I’m coming off a long dry spell in submitting, and yesterday I experienced the rare treat of a two-rejection day.
Both rejections were for essays I’d submitted to some intriguing online journals that I hadn’t sent to before, and both rejections were extremely kind and professional in their approach. However, they were examples of a specific type that literary editors in general may want to rethink: the “It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me” rejection.
In this type of rejection, the rejection language is clear—the work didn’t make it—but the editors work perhaps a little too hard to assuage presumed disappointment. This is what they said:
Case study #1: “This is not a reflection of your work, but a reflection of how our current issue is unfolding.”
Case study #2: “We are currently receiving more high-quality submissions than we are able to publish, and I’m afraid we decided to pass on this.”
But let’s be clear about something: Barring a few exceptions (bias and prejudice come to mind), when a writer is rejected, it is the writer’s fault. The writer made the mistake of writing and submitting rejectable work.
When my work is rejected, It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me doesn’t apply. Of course it’s me. And honestly, it’s OK that it’s me instead of an editor. The knowledge that it is me, writing work editors can live without, motivates me to do better.
Were I a better writer, my essay would hit the (virtual) submission pile, and when it rose to the top of an editor’s queue, she would read it with breathless attention. She would then rip her clothes and begin crying and keening, holding her laptop tightly against her body. The rest of the staff would come running. “What is it, Louise?” they’d ask, all concern, and at her wordlessness—her complete inability to articulate the beauty she had just witnessed—they would wrest the computer from her hands and read the essay together.
At that point, I’m pretty sure the entire staff would run out of its basement or attic or academic office and start dancing in a circle, crying and strewing flowers and making love. Crowds would form, and everyone would join in, not knowing the source of the beauty, but recognizing it as essential and pure.
Somehow, that didn’t happen with these two essays. Instead, an editor encountered it in his queue and said, “Hmm, that was an OK essay, I guess,” and then forwarded me the “good” rejection—the one that asks the writer to send again. It’s not bad news in the broad scheme of things, but it’s not flowers and maypoles and parking lot sex, either.
I’m obviously exaggerating. The best essay ever written probably fell short of making everyone who read it fall in love with life and the Earth and each other. But maybe a great essay could. And maybe I need to write that essay.
What I wrote instead were two different (and, hmm, kind of similar) rejectable essays. It’s incumbent upon me to do better, and it’s incumbent upon editors to keep their standards high, because with these two kind and professional journals, I fully intend to try again.