The In Crowd

October 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

At his blog, Tom McAllister writes on the experience of having one’s work rejected and having to be the one who does the rejecting:

So, what’s the right way to tell someone their work isn’t good enough? Is it the euphemism-soaked, everyone-gets-a-trophy keep on truckin style of bland encouragement? Is it a generic, totally impersonal response that betrays nothing beyond the bare facts (you will not be published today, and also here’s how to subscribe to our journal)? Is it something performative that is a little bit potentially mean-spirited but also engages with the text in the way we all say we want people to engage with our writing? Is it a picture of a sad puppy and a bowl of ice cream?

Once I started sending my work out to journals, one thing became apparent quickly: there is a currency to the kinds of rejections you receive. No one is going to tell you why your story works or why it doesn’t, but the rejections that come back with more than just the standard boilerplate send a tacit signal: this sort of interested at least one of us. I still contend that the best rejection I ever got from a market was a preprinted colored slip on which the editor had scrawled in black pen: “This was close, Neil. Try us again soon.” Indeed, that story got accepted a couple of weeks later by a print journal I admired.

In September I sent out a story I in which I had a great deal of confidence to a good number of highly competitive journals, and one by one the rejections have come back, nothing beyond a form rejection, ice cold. I am up to ten, with one “very impressed by your writing,” but even that is a form rejection, and now I’m starting to wish I hadn’t sent it out to as many places as I did. It could say more about my choice of markets or about the quality of the story, but in the end it’s probably a little of both. The fact that it was so easy to write may have meant that it was too easy to write.

McAllister also addresses the part that nobody ever talks about:

There are so many journals out there. There are terrible journals with low standards, journals who will accept eighty percent of the work submitted to them. I could send my stories and essays to those places, could even benefit from being published in those awful journals that nobody reads, because they would become another line on my CV and make me slightly more employable from a University’s perspective. But that would be pitiful and that would be sad, and that would deny my primary reason for submitting, which is the ego.

To be published in a journal, particularly the spatial confines of a print journal, is to be admitted to a club of limited occupancy, one to which many others have been denied entry. The rejection slip is the stubborn bouncer at the door who won’t listen to your appeals—dude, I know the owner, I’m on the list. The more challenging the market—the more elite the club, essentially—the more such an inclusion feels like an accomplishment. You made it in with the in crowd. We don’t just want to see our stories published in journals. We want them to belong there.


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