DeMisty's status updates without so much noise. Still, I'm on twitter and google+.
I am a: writer, academic, lecturer of English in a public university.
for me, but three rejections in two days are two too many. Mind you, they all came at least a month after the publications’ promised response time, so they hurt that much more. Whenever a piece is out and the days waiting grow stale, I can’t help but to think that readers are deliberating over my fiction. Two, maybe three people are rooting for my work. One is putting her foot down against it, and that one usually has more clout in my imagination. But those two fighters wear her down and eventually, a happy email will be in my inbox.
But that didn’t happen. And not only were they rejections, they were form letters.
A while back on the Prairie Schooner’s blog, poet and new managing editor Kwame Dawes writes about acceptance and rejection from both sides of the slush pile. On February 28 of this year, Dawes writes that he cannot say for sure why he decided to send work out again:
Perhaps, I wanted to experience something of what those who send work to us feel. If that was my motivation, it was not something I was conscious of. But I can see the way that the business of making decisions about the work of other people, the pleasure of being able to tell them that their work is accepted, might have filled me with a certain optimism about the whole business of sending work out.
If anything, you should go read the post. It’s a lovely exploration of the whole submission process and wonderfully (mercifully), it ends on a positive note, even if in a way, it’s an advertisement for all things great about the Prairie Schooner. They are doing a lot of exciting things over there now… like the pod casts, so it’s advertisement worth reading for writers.
Still, within all this, about accepting great work, but rejecting not-so-great work, Dawes admits to candy-coating the reading process:
As an editor, I have felt like someone who is collecting, trying to find gems among the many things sent it. In other words, my focus was less on the work being rejected, but on the work being accepted. And in that world, it all feels giddy and peaches and cream.
I’ve read for a journal before. I know how hard it is to say no. When I began my life as a reader, I remember guiltily writing “no” to the first submission I read, giving my reasons why the work did not work for me. I felt sick, like I just broke someone’s heart. And with each rejection I gave, each “no” as shakily was written as the previous one. No matter how valid those reasons were for rejecting that work (and they were all valid reasons), I could not help but to feel that I would one day rue my decisions. No matter how often I read a story and decided that it was not up to the standards of our publication, I felt as I had just sided with the enemy.
But really, I was not. Some of the work I rejected was good, but not good enough. It was good enough to be workshopped, for example, but not yet ready for submission. In some ways, playing that person who has power over someone else’s pen helped me get published. Of course, not in the same publication for which I read—but in some small publications I enjoy reading. While a reader, I could see the common mistakes writers made in their work, their overall presentation, and in their cover letters. And from reading these stories, especially those stories that received “2nd reads” instead of a no, requiring a more advanced reader’s eye, or that rare “yes,” I learned what made a story full. Round. My stories were skeletal when I began my graduate career. I like to believe that they’re more fleshy now—even those one to two paragraph stories (poems? short-shorts? what the hell are they?).
And still: in reading Dawes “Oxcart” post on the Prairie Schooner blog, one remark stuck out to me, which comes at the head of the second paragraph and which, upon reading it, made me feel as if I was just kicked in the back. After he writes, quite merrily, that he began to send poems out again, he writes, “Then my work got rejected.”
Really? I let my eyes wander back up to the byline. Yes, this is written by the celebrated writer Kwame Dawes, whose name invites knowing nodding heads from any poet—or writer (or reader)—both aspiring and established. Google him and you’ll get over 240,000 hits. He has thirteen books which include poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. He is an internationally recognized artist.
And, there are those, in the present day (!), who have rejected his work. Ahem.
How does this make me feel? Do I feel somewhat validated because even writers as good and as celebrated as Kwame Dawes (I mean, have you heard the man speak? He’s the kind of person that makes you feel like—even in a crowd of a hundred—he’s reading just for you) is capable of being rejected? Is it humbling? Inspiring?
I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about that. Maybe it was very bad poetry or something? I can’t help but think of the old “SNL” sketch with John Lovitz playing as Picasso, drawing crappy art or wiping his mouth on a napkin and signing it. “It’s a Picasso!,” he’d yell. Hilarious. But I don’t think Mr. Dawes is sending out bad poetry.
And even if it was bad poetry, which I couldn’t imagine to be true, I don’t think that’s reason enough to reject him. When I started reading for the journal, I was told to let the writing and not the name speak for the work. Maybe, if a name like Joyce Carol Oates sent a story in, let the name sway you, but generally, let the story do it. “And even if it’s Oates,” the managing editor at the time said, “and it’s bad, we’ll probably say no ultimately.” So admittedly, there’s that.
But as I said before, I sincerely don’t think that Dawes sent out bad poetry. Is there a glut of poetry? There is that. There is a lot of poetry out there, being submitted and being read and reread by editors or readers or silly readers who don’t know yet what good writing is (come on; most readers are grad students, and some of those students are just starting out. They may need a semester or two to learn how to read again, or with that eye for a good story even when it’s not their type of story).
Still, there is that fact: the very good get rejected, too. And that somewhat it’s-all-about-me narcissistic question: how does that make me feel? I still don’t know. I’m still unhappy that I got three rejections in two days. Nothing is going to assuage that pain.
Maybe next time I submit, I’ll try a preemptive rejection, which is offered by the good folks at the Stoneslide Collective.