Originally posted: March 13, 2001
No one likes rejection.
Especially not writers.
This is the bottom line. When a writer decides to submit work for consideration by a publisher, he or she resignedly opens a vein, then watches as the blood drains away from heart and brain and seeps into the fibers of pristine white sheets, blossoming finally into a manuscript. When the pages dry, the author weakly paper clips them together, and writes, with ebbing strength, a courageous though slightly self-deprecating cover letter using the remaining clotted drops upon the floor. The sheets are then slid into a standard manila folder which has been shakily addressed in indelible ink. At the post office the writer will fumble in front of the stony-faced clerk, folding the Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope exactly down the middle and wedging it inside the ochre manila, behind the eager manuscript, hoping never to see that same envelope come slithering in through the mail slot at home, fat with rejection.
I recently had the pleasure of being rejected by Zoetrope: All Story, a magazine owned by Francis Ford Coppela, maker of noteworthy films and mediocre wines. Zoetrope: All Story publishes good short fiction and screenplays. This magazine has had stories short-listed for the O. Henry Awards. This magazine is well respected among fiction writers and the film industry. This magazine declined the use of my short story:
Zoetrope ALL STORY
1350 Avenue of the Americas 24th floor New York New York 10019
“Interview with a Consul General”
Thank you very much for submitting your manuscript to Zoetrope: All Story.
We appreciate your interest and regret that we are unable to use your story.
The Editors Z
This was printed on a narrow piece of thick paper, its narrowness insuring, I believe, that 3 slips could be cut from each sheet of what was probably very costly stock. I have tried to recreate above, the beauty and subtle hues of the inks. The almost periwinkle blue juxtaposed against the rugged elegance of warm slate gray. The marine depths of the ball point, written in a neat, if hurried, hand. Light heartedly, the numbers of the address and the words “New York” begin with a quirky switch, the blue instead of the gray, a sort of “Fade in” look to the words above that brief slice of rejection. The over-sized “Z” of Zoetrope and the one after the word “editors”, actually touch the edges of the paper. There is no margin. No margin at all for those Zs. This was not mere coincidence, I knew. It occurred to me, after considering the paper for some time, that a graphic artist had designed this. It is in staggeringly good taste. It is bold and yet gentle; substantial and also vacuous; blunted, and yet eviscerating. A thing of loveliness, a beautiful, crushing thing.
Slipped opportunistically into my provided SASE, was also a photocopied sheet. The editors were inviting me to subscribe – at a substantially reduced price – to Zoetrope: All Story. There is something pathologically humbling about being turned so deftly from prospective contributor to ripe consumer. I opted not to subscribe.
So now I await the rejection of the same story from The New Yorker. Those two publications were, in my green estimate of 5 months ago, my two top choices, and they were the only two places I submitted this story. This is how deluded I was - Zoetrope was my fall-back choice. The New Yorker is such a long shot, I have no real hope – except, of course, where all writers have hope – in that small and ragged chamber of their hearts that still believes in fairy stories.
I sent out the manuscripts in October. I was sure Zoetrope would take months to reply, as they are a fairly small organization, and the editors are probably over-extended as it is. The New Yorker, in my limited experience ( I submitted a work of non-fiction to them four years ago), tends to zing back their rejections within three weeks. It has been 5 months. What does this mean? It could mean many things. It could mean they’re considering the story. It could mean it is still circulating as an inter-office humor memo. It could mean they never even received it.
What it probably means, I tell myself, is that they are back-logged and the folded SASE will be entering my mail slot any day now, another tasteful, graphically engaging little slip of paper that will unceremoniously tell me this story will never find its way between the covers of their magazine. And yet…
This column will occasionally follow the pedaling of this work of short fiction, I think. Yes, that sounds like fun, doesn’t it? The age-old hunt for acceptance by a would-be Writer (can we really call ourselves a Writer if our publications number, say, less than 10? Less than 7? Yes, if one of those publications is The New Yorker one damn well can…).
If and when the New Yorker rejection comes in, I will share it with you. Don’t they say misery loves company? Not that multiple rejections of this story will cause me misery– as Elaine May said (and I am paraphrasing here), you have not hurt me because I am going to analyze it. We will turn this into a voyeuristic project. Come with me now, as we …wait. Then we shall see where the next acts of submission take us.