a way to reject?

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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.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “a way to reject?

  1. Ha, I was just reading Identity Theory submissions and have this same mental battle every time I do. It’s great to have assistant editors again so that there’s time to encourage the “almosts”. But nearly as good as finding a writer you want to encourage is finding one who’s entertainingly oblivious. One person in this batch wrote in saying, “Hi Editor, I submitted [story name] six months ago. I know you frown on simultaneous submissions, so I give you permission to delete my story.” Thing is, I save all submissions, and she never actually submitted anything to us, ever. Cracked me up to not only get something addressed to “Dear Editor” but to have it sent, apparently, to the wrong lit mag.

  2. This may be a lame thought, but I’m going there anyway. Remember the end of “Under the Tuscan Sun”? Another writer tracked down Francis to her Italian villa. He said she wrote a bad review on one of his first books. He said it was the best bad review he’s got and it helped him move on to his next published work.

    So I think it’s awesome you can offer something, anything in your rejection notes: constructive criticisms, kind thoughts or encouragement

  3. I’ve been away far, far too long… how exciting that you’re the fiction editor for a literary journal! I can’t wait to hear more about the editing and selection process!

  4. Andrew: I haven’t run into the entirely oblivious writer yet, but I’ll look forward to it. 😛

    queenkv: if only all writers could be so gracious as to receive critique like that! I do try to offer kind thoughts and encouragement–if there is something in particular the writer does well, I point that out and ask them to send something else.

    nova: yup! It’s really opened my eyes to the whole submission/editing/selection process. Man, writers REALLY do need to write a kick-ass beginning (or have a scintillating voice) if you want to pop out of that slushpile.

  5. I think your ideas about how to handle rejection letters are terrific. I’m glad something good comes out of having been on the receiving end of those teeny rejection slips!

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