Literary Rejection

My luck had to end sometime. A string of recent acceptances just broke with a rejection from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. I can’t complain too much, because they previously funded another project (Clockfire, which is done and sitting with publishers who will decide its immediate fate).

“Literary rejection” is a special kind of rejection. I know people who fear it and take it personally, it wounds them. I find it more of a nuisance than anything else, although grants sting a bit more due to the prospect of “real” money (as opposed to the “honorariums” that literary journals pay, if they pay at all).

Many rejections actually make me smile. I received one recently, a form letter, on which the editor had scrawled a handwritten note saying she loved the story I sent but her editorial board vetoed her, and asking for more work. A rejection, sure, but it’s hard to take this personally. I’ve had harsher and occasionally mean rejections, but again, I don’t take these things personally. And I don’t believe other writers should take them personally either. Having been an editor now and again, and having doled out my fair share of rejections to other writers, I can honestly say that there’s nothing wrong with rejection. It’s just a fact of the writer’s life, like snow in the winter, something that you can complain about but should always expect and not allow to derail your plans.

What bothers me is non-response (in cases where response is expected). dANDelion can get away with not responding, because it says we don’t respond right in the guidelines. Other publications can’t get away with it. I will never submit again to a press or publication that refuses to respond, especially if I contact them and ask for a response. Take The Mercury Press. I sent them a book manuscript (Ex Machina) on May 1, 2007, and asked for a rejection at least five times since then. They have not responded to me for almost two straight years.

Rejection is not a personal attack, it is a professional courtesy. I sent the same manuscript to Coach House, which rejected it within two months, in a detailed, personalized letter — much more than I expected. Around the same time, I was playing scrabble with the editors of the press over facebook — including Alana Wilcox, who actually was the one writing the rejection letter — and when I got the rejection I was disappointed but not heartbroken. I kept playing scrabble and still think Coach House is great. I have never taken the rejection of my work as an attack on my person, and don’t understand people who do.

If a friend or acquaintance rejects my work, it in no way bothers me. People who get upset and who end friendships over similar rejections are unprofessional at best and horrible people at worst (and believe me, this happens in the publishing world). But I do take Mercury’s non-response, in the face of numerous polite and concise requests for a response, spaced over two years, as a personal affront. Not that I think Mercury has anything against me, but I think it is indicative of a general lack of respect for writers. And so I wasn’t surprised when a minor controversy regarding Mercury broke out amongst some of my friends associated with that press, which I won’t go into (I’m not one for gossip… okay, I am, but this blog isn’t the place for such things).

So AFA, I forgive you. And Coach House, you still rock. Mercury… still waiting for that rejection.