relationship between an editor and the authors within the slushpile, before acceptance? It’s sort of this weird pre-introduction netherland.
I had a discussion with the editor in chief–and we’ve come up with some resolution paths. What is our bottomline? Ah, I found out–the bottomline is a kinder rejection letter. I agree with that–I’ve gotten my fair share of litmag rejections in the last few months, and I’m astounded that many of them (the majority) come on little teeny weeny 2″ x 2″ slips of paper xeroxed over and over. Some are larger (3″ x 5″) and some have handwritten notes on them, and some have encouraging notes on them. And there is the RARE litmag who actually has a rejection letter written on 8.5 x 11 paper, with thoughtful phrasing despite the form letter format.
The editor in chief has given me a lot of room to make these kinds of decisions. I’m astounded at her trust, and I’m wielding my authority with a lot of thought. I get to compose my own rejection letters, and I get final say when it comes to fiction submissions. Maybe this is how other litmags do it, I don’t know, but I am finding it incredible.
I’ve already come to some decisions…
I swear I will never write a 2 sentence rejection letter. I will never write a rejection letter on a 2 x 2 inch piece of paper. I may not provide feedback but I will write the kindest rejection letter I can muster.
And I’m following the AGNI and The Southern Review model of making sure to tell the “almosts” to please submit again. I think the “almosts” deserve to know that they were “almosts.”
More thoughts to come as I rifle through the slushpile.