Writing Rejection ??????/??????
Hello friends and rivals, nice to see you here again. I'm going to tell you a story about a writing submission that went awry. On April 8, 2018, I submitted to a lit journal in the states that some of my American writer friends liked. It's not a huge, world-renowned lit mag, but they're a nice community spot, and I liked them. They only accept submissions by e-mail, so I shot one off with a nice cover letter and four poems. There was no approximate wait-time for a response given on the site. In the states, wait times are shorter typically, so in my brain, I thought, probably 6 months. 6 months go by, and I haven't heard. I notice the absence of response in my complicated writing submission spread sheet. But I let it go. People need time to read things. They're not well staffed or paid, often these endeavors cost them their own money. There are several posts throughout this blog talking about what arts organizers and lit journal editors are up against, you can go read them if you wish. This to say, I have endless respect for the people who give their time, efforts, and hearts to creative communities. It's the work I myself choose to do. I know it's thankless and sometimes ruthless. Because I know these things, I wait 9 and a half months before I choose to send an e-mail following up on the status of my writing submission. 1.6 x the amount of time I'd anticipated, which was 6 months, which is fairly industry standard in Canada. I'd have waited more, but this is the States, and like I say, response times are typically quicker. The follow up on January 26 said: Hello [LIT JOURNAL NAME], I hope this e-mail finds you well. I am writing to follow up on a submission of a suite of four poems sent on April 8, 2018. I was wondering if the [LIT JOURNAL NAME] team has had the chance to review the submission. No worries whatsoever if you haven't had time yet, just wanted to make sure I didn't accidentally miss a response. Thank you very much for your time and consideration, Kindest regards, Erin Kirsh and I waited to hear back. And I waited. I didn't hear back. I thought, that's okay. I know it's hard for some people to stay on top of e-mails, especially when there are more pressing things happening. They'll respond. Months go by and I'm reviewing my spreadsheet for writing submissions and I see that this particular submission is still blank. I think, oh, that's interesting. I'm a person who sends out a lot of work. This means I check my junk mail at minimum twice a day. I'm not missing any e-mails on this personal account. I think maybe my e-mail went to junk and they missed it. So on April 7, 2019, a day shy of a year later, I re-send my January follow up, just to be thorough. Also because I'm a believer in advocating for yourself. Hello [LIT JOURNAL NAME], I hope this e-mail finds you well. I am writing to follow up on a submission of a suite of four poems sent on April 8, 2018. I was wondering if the [LIT JOURNAL NAME] team has had the chance to review the submission. No worries whatsoever if you haven't had time yet, just wanted to make sure I didn't accidentally miss a response. Thank you very much for your time and consideration, Kindest regards, Erin Kirsh
And I wait, with slightly thinner patience this time. After three weeks go by without a response, I assume that perhaps this is a rejection. The lit journal is simply ghosting me and I haven't taken the hint. In a creative/professional setting, I think this is bad behaviour, but I know it happens, so I'm willing to tolerate it. I like to have certainty, so I reach out to my American friend who has worked with this lit journal in the past. I tell them about the submission and 2 follow ups over the course of a year, and I ask them if they know if the lit journal rejects by non-response. They say no, they're pretty sure this publication doesn't reject that way. They empathize. They ask if maybe my submission slipped through the cracks, and I say, all 3? My friend mentions that the editor in chief of this lit journal is really active on twitter (which, can confirm. verrrry active.) and that maybe I should shoot him a message on twitter. I ask if that isn't too pushy and my friend says no, not if it's been over a year, not when I did everything by the book first. I thank my friend for their advice. Over the next three days, I wrestle with whether or not I'm the kind of person who wants to reach out to a lit journal via social media. Is that crossing a boundary? It felt not great to me. I wondered how badly I wanted to be in this lit journal and I honestly wasn't sure. I sought the counsel of other writer friends on twitter who widely encouraged me to reach out via social. It turns out their publication has no messaging function on twitter or facebook, so I go to instagram, feeling like a heel. I craft and craft a message trying to sound friendly and humble, sheepish but warm. So on May 8, I send this.
And I agonize over being a pushy asshole. Three voices compete in my head. One thinks, wow, Erin. Too much. They didn't want you and you didn't take the hint. You're bothering people who are working very hard and who are more important than you. The other is kind of a puppy dog, who thinks well wait maybe they just haven't seen it and are interested and things have conspired to work out badly and they won't think you're a bitch they might even like you because you were understanding? The third voice is going, why do you care this much about this one submission? You have a million submissions out. This isn't your dream publication, let this go. But I'd already sent the thing. And two days later, I got a response.
And I think whaaaaat? The eager, bumbling puppy dog voice was right? Amazing! I feel so heartened! So I e-mail this: Hi [EDITOR NAME], This is Erin, I reached out over instagram message. Thank you so much for your grace on the poetry front. I work in arts non-profits and I totally understand how easy it is for things to pile up. Would it be best if I re-sent the poems in the submission? Let me know however I can best facilitate! Kindest Regards, Erin Kirsh And when I check the next day, I've received this: Hi Erin! Thanks for the kind words and your patience. If you will, just resend the file in this thread and I will read it over tonight. Best, [EDITOR] So I send off the submission again on May 11, 2019. I'm very excited. I will hear back soon! I don't care if it's an acceptance or rejection (though obviously I want to be accepted,) it's just nice to be treated with the respect. Being left to dangle is something I'm personally really bad with, so having the response is great. And I wait. And I wait. I think, that's okay, that's okay. People get busy. This person's got a million things going on. (Never mind that I also have a million things going on.) After a week, I'm a little nervous, but I don't want to be pushy. I've already reached out by social media. I up how often I've checked my junk folder because I fear I've missed it. But this subsides. A month goes by, and I'm not really thinking about it. It pops into my head occasionally and makes me feel squicky, but then I'm taken up by other things. Then two months go by, and I'm not really thinking about it. Two and a half months after this editor says he will get back to me that night, I'm looking over my submission spread sheet again and I remember. I feel angry at how incredibly dismissive this whole process has been. How devaluing. But also, people forget things. I've forgotten things. So I send another e-mail. July 25, 2019, I send: Hi [EDITOR] I hope you're having a lovely summer. I wanted to follow up and see if you'd had a chance to view the poems in this submission/if the submission made it to you. I know there have been some e-mailing issues in the past so I thought it was best to touch base. Thank you for your time, Kindest Regards, Erin Kirsh And when I don't hear back at the end of a week, I know I'm not going to hear back ever. But I'm a person who needs to have closure. So two weeks after my last e-mail, I decide to withdraw my submission. Via instagram. Where there is a chance that my message actually be seen. I craft 3 versions of the message, all polite, some with feedback, some without, but I decide to ultimately send one that is unimpressed, but reasonably innocuous. I send this:
It has been sitting at "seen" for three days. I am confident I will not receive an apology or any response at all. But at least now I know what the outcome of the submission will be. I debated whether or not I was going to make a post about this, or just add it to the end-of-year tally under withdrawn. I decided to share it because this is something I come up against in tons of areas of my life. Like the hospital who forgot all about my ultrasound results who I had to follow up with over 10 times, or the granting agency who required 16 + follow ups over several months and almost caused us to miss a deadline, the correspondent at my post-secondary who I have asked a question of four times so far with no answer, or the co-worker at an old job who almost single-handedly tanked an event because they would not respond to my repeated requests for crucial information in time for me to allay disaster. I know that this post makes me sound sour, and that's because I am sour. I'm lemon juice. I'm freaking warheads.
I'm sharing because this kind of thing is common, especially among people who are not cis-men. Our points are taken less seriously, and so are our concerns, our requests, our urgencies. I have grace for mistakes, for busy, for things slipping through the cracks. It's why I offer so much time before follow ups. It's why I always start polite, even meek. Hell, I'm polite until I have been so thoroughly disrespected it has eaten something in me. And I imagine if this is my experience, it's also the experience of lots of other writers. I want to commiserate, and also to let people know you can do all of the things by the book, you can put in all the effort, you can advocate for yourself endlessly, and sometimes you will still get nothing back. But these aren't the places that are worth your time. These aren't the places that deserve your words, that deserve to get clout from your earned brilliance. Someone will be falling-over-themselves eager to share your brain. Go there. Anyway, that's all for me. I'm off to go do this to that particular lit mag:
Yours in solidarity and a little bit in pettiness, - E.B Kirsh