MASSIVE PEOPLE (2): Writer, Rejected
Writer, Rejected runs a blog called Literary Rejections on Display. It is probably obvious that I am sort of addicted to this site. I go through phases: I check it regularly, then I stop myself and ignore it for several months. Then I remember it again and sift through its wreckage. The site frustrates me quite a lot, actually. I don’t mean Writer, Rejected frustrates me as an anonymous online person (Writer, Rejected was nothing but kind during our email exchange), even though sometimes her/his posts at LROD are a bit offputting. Instead, I mean that many of the users who troll the site to leave their weird comments frustrate me. I don’t understand why writers get so indignant when it comes to rejection letters: they overanalyze any slight variations between form letters; they put a lot of meaning into ‘inked’ rejections; they throw fits when some editor out there commits some injustice against the literary world, be that an offense against some odd aesthetic floating around on the internet (‘good fiction’) or against some struggling writer. Sure, I know about rejection – I remember when I first started submitting places. And I also have problems when it comes to how long some journals take to respond. But Jesus Christ, people. Get over yourselves. It’s part of the ‘game.’
My own opinions aside, Writer, Rejected has built a ‘massive’ following online because of her/his blog. Lots of people go there and read about the latest advances in rejection and in responding to rejection. There are posts of specific rejection letters, posts about journals that have fucked up in some way, posts about authors who have fucked up in some way, and other things of interest. If anything, there is always some sort of spectacle to look at over there. I like this about the site.
Writer, Rejected was patient enough to deal with my lame questions. And recently, Writer, Rejected asked his/her readers to grade the LROD blog. So I figured I’d administer my own little quiz, I guess. Each question is worth five points. There is also a bonus question.
What follows are Writer, Rejected’s responses to my email quiz questions (beware of the jump).
1. ‘Professionalism.’ We don’t really know what that word means at HTMLGIANT, but I have seen it in comments on your blog, usually in phrases like, ‘this blog lacks professionalism’ and ‘you are ruining your writing career,’ etc. Could you define ‘professionalism’ for us and maybe talk about it, I don’t know, something related to your blog, and also maybe talk about the words ‘writing’ and ‘career’ as a phrase? Why is this a concern of some of your ‘readers’?
Professionalism is never having to say you’re sorry…unless you are sorry, in which case, professionalism gives you the balls to say so. From my perspective, it’s a lot like love: best accomplished by being who you are. For me, making a point about the absurdity we’ve reached in literary fiction is more important than saving my own ass. If someone doesn’t want to publish me because of my blog, or because I published his or her rejection letter, I have to say that I’m pretty sure it won’t be the worst reason for rejection I’ve ever gotten, or ever will get.
2. You are ‘a published, award-winning author of fiction and creative non-fiction,’ who claims to be ‘a literary reject.’ Blah blah blah. Tell me a story about yourself that does not have to do with writing. I realize you must conceal your identity for various reasons, so feel free to leave out anything incriminating. Be creative: who is the ‘real’ Writer, Rejected?
Here’s a secret: Writer, Rejected is my third-gendered alter ego. The real person behind the green frowny face is much more polite and something of a people pleaser. It’s only when I confront something that’s outrageously unjust, unfair, or cruel to others, that the real me becomes capable of going bat shit. W,R lives in a bat-shit-going place, which is why in part s/he is so appealing.
3. Another comment on your blog said this: “I give you an A. Struggling writers need a virtual watercooler to gather around so they can bitch about those snooty publishing types who work down the hall.” How has the ‘purpose’ of the blog changed since you first started it? Or has it? How many hits do you get?
The original idea of the blog was simply and guilelessly to post my rejections anonymously because in truth it was one of the most notable things about me: I got rejected a lot. I chose to post anonymously because I didn’t want to ruin my so-called career. Yet, at the same time I was feeling pretty down and out about my future prospects. I was even feeling a little bitter, if truth be told, which is why the early posts are the most disgruntled and perhaps caused the biggest stir. Over the course of the first year, posting several times a day, I started to feel better, lighter, certainly less downtrodden. In part, the airing of my rejections was freeing, but also the fellowship of other writers having had similar experiences and feeling similarly bitter was quite comforting. The blog actually helped me to take back my writing confidence, and decide to keep on keeping on. I found my voice again and decided not to give up on myself. My blog gets about 1,000 hits every two weeks, though recently that seems to have slowed a bit.
4a. Have you ever edited a literary journal or worked at a snooty publishing house/small press? If so, how awesome was it? If not, why not?
Once when I was in college I interned in New York City at the Ecco Press (it was then still an independent press that sponsored the literary journal Antaeus). It was not at all an awesome experience, since I was overwhelmed by the urban experience. Actually, all I did was wade through huge piles of slush and send out form rejection letters. No one even wanted to read anything from that pile. The instruction was: “Send it back. Do it quickly.” That was my first eye-opening experience.
4b. Pretend I submitted a story to your pretend journal/house/press and you have sent back a form rejection. What does the form rejection say?
If I loved it, I’d publish it. If I loved it with reservations, my form rejection would say: “Dude: You are super close with this story. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” If I didn’t like it, my form rejection would say: “Dude: I don’t know. Maybe it’s me, but I just didn’t see the brilliance in this work. Probably, it’s just me. Ask some other people what they think, and then revise if you think it could be better.” If I thought you were at the very, very beginning of your career, and had no business sending work out yet, my form rejection would say: “Dude: This needs work.”
5. What is the most fucked up rejection anecdote you’ve ever heard? Please retell it.
There have been so many. The rejections that really get to me often involve an editor/publisher/agent demonstrating very poor judgment. Like the editor of Fence telling her author to “eat shit and die,” or the Virginia Quarterly Review staff posting their inside jokes about the poor quality of most of the writing they receive. That stuff is just outrageous. I also like the didactic opportunity of the rejection story about the guy who got rejected several times by Tin House, but when he went via his MFA-connection to read his work at one of their conferences, the very editor who supposedly rejected the story he read aloud, asked if he could please publish it. The lesson in that rejection story is that it’s all about connections, and probably nice hair. I heard of a rejection recently which consisted of only three words: “Sorry, sorry, sorry.” I think I hate that most of all. It’s arrogant and disingenuous.
Bonus Question (10 points): What do you think of HTMLGIANT?
I love it, of course. It’s intelligent content with an edge and cool disturbing images. Also, there are so many of you! (I say all this even though you don’t list me on your blog roll of other places.)
Thank you for reading this edition of Massive People. Thank you again, Writer, Rejected, for taking part in this interview.