The Losing Game: Writing Rejections 70-74/100
Hello and welcome to this edition of The Losing Game where the theme of the post is rejections with stories attached! Each one will come with the context in which I received them because I don't know how else to write about them. Just sharing them outright feels a bit dishonest to the process, so saddle up. Most rejections are pretty straightforward - I send out work, the journal reads, considers, passes. If you've been reading The Losing Game for awhile, you know sometimes things go awry. Submissions get lost, I get acceptances for pieces I didn't write, people reject based on guidelines not listed anywhere in their submission guides, people reject by non-response and then accept long after the time period given in which to expect a response passes and the piece has been accepted elsewhere. Then sometimes, things go nicely. You get the close-but-no-cigars where editors want you to know they really did like your piece. Rarer still, you get feedback. Or, people want to accept something but can't because someone else's piece that they'd received and accepted prior to yours is too similar. This post is dedicated to a bit of both of those columns, the rejections I've procrastinated on sharing because I'm not sure how to write about them. Then today, as I was walking away from a baby boomer accosting me because she thought I was laughing at her (I was not,) I realized it should be a themed post. It had nothing to do with the boomer who yelled "fuck you" after me a quarter of a block away after I told her I hoped her day got better, but they did happen simultaneously and I have to process both events, so here you go.
Okay. I'm going to get into it, these harder-than-average-to talk-about rejections. I thought about keeping them to myself, not including them in the blog and just adding them onto the end of year metrics, but I like things that pull back the curtains. Like 50% of the podcasts I listen to are things pulling back the curtain just the right amount on X or Y industry or event. I think transparency is important because all we hear about is success and that's alienating af. Besides, maybe you've had some of these experiences and have been living them in isolation. I'm a no man left behind kinda gal. Shall we?
[WRITING REJECTION 70/100] Many times here I've talked about waiting long beyond the reply-by date offered on submission guideline pages before following up with a magazine out of respect for how busy they are. On the advice of my thesis advisor (though it was around a particular situation,) I am now giving a bit less leeway before I write in. Still plenty, but less. This particular journal I followed up with in my shortest time span yet: a mere week over their reply-by time. I wrote in a polite and warm follow up, and to my delight I got a speedy response. Hi Erin, Thanks for checking in. We are currently booked for poems up until the January/February 2020 issue, so I won't be looking at submissions got a bit but will keep your poems on file. If they are accepted elsewhere though, please let me know. Best,
[Anonymous Because We Respect Editor Privacy here, and Journal Privacy if I Feel it's Needed.] That was the issue I'd been submitting for, but I felt very happy that my pieces were still being kept on file. I figured either they'd somehow missed them (happens all the time, no problem, you try managing a bumping inbox. I bet you have like 700 unread e-mails right now and by you I mean I.) or they legitimately thought the work was good, which most of the time we get very little validation about except for in the shape of form letters which we can't help but feel are a little insincere given that they're sent out en masse. So that felt good! I got my proper rejection only a week later, which also made me feel valued. Damn fast turn around. Hi Erin, Thank you for allowing me to read your work. At this time, I will have to pass on publication. If you have poems you'd like for me to see in the future, please do send them along. Best, [Anonymous Because We Respect Editor Privacy here, and Journal Privacy if I Feel it's Needed.]
So I was feeling super great, because that's a very nice rejection. Then I found out that the theme of the next issue was also the theme of the poems I'd sent in.
Such sadness. But also a big feeling of warmth to this journal for being so responsive and considerate. All in all, pretty good rejection, would get rejected by again, loved it, loved it, loved it.
[WRITING REJECTION 71/100] This rejection for me was especially painful. It was an absolutely fair rejection, as they all are, but painful, so I'm going to omit the name of the publishing house. This was the rejection of my completed manuscript, my first book, sent to a publishing house I thought was the right fit; somewhere I own a ton of books from and where I feel I understand the style. I haven't sent the book out much because I want the places I send it to really feel like a good fit. Also, it's scary. You'd think I'd have learned that what I as a writer think is a good fit so often doesn't coincide with what editors think is a good fit, but old thought habits die hard. I sent in my sample poems, a cover letter, my synopsis, all that good stuff. And I heard back. Dear Erin, Please send us the full manuscript for [redacted] to consider for publication. Thanks! [Anonymous Because We Respect Editor Privacy here, and Journal Privacy if I Feel it's Needed.]
Reader, I died. I turned on Lizzo. I did the leg kicky thing I do when I'm really happy. I was like, yes. This is a new level of writerdom unlocked. Maybe the imposter syndrome is a garbage lie. I double checked the manuscript, made sure the table of contents lined up with the work, checked for typos, saved it as a .pdf and sent that bitch off.
The publishing house's website gives a time frame in which they will reply once they have requested your full manuscript. That time went by and I felt so hopeful, and so happy. I checked my e-mail constantly. I heard nothing, and I was like, no no, this is good. That means they're seriously considering it, probably. I was of course itching to follow up, but I didn't want to make anybody feel rushed. I dreamed about book covers. Another month went by, and I heard nothing. The delay which at first felt like a good thing came to feel like a bad thing. I was like, oh, no. They got some other manuscript, probably one they solicited from someone in a literary inner circle and that's priority and rejecting me can happen literally any time so I've been put on the back burner. But I tried to talk myself out of that. There could be a million things happening, health concerns, family stuff, a ton of good manuscripts, business things, a granting season I don't know about, all of these at once, I had no way of knowing. The longer it went, the more it ate at my focus. I'd been (and continue to be,) pretty selective about where I send the manuscript. This so much felt to me like an obvious connection, but this is the root of all big sadnesses. One person feels deeply that a thing is right, and one person doesn't. I followed up well outside the response time indicated on their site with the person who'd asked me for the full manuscript, and for what felt like ages, I heard nothing back. The response ultimately came from someone I hadn't been corresponding with. It was a very short form rejection, two sentences, signed only by the e-mail signature at the bottom. There was nothing personal about it. The title of the manuscript wasn't mentioned. There was no we enjoyed this, but have decided to pass. No acknowledgement. Things I have tried to include in my own career working for literal pennies for arts non-profits were omitted by this seemingly much better set up organization. I wasn't expecting feedback or anything resembling it. But I was expecting something along the lines that even form rejections from lit journals tend to give, you know the stuff, the we enjoyed reading it buts. I'm sure there was a lot going on behind the scenes. I'm sure there are good, amazing, encompassing explanations for all of these things that would completely alleviate the sting I felt. I'm not upset that they passed on the book, that happens. I'm pretty thrilled they considered it at all, but reading that rejection, I felt something go out of me. I read it over and over, as if waiting for more words to appear in invisible ink. The clipped and delayed nature of the responses from this publishing house made me feel honestly a little disrespected. Is this a me problem? Probably. Maybe if I'd had a different year with rejections and non-responses and creative injury, I'd feel positively about the whole thing. It was probably a cocktail of unavoidable circumstances that created the haze I went around in. But there was a haze, and I don't want to pretend that nothing in this industry ever gets me down. My thinking is this: It takes an extra thirty seconds to say a nice thing. I know because this is something I do when I hand out rejections. Niceities can be built right into a form rejection. I'd have been fine with a nice form rejection, I know people are busy. But it costs nothing to add a little warmth. It barely costs time. I got into a bit of a bad headspace over it, which is my fault and not theirs. This is just the industry, often. But it fucked with me. I have since heard from multiple friends about their nice, supportive, wonderful interactions with this publishing house. I'm incredibly happy for them. I look forward to owning their books. They are all of them beyond worthy. They leave worthy in the dust. Is there a small, petty part of me that feels all the more shafted for hearing about peoples' positive experiences, the personalized ones? Yep. It made me feel even worse because I'm not prone to envy. It's an almost entirely new emotion for me and I gotta say I don't care for it. In good news, that small petty part of me is basically gone now and it didn't eclipse my happiness for others. The thing with this publishing house is that I really, genuinely like the work they do. If I submit again at some point in the future, I'd spend some time steeling myself beforehand because now I know this kind of thing rattles me.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to share this one because it did make me feel legitimately bitter for awhile and that came with a lovely side dish of shame because this feels pretty far from my MO. But I'm into radical honesty, even if it makes me look kind of bad. I'm also working on not trying to edit other peoples' opinions of me, so, you know. Practicing two things at once. #opportunites #blessed #nofilter.
[WRITING REJECTION 72/100] I'm gong to switch gears and go a more positive route. Again if you've been reading you know that with the number of non-responses, lost submissions, lost submissions and THEN non-responses, dismissals, lost submissions and then snippy responses about following up, I've been feeling pretty discouraged this year. I've talked to writer friends who seem to be mystified that this keeps happening to me. Friends who submit more than I do don't seem to have these experiences with the same frequency. We've sat down and theorized together why I'm such a magnet for it. A woman? Maybe. Not forceful enough in my follow ups? I hate to think that might be it, but two people put it forth to me. I don't know. Still don't know. So you get the kicked around feeling. But sometimes you get a really nice personalized response. I'm going to omit the name of the editor because I'm sure it's not the kind of thing they have time to do frequently and I don't want to build expectations, but suffice it to say getting this kind of thoughtful and sweet rejection was something I desperately needed.
I don't have a lot of experience working in non-fiction, but one day I felt compelled to sit down and write a piece. I hadn't seen another piece written about it. I thought, okay. Why not this one? I sent it into a magazine. I got this reply. Hi Erin, Thanks much for your submission. As a fellow [redacted] I am very interested in your story, but this essay as it is now isn’t quite the right fit for [redacted]. I have a huge workload in my personal life now and this is a volunteer gig for me, so I don’t have it in me to work extensively with someone on an essay, but I want to offer the following criticism which I hope you find constructive: for a piece of this length, the form it takes of a sort of litany is a little too stretched out. I think picking a very small handful of situations and letting them really breeeeathe with full, deep scenes, and setting them in juxtaposition with each other, would work in a way that would be a better fit for this editor, personally! I’d be happy to read something else from you in the future, please feel free to submit again. [Anonymous Because We Respect Editor Privacy here, and Journal Privacy if I Feel it's Needed.]
I can't tell you how much this meant to me. I replied thanking the editor because I I know from my own work how restricted time can be and also what a risk it can be to offer feedback. You never know how it'll be taken. After a barrage of experiences that left me feeling like I'd taken up residence under the literary world's boot, this made me feel lifted up and dusted off. Eternal thank yous to this editor. I'm working through those suggested edits and you'd better believe the piece is way stronger now.
[WRITING REJECTION 73/100] One of my favourite lit mags in the last few years is Augur. A couple posts ago, I shared their process for how they make selections for which pieces they publish. The transparency they demonstrated alone was reason enough for me to adore them, but they also publish great work and following them on twitter is a joy. I don't work a ton in speculative work, but I have to admit I love it. A lot of my early reading experiences that made me a reader was fantasy, magic, sci-fi, all sorts of stuff that showed me worlds that weren't my own. So I sent some spec poems. I saw this tweet from them regarding the issue I'd submitted for:
and thinking of their selection process, I thought, welp, I have no chance. But lo and behold, I got this:
Dear Erin, We’re pleased to say that "The Absence" has been placed on the longlist for our upcoming issue. This means it is now in the final round of consideration, placing it in the top 5% of pieces we receive. This also means it will take us a bit longer to get back to you! Expect to hear from us on our final decisions in the next two months. If you don’t hear back by then, please query by emailing our Editor in Chief. Also, a quick note that your Moksha [Moksha being Augur's submission platform] status will read "accepted" from here out, as that's the status associated with a longlist email—but the final decision will be sent to you via email! Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work, and don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions. All the best, Editor in Chief Augur
In case you're wondering how often this kind of interim-update happens, this is the second time it has happened to me in 6 years of submitting. This level of communication is so rare and makes such a huge difference to me as a writer. I felt taken care of. Before 2 months was up, well within their timeline, I got my follow up, as promised.
Dear Erin Kirsh,
I’m sad to say that Augur will not be purchasing "The Absence" for an upcoming issue. We received an overwhelming number of excellent pieces during this submissions period, and were ultimately able to choose fewer than 1% of them for publication.
Our longlist was made up of our favourite pieces, and yours was certainly among them. While we’re not able to take this submission, we would love to see more from you in the future, and we hope that you’ll submit again. I’ll look forward to it.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your work. We’re grateful for the chance, and we wish you all the best in placing this elsewhere.
This is such a lovely rejection, and I felt so respected. I was as happy as I've been over acceptances. I sent them an e-mail back thanking them for their communication and timeliness throughout the whole submission process. It's rare and they 100% deserve positive reinforcement from it. Augur is all the more beloved by me for their tact and consideration.
[WRITING REJECTION 74/100]
I sent an essay to a lit mag in March. They don't list a turn around time, but based on whisperings (not always reliable, admittedly,) they respond quickly. Their duotrope/submission grinder page doesn't suggest they reject by non-response. I sent them two follow up e-mails, one in May or June and one in November. They more or less resembled this: Dear [REDACTED] I hope this e-mail finds you well. I am writing to follow up on an essay I sent [REDACTED] on March 2 entitled "The Exhaustion of Living in a Christian Paradigm". I was wondering if the piece was still under consideration. I absolutely understand if the team hasn't had a chance to view the piece, I just wanted to touch base. Thank you for your time and consideration, Best Regards, Erin Kirsh I never heard back, not from either. Nothing in my junk mail. Nothing at all. I don't expect I will. Please note that this is not the same essay I sent the other lit journal, it is one I've been sending out for years that many people compliment me on in rejections, but don't take. It confuses me but I've kind of accepted it. To them, I say:
Not really, I more say:
but really, are those sentiments so different?
Well friends and rivals, I hope you enjoyed story hour. I hope you got something from it. Feeling vulnerable grosses me out
but anything for you. Anything to demystify. I hope this helps. I hope you're sending your work. I hope your feelings of discouragement are short lived and your triumphs linger. Until next time you gorgeous lot, - E.B. Kirsh