I recognized the handwriting on the envelope as my own. A SASE, returned to me by the editors of a literary journal. More like the interns of a literary journal.
I opened it and found a flyer for next year’s literary contest. Over and over I flipped this one-page flyer, looking for a handwritten note, saying something like, “Thanks, Jane, but no.” Wordprocessed and photocopied text is all I found.
At last I actually read the photocopy. I studied it even. Ah ha! After the announcement of next year’s contest are listed the winners of this year’s competition, which I had entered. I am not among those listed, and so I deduced that — although no text is actually addressed to me — I did not place in the contest and, furthermore, I will not be published by this journal.
Hmm, thanks a lot for the completely impersonal and oblique reply, oh literary journal. It would have been a step up, you know, to receive a form letter: “Dear Writer, We have read work. It is not right for our publication. Good luck elsewhere. Sincerely, The Editors.” In fact, I would have preferred such a direct form letter. Photocopied notices of next year’s contest are not very good communicators of the “no, thanks.”
“You know what I want?” I said to Jimmy, as we stood in our kitchen, with this blue piece of paper in my hand. “I want to learn something about my writing from the rejection letter.” Here are what might be good responses. I could even imagine a literary journal creating a form letter with check boxes. Even one of these items, checked, would teach me something about my work:
- No thank you. This still feels like a draft to us.
- No thank you. This doesn’t fit with our editorial vision or sensibility.
- No thank you. Honestly, we are overloaded with stuff right now, and your essay did not grab us on the first page, so we didn’t keep reading.
- No thank you. This is potentially really interesting, but it’s too long for what it is.
- No thank you. We really prefer to publish the Under 40 and Fabulous Crowd, and this is not that.
While I do see the benefits of preparing one’s work for submission, this kind of rejection is totally impractical. It’s like hitting a tennis ball against the back of the school wall, again, and again, and again. Sure, it’s activity, and it seems relevant to the actual playing of tennis, but it’s not deliberate practice and it won’t get ya nowhere in the game. There’s return, but no feedback.
Jimmy said two things. “You know, you have the platform to publish the essay yourself.” He’s right, and I will.
Then he handed me a 4 x 6″ postcard he got in the mail from Starbucks. “Have this,” he said.
We’ll make you any drink you like.
I’ll take the free coffee. It’ll end up being more personalized than the blue flyer I got from the journal.