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In the words of Madonna as Evita: You must love me.

I’m thinking this morning about rejection. When it stings, and why, because at this point, I’m aware that it stings considerably less than it used to, way back when I was writing my best Raymond Carver knockoffs and stuffing them in envelopes with sweaty paws and sending them off to imaginary places like The Paris Review and Crazyhorse.

I know that it’s another old topic, but with a new year approaching, and everyone resolving to do better and write more, I thought it’d be nice to chat about our hang-ups, and have a little digital bonfire of the vanities here.

Specifically, I’m wondering about the place or places where you’d love to be published, that repeatedly rejects you. Why do you keep sending them your work? What are you trying to prove, and to whom? What is it about the journal that has you acting like a whiny bitch? Have you ever done that mythic thing where when something gets rejected, you wait a couple months and then send it in again, exactly as it was? To corroborate the old chorus that editors are notoriously fickle, and make haphazard, arbitrary decisions more often than not? Has a certain journal’s rejection prompted you to completely rework a piece and then re-send it, perhaps with a new cover letter that indicates how earnestly you incorporated so-and-so’s suggestions? Where is the one place you would *love* to be published? Does this kind of cred matter to you at all anymore, or have you risen above and beyond? Do you save your “nice” rejections? Or any of them?

I will confess to an unnatural attachment to NOON. I have received a few written “thank you, try us again” notes. I really just want Diane Williams to love me. I feel like if she loved me, my life would improve a little bit, in small but significant ways. I’m still unpacking this obsession, trying to get to the bottom of it…mostly I think it’s this underlying sense of entitlement, like, Diane Williams, you should love me, and I should be in NOON. A combination of giddy subordination and indignant conceit. I can’t decide if my new year’s resolution should be to stop submitting to NOON, or to get an acceptance from NOON by any means possible.

Whew, I feel better already.

Edited to add: Just read this from Sean over at HTML Giant. Yeah, good point: what of the rejections of solicitations? Those are in a category all their own.

22 thoughts on “In the words of Madonna as Evita: You must love me.

  1. Kristen,

    I look at submitting as a game of poker. What are the odds of getting into Noon? Mathematically they might be the smallest out there. There are five or so contributors that you know will be in there. That leaves room for five or so more. The next question to ask is, am I submitting a NOON piece. If no, your chances plummet more. I love NOON but when you’ve read enough of it, I think you get to know what a NOON piece really is. I will not try to define it here. And I’m not suggesting someone consciously write a NOON piece, I think it’s good just to look at it objectively and wonder if this could hold it’s own between Schutt and Unferth and Chinquee.

    All that said, I would prefer to go after places that have more open slots, hence more openings. And places that I like. NY Tyrant would be one, almost a relative of NOON in temperment.

    As for loving, go you let go of your attachment to having Diane Williams love you? What are you wanting or not wanting for here? To be published? Can you let that go? I mean consciously let it go. Deep breaths…

    I think all of us on Big Other will still love you if you don’t get into NOON, or if you do. But the key for us will be to love you the same amount, even if you do get into NOON. Big Other gives warm rejection hugs to anyone that wants them.

    I don’t save anything anymore, at one time I did. But I like recycling paper.

    I have a feeling your post will get a lot of comments. NOON is a hot topic.

  2. i still go through a set of childish emotions when i don’t get into a place i want to (or, worse, was expecting to – man, how have i not learned to not expect): upon seeing the envelope, i envision myself ripping up envelope, possibly burning it, then saying to myself that i’ll never ever send anything to those assholes again, then think that maybe they wrote something on the rejection, maybe it’s the dreaded but also valuable ‘positive-rejection,’ so i open it, and whether it’s the positive-rejection or just a form, i get terribly depressed and pull up the story on my computer that was just rejected and pretend to read it like i’ve never looked at it before, like an editor, and get even more terribly depressed, because, yes, they’re right, it’s terrible, and find terrible lines and terrible dialogue, and little action and no emotional depth and zero innovation and feel just very sluglike and dead and somehow wander from the computer screen and decide to go for a run because that’ll clear my head and make me feel better, at least physically, because i’m physically ill at this point, and during the run begin thinking, fuck that, that story’s good, at which point the theme for Rocky starts playing in my head and i sorta get all cheesy about how i’m going to send to those assholes again and again, better and better stories, yet at a moderate, six month-pace, until they pick up something of mine, no matter if it takes years and years.

    as for places i’d like to be: Open City, American Short Fiction, Tin House, The Southern Review.

    oh, i’m with Greg about NOON – it has to be a very NOONish piece to get in there, seems like.

  3. I also agree about NOON. Many years ago, I wanted very badly to be published there, and sent them many things. For separate reasons around the same time, I happened to meet Diane Williams, and she offered to look at some pieces of mine and give me feedback–not a submission, per se, just some friendly advice. Basically, she spoke highly of the work I sent–she said she was sure many journals would be happy to publish it–but that what I really needed to do was listen to the unique elements of my voice (the voice in my head) and to use those elements to establish a unique, personal literary voice on the page. I did this, and found that the resulting voice was actually not appropriate for NOON. So I stopped submitting. Diane is a kind and supportive person, but she has a very particular aesthetic vision for her journal, and will turn away fiction which is otherwise excellent, because it does not fit within the tone she has established for it.

    1. “Basically, she spoke highly of the work I sent–she said she was sure many journals would be happy to publish it–but that what I really needed to do was listen to the unique elements of my voice (the voice in my head) and to use those elements to establish a unique, personal literary voice on the page. I did this, and found that the resulting voice was actually not appropriate for NOON.”

      yes, exactly. such a great thing to discover, too, when it happens. everything seems a bit more okay, if just for a short time.

  4. I use my paper rejections like post-it notes. When I’m going out to a party or something, and need to write down an address, I write it on the back of a rejection slip. They’re the perfect size. It’s really fun.

    I don’t think I have any particular publication obsessions. But if you are going to obsess over a particular publication, I feel Noon (and Diane!) is worthy of your obsession. It is rather gorgeous. Their anniversary issue last year w/ the caribou on the cover is one of the few literary magazine issues I’ve read cover to cover.

  5. As for the rejection question, I always have something submitted to the New Yorker, because why not? You can submit via email, so it’s easy. And they actually send personal responses–probably from their legion of volunteer readers and interns, but the personal attention nonetheless makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere.

    One thing I find interesting/complicated is the occasional “update” I receive from a tentatively interested editor. I received one such email a month ago or so from a publication (which will go unnamed–but suffice it to say a publication that would be a not insignificant coup), saying that my story had received a positive response from at least one of their editors, and was currently among a smaller pool being considered for one of the remaining few slots. The gist of the note was: please be patient, we like your work, but can’t offer you a definitive answer yet. Well, this is both encouraging and absurdly frustrating to hear. I would honestly not have even given the matter a second thought had they not sent that email, but now I think about it every day, just waiting for the note. And if the piece is rejected, should I take comfort in knowing that it had “almost” made it? Should I feel thankful? Or will it be even more frustrating because my expectations have been raised beyond the “crapshoot” category, the catch-all category of submissions.

    No doubt I just jinxed myself by even writing about this.

    1. good advice, sean. but come on! what planet do you live on? a rejection is not the same as an acceptance.

      and no, i’m not sure i agree that one should just keep on writing no matter what. this will sound cruel, but there’s probably a reason for continuous rejections. let’s be honest here: everyone wants to THINK of herself as a writer. but not everyone is a GOOD writer.

      that being said, i personally don’t submit. because i can’t take rejection. i may submit one or two short stories a year, and even then, it’s random & haphazard. i don’t take rejection well. & i hold grudges. what can i say? i’m a small & petty person.

  6. I’m not joking, actually. I am old, though. I just yawn at rejections. OK, accept I go and write something. MSS accept? I actually buy champagne.

    Cliche?

    But still I do.

    1. i love it! i hope you get a ms acceptance next time i’m in NY. then, i too will get champagne.

      do you really yawn at rejections though, really? am i just that sensitive?

  7. Greg: Math is not my strongest subject; I’m not ready to let go, not quite yet; I like hugs.

    Alan: Nice

    Shya: Hmm, and I like the idea of finding the needle in the haystack that is someone’s ‘particular aesthetic vision,’ if it’s a vision I’m drawn to, and a journal I admire…a good challenge, anyway, which is probably one reason why I’ve continued to submit to NOON.

    Tim: I like that idea

    Shya: Why unnamed? And yeah, that’s a borderline abusive tactic.

    Sean: Yes

    I’ll say too, at the risk of going slightly off-topic…I’d like to think that submitting to journals is a pretty narrow part of my “praxis,” not the end-/be-all. I’m being emphatic in my post because I think it’s worthwhile to occasionally shine a garish light on these things that we writers habitually (or not) do. Sometimes submitting makes me feel more “done” with something, at least temporarily…like, once I hit “send” or (less often) put the thing in the mail, I can move on to the next thing. Other times, it’s busywork that I distract myself with when the well feels dry…

  8. There are many magazines that I would like to get in to. When I receive a rejection, I blog about it and that makes me feel better. I don’t mind rejection that much because I (however deluded it may be) really trust in my writing and how I’m able to learn and improve and so I tell myself it’s a question of when I get into The New Yorker or The Indiana Review, for example, rather than if. When I find myself too fixated on a particular publication, I stop submitting to them for a while because clearly there’s something about my writing that just doesn’t work for them. Between when I receive a rejection and achieve my moment of Zen, I say bitchy things to my friends and that feels good too.

  9. I’m with Sean on this one. Rejections don’t bother me the way they used to. I also don’t simultaneously submit, so please understand that I have very few pieces out. I received a 364-day rejection yesterday; a six-month rejection today. I reread the pieces, thought long and hard about where to try them next (opted not to try the 364-day one at all), and submitted the six-monther to Brevity. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I should say, too, that this year I only applied to one MFA program. And I did the same last year.

    I think, if you want something, you have to want it for a reason. The reason should be why you sent something there in the first place. I’m a patient gal. I wasn’t always, but I learned the hard way, I think. I prefer the waiting, the honest response, the joy and thrill of an acceptance that has hopefully been a long-time coming. I’ll wait forever for the good news from a place that matters. Everything else is just cheap.

    1. Speaking of places that matter–they can matter for a variety of reasons. I have stories out/coming out in simultaneous issues of Opium Magazine, Monkeybicycle, and Hobart, and these are three journals that mean a lot to me in part because of the long standing relationships I’ve had with their editors. I have known Steven Seighman, Aaron Burch and Todd Zuniga for years–long enough to watch them raise all three journals from small, hopeful upstarts to some of the most compelling journals around. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve all rejected work from me, I’d suspect a little nepotism, but it’s been really amazing to send mature work to what are now quite mature markets.

      1. Something I meant to emphasize here was that these editors, in giving me feedback and support over time, have played a significant role in my development as a writer, and this effects how I see them as journals.

  10. NOON is my dream-slot, too. But I know perfectly well I’ll never get in there. At this point, I most admire places like NY Tyrant, Unsaid, elimae, The Collagist. I just don’t know if I’m “right” for those places, which is okay. I’ll keep submitting, and each rejection will only hurt less. Or more. I’ll just learn to lie to myself.

  11. A friend of mine was complaining once that he doesn’t get much work accepted, and then he let slip that he had onnce had a piece in NOON—one of the first things he’d ever sent out. That blew my mind. I think that anyone who can get something unsolicited in NOON must be able to publish anywhere.

    I really like the rejections that Diane Williams sends. There’s something about that box, and that tiny type… They’re classy.

    Conversely, I hate the rejections that LIT sends. I don’t like that whole “we can’t bother to photocopy this properly.” They always made me feel bad, so I stopped submitting to them. Irrational, I know.

    …I’m surprised Jac hasn’t chimed in on this one. For anyone who hasn’t seen her blog:
    http://jacjemc.wordpress.com/

  12. I’ve had some pieces in the last couple of NOONs and have a couple forthcoming, but I have little luck finding print elsewhere. Diane is very nice and such a great editor, so keep trying if you think your work will fit there.

    1. Brandon, I am envious. Admiring, more like. I will find my copies and reread your work, and keep an eye out for it next time. Diane *seems* like an excellent editor. I will keep trying, maybe. Sigh.

  13. Kristen, do you send short shorts? I love people who love NOON. I’d like to read your work sometime.

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