WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Reeee-jected!

 

Sad Poe

Maybe I’ve mentioned it before, but at my age, and with about forty years of writing and submitting my writing to agents, editors, and publications, I’ve just about had my fill of rejection. Oh, sure, I know: “You can never give up! You owe it to yourself! If you don’t put your work out there, it’ll never get accepted! You gotta be optimistic!”

But, kids, listen. There comes a point where you just can’t do it no more. Your pride won’t let you. Your sense of dignity.

Case in point, I recently submitted an essay to the online outlet, Vox, and never heard back. That’s their way of rejecting you. The same thing happened with Salon with a different essay. And the esteemed Kenyon Review turned down yet another essay, though at least they provided a standardized no-thank-you letter, as in days of yore.

None of those really bothered me. I expected them.

No, the one that bothered me, and bothered me too much, considering my mature zen state, was when an online publication of no particular cachet turned down the Vox essay. I don’t want to say which outfit this was, in case you put terrific stock in it, but something about the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

It bugged me, for one thing, that I had to submit via Submittable and pay a $3 submission fee. That’s how much I believe in this essay: $3 worth. And because of some encouraging things the editor said in responding to my earlier pitch, I was willing to pay because I was pretty confident that she’d take the essay. After all, it’s an online publication. There’s no cost to publishing something online. Maybe $3, but I’d already covered that.

It bugged me more, however, that in rejecting the piece, the editor laid out a number of reasons that suggested she hadn’t taken it in the spirit in which it was intended, i.e., tongue-in-cheek satire. Even though I told her up front it should be classified as humor, she read it as if it were scholarly analysis and thus found it lacking.

Doh!

I admit, I’m kind of a Charlie Brown at this point, thinking with each submission that this time, this time I’ll be able to kick that football.

And I know — I know — every editor has the right to publish whatever she wants, and only what she wants. I also know that I’m new to essays and it’s possible that what I think is relevant and sharp as hell actually reads like warmed-over Cream of Wheat. But I also also know that I’m about to turn 59 and I’ve been around the flippin’ block. I don’t need to hear why a 30-year-old editor disagreed with my opening premise and found some of my arguments to be “straw persons.” (Yes, her words.)

Have I learned my lesson?

Let’s just say I’m about to send something to The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs.” Stay tuned …

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38 comments on “Reeee-jected!

  1. islandeditions
    April 27, 2016

    Don’t worry, Kevin! We all still love you. When we stop loving you then you’ll have need to worry!

    I believe the world in general has lost its sense of humour. But there has to be some journal or mag out there that understands your intent. Possibly not MAD Magazine, but there’s gotta be another.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 27, 2016

      Heh heh. MAD would probably do me just fine!

      • islandeditions
        April 27, 2016

        I should subscribe to it again. I grew up on that mag and can still remember all the best and funniest bits from the time!

      • islandeditions
        April 27, 2016

        But seriously (!) don’t you find there’s a lack of humour in the world? No matter how you spell the word, with or without a “u”, everyone takes themselves far too seriously. Lighten up, world!

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 27, 2016

        Definitely! And I think outlets that have trouble getting it should just say up front: “We don’t accept erotica, violence, or humo(u)r.”

      • islandeditions
        April 27, 2016

        Perhaps we need to start up our own lit mag. It may not ever be successful, but at least we would find a place to publish what we write without all that rejection angst involved … and it would be funny, too! Miserable writers need not apply.

  2. S.K. Nicholls
    April 27, 2016

    One of my rejections said that the interesting elements of my bio didn’t come together in my ms as any more than the sum of their parts. (WTH?) Furthermore, there was too much familiarity in the work for her to be enthusiastic about it. I guess it’s best I have an enthusiastic agent and at least she responded with more than a form letter, but geez…how long till someone says, YES!

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 27, 2016

      Oh for Pete’s sake. Yeah, it’s the dumb things they say that really get to me. Why not just say, “Nice writing but it doesn’t suit our needs right now,” or something nonspecific like that? Grrrr!

      • S.K. Nicholls
        April 27, 2016

        Exactly how are the elements of a bio supposed to come together in a manuscript and what the hell does that have to do with the story??? I mean credentials are relative, I suppose, but how they “come together as more than the sum of their parts” is beyond me.

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 27, 2016

        That blows my mind. It proves that a lot of agents, if not most, are selling the author’s persona more than the work.

  3. Wisp Of Smoke
    April 27, 2016

    Don’t be that guy. You got rejected, own it. No excuses. The editor didn’t like your piece. Do better next time.

  4. francisguenette
    April 27, 2016

    Our reactions to rejection are interesting, aren’t they? So much depends on our internal evaluation of the particular venue involved. I recently failed to even place (with a recently released novel) in a contest that I judged as nothing like top shelf. Translation – they probably don’t get many submissions of real quality. Huh … I was either way off base on my evaluation of the contest or of my own work. Neither misstep is particularly comfortable. Bottom line – rejection always stings but like the old saying on how money doesn’t buy happiness – I’d rather be crying in a Porsche than a Honda Civic – I’d rather be stung by rejection from the New Yorker than an obscure online zine.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 27, 2016

      For the first 40 years of my writing life, I’ve had a noble, even gracious reaction to being rejected. Now that I’m a grumpy old man, I reserve the right to bitch about it a little bit!

      It’s true that it’s harder being snubbed by something you don’t think of as the highest caliber. I guess that begs the question, Why are you submitting there in the first place?

      So many uncomfortable angles here … 😉

  5. kingmidget
    April 27, 2016

    It’s all a random, scatter-shot way to go about things. When I finished Weed Therapy, I sent a few queries out. One agent asked for the first 10 pages or something like that. So, I sent them. Nothing more. It didn’t “speak to her” the way she had hoped it would.

    I wish I knew what the secret combination is that unlocks an agent or a publisher or, in your case, a website willing to publish an essay. Only I don’t think there is a secret combination. It depends on what side of the bed they got out of that day and whether they’ve had their cup of coffee yet.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 27, 2016

      Oh yeah. I’ve written lots of things that “don’t speak to” agents. What they really mean is that it doesn’t obey they formulas that they think make books easy to sell.

      I always remind myself that their goal is to sell books…

      • kingmidget
        April 27, 2016

        The formulas that led to The Help getting rejected more than 50 times before it became a runaway best seller.

  6. curtisbausse
    April 27, 2016

    Once had a rejection from a (now defunct) online review requesting / demanding that I not submit to them again for at least six months. As if!

  7. The Opening Sentence
    April 27, 2016

    By telling you the reason for rejection you don’t have to endure the vacuum of not knowing. You can now be certain it was a bloody daft reason. (Straw person! Speaks volumes, that does.)

  8. 1WriteWay
    April 27, 2016

    Personally, I think you should aim higher than online publications. If you’re willing to put the time and effort into submitting, then submit to venues that make the time and effort to print. Go for the esteemed journals like Kenyon Review but also The New Yorker and Harper’s (frankly, I think Gatecrash would have been suitable for Harper’s). My reasoning: (1) online publications are probably inundated with submissions precisely because writers think they should be easy (like free contests) and the editors are just overwhelmed; (2) some online publications don’t last long and when they go poof, so goes your essay (and I’ve heard similar complaints about small print journals as well); (3) your writing belongs in the more esteemed print publications so why bother with the online publications. If you’re going to be rejected, then be rejected by the best.

    Given the editor’s criticisms, maybe it’s a good thing your essay didn’t accepted. Would you want your work associated with an editor that complains about “straw persons”? 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 27, 2016

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Marie! We’ll see how my Shouts & Murmurs sub goes (I’m not holding out much hope, though ….)

      I hadn’t thought of the “poofification” of online pubs. Good point. One day it’s there, the next: poof!

      • Parlor of Horror
        April 27, 2016

        In a way I agree with sites disappearing too quickly. I had two stories accepted onto a site and within a year they revamped their website and deleted all the old stories. Now my stories are considered ‘published’ and have to be submitted as ‘reprints’ which means they’ve lost great value and I don’t have the benefit of being able to send people to read these stories online or using the byline. It really pissed me off because the website is still there, but now it has no stories on it and it doesn’t seem anyone is submitting anything to them.

        However, if you want to build your online presence there’s no better way than having a posted article or story on a website with a link to you/yours. It’s also beneficial to the website because you send readers their way through your followers and contacts.

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 27, 2016

        Great points, though I’ve never experienced the disappearance of my stuff. I’ve seen magazines I’ve been published in go out of business, but there were always print copies in libraries. It’s different with online publishing.

        The link business is important, though. Maybe more significant than print publication in small mags. We shall see!

  9. Parlor of Horror
    April 27, 2016

    Even though we know that Stephen King had stories rejected and Koontz couldn’t find an agent for years, etc…it doesn’t help how we feel. I’ve gotten a few rejections recently that leave me scratching my head. A few of them I could see why they were rejected, it wasn’t exactly what they were aiming for in their call and I kind of knew that when I sent it. But two of them seemed to be exactly like what the magazine publishes every issue and I couldn’t understand the rejection at all. With any publication, I try three times. If I don’t get a story accepted by my 3rd sub then the editor doesn’t like my writing style and there’s no way they will ever accept a story from me.

    • Audrey Driscoll
      April 27, 2016

      I recall an anecdote from one of the instructors of a “how to get published” workshop I took years ago. She was once in a position to evaluate submissions to a magazine of some sort. One fellow kept submitting, and they kept rejecting, but his stories were getting better and better. They would have accepted the next one, but — dang! — the guy stopped submitting. Sad, eh?

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 27, 2016

        Sad, but kind of BS too. They could have asked him to submit something if they thought he was getting close. Why is it always a one-way street?

      • Audrey Driscoll
        April 27, 2016

        Exactly. Things like this make it easy to feel resentful, but it might be explained by “too much product.” Which is also sad, although it doesn’t make us quit writing and trying to get our writing in front of readers.

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 28, 2016

        Yes, “too much product” is definitely part of the story here. They literally don’t need our stuff!

        And no, that’s not enough to make us quit …

      • Parlor of Horror
        April 28, 2016

        well maybe they would have accepted the next one, maybe not. Nut in the mean time if the writer would have not spent all this time on this quest for one magazine (I’ve seen other writers do this) they perhaps would have submitted to other places, and have a chance to work with an editor to get their work up to publication grade. Nothing helps you to learn better than having an editor say, I’d like to use your story but you’ll have to change ‘this’ because people wont understand what’s going on. Editors in big publications don’t have the time to answer personal letters, I understand that, that’s why its important to submit to all kinds and levels of publications.

  10. John W. Howell
    April 27, 2016

    Angst with a capital A. Good luck on the New Yorker. They also reject with no word so at least some snot-nosed kid who didn’t get what you were saying won’t have the opportunity to get their jollies off on a rejection note to you.

  11. Woebegone but Hopeful
    April 28, 2016

    An off-the-wall suggestion from someone whose advice comes with Health Warnings.
    Just to work off some steam you understand…..
    Every time you get a rejection- reply (with copy of the rejection).
    Your reply should be along these lines; You thank them for their rejection, but you are sad to tell them you found the rejection wanting as the rejection was not suitable to your current requirements and therefore you are returning the piece to them for publication.

    (With this mindset I will probably never get published)

    All the best to you in your endeavours.

    Roger

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 28, 2016

      Heh heh. A perpetual rejection machine!

      • Woebegone but Hopeful
        April 29, 2016

        As I enter old age I’ve opted for being perverse. Every rejection only re-affirms my belief in my own (as yet) unrecognised genius, I am obviously ahead of my time (Heh! It’s my ‘bubble’, I’ll live it)

      • Kevin Brennan
        May 4, 2016

        Perverse works for me! More and more, I think living in a safe and sane bubble is the only way to fly …

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This entry was posted on April 27, 2016 by in Writing and tagged , .
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