While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

On Rejection

I've read two quite different articles about rejection (of the literary kind) in the last two days.

The first, via the IIML's newsletter, an editor and writer's thoughts on rejection in the latest The Kenyon Review.

The second, via Beattie's Book Blog, a humble bookkeeper saves editors time by rejecting manuscripts.

I haven't thought a lot about rejection lately, as I haven't really been submitting things. But earlier in the year I had a patch. I wrote a story about it...

Perfectly Crafted

Mitzi Visitacion had done everything right.

She had the pseudonym, randomly generated from to U.S. Census Data.

She had the MFA.

She had permission to quote her manuscript assessors’ words of praise (“Ms. Visitacion writes like English is our second language…”; “Blue Belly Blues is unforgettably… memorable”).

She had the perfectly crafted submission letter.

And of course—of course!—she had perfectly crafted stories.

But all this got her was rejection. Rejection letters, rejection slips, rejection emails, rejection text messages, rejections scrawled on Denny’s napkins and slid under her bathroom stall, rejections instead of prizes in her cereal box.

When she received a rejection note from a journal she had never submitted to—she’d thought she was signing up for an annual subscription—enough was enough.

She opened a new Word document and typed:

Dear Famous Writer,

We here at Xyzphage are looking to publish writers at the peak of their powers, though it is admirable you are still toiling away. So it’s a no from us.

Yours in pre-emption,

Xyzphage Editorial Board

She looked up American Writers on Wikipedia and copied and pasted the names into an Excel spreadsheet. One by one she tracked down each writer’s email addresses and rejected them. If she could not find their email address, she left a comment on their website or advised their agent of their rejection. Rejections for deceased writers were sent to their estates.

It felt good to reject Ernest Hemingway (“not butch enough”), Hunter S. Thompson (“too constricted”), and Grace Paley (“reads like another writing workshop prodigies’ pale imitation of Grace Paley”).

If a writer was really old, but still writing, like John Updike or Elmore Leonard, she still addressed the rejection, “To The Estate Of…”

She was surprised at how many replies she received to her rejection emails. The audacity. It had never occurred to her to respond (let alone object) to a rejection email. Maybe this was what was holding her back.

But she was having too much fun writing rejections to worry about her own perfectly crafted stories.

When she finished the list of American Authors, she broadened her horizons.

Dear Midlist Author,

Someone told us to check out your most recent short story collection or novel, which we did. Unfortunately we here at Xyzphage do not consider your writing to be an appropriate fit with the current direction of our publication.

Yours in pre-emption,

Editor X

Then she began trawling the internet for e-zines, noting down the contributors and rejecting them when they least suspected it.

Dear Emerging Writer,

We here at Xyzphage have noticed your writing around various journals and websites but you have a ways to go before you should think about approaching this publication.

Yours in pre-emption,

Uncle Xyz

To add sting to these rejections, she created a website for Xyzphage, complete with submission guidelines, and posted some of her less-than-perfectly-crafted stories under various randomly generated pseudonyms.

“They think this is good?” she imagined the Emerging Writers thinking. It made her feel warm. Physically warm. The word that seemed to fit best was Chuffed.

But then Xyzphage began to receive submissions. Why she used a real email address, she couldn't remember.

Mitzi Visitacion was forced to stop sending out random rejections and focus solely on rejecting Xyzphage submissions. Soon she could no longer personalize her rejections—there were that many submissions.

So she sent out acceptance letters instead. What was stopping her? She accepted anyone who sent her an email. Even eBay’s ‘Summer Savings’ and Rudolfo Zurich's ‘Cheap Cheap Cialis’ made it onto Xyzphage.

But why stop there? She went into her sent items and retrieved every rejection letter and changed a few words.

Dear Writer,

We here at Xyzphage have noticed your writing around various journals and websites and consider it an appropriate fit with the current direction of our publication.

Yours in prevarication,

Uncle Xyz

For some reason, this got her more irate replies.

Writers emailed asking to have their stories removed from the site. Submissions dried up. The hit counter for Xyzphage stopped ticking over.

The flare up had fizzled.

And all Mitzi Visitacion was left with was her perfectly crafted, unpublished stories.

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