Guest Post, Jenny Ferguson: On Facing Rejection

A particular kind of rejection exists, and while all rejection burns at some level there’s a point in a writer’s life when the people they have surrounded themselves with, their community and their friends and their rivals and their lovers, start to rise on stars so fast and brightly sharp, that rejection for this writer who has been left behind, down here on the earth, becomes something new, something beyond.

I’d like to try to characterize that kind of rejection here, so we can better understand it. So we can better learn to live with it.

***

We wanted to let you know that it made it further in our reading than many submissions do and though we won’t be publishing it at this time, we do hope that you’ll send us work again.

This thing I’ve created, boiled down to it, it, it, a compliment that bee stings. I’m only a little allergic, only want to take a little Benadryl nap.

***

Oh my gosh this is so strange—I was just writing you a long response to your piece! Well, congratulations! I’m glad it’ll be in print. Can you tell me where? Two of my reviewers who read it were very enthusiastic and I know would like to be able to see it.

In a recent job interview, I was asked about my dream publications and presses. I tried to explain to these lovely people—generous and kind writers and thinkers themselves, people who understand both the academic job market and the world of publishing thoroughly—that in my life as a professional writer I was smacking my forehead repeatedly against a maybe metaphorical, maybe not, ceiling. In the Dean’s conference room, I used my hands and gestured a lot, trying to indicate that my career as a writer is full of possibilities. My gestures were supposed to say something like, Given time, I’ll find new ceilings to smash.

But maybe I’m not hitting this maybe metaphorical, maybe not, ceiling right now at all. If I were, I should be breaking through—simply by force of repetitive strain against metaphor, against a hard surface. Instead, I’m collecting rejection notices, collecting new writerly scars.

But that voice, it’s rejection doubt, slimy like the crap left in my lungs since H3N2 took me down two weeks ago. As creators, we need to learn to hear that voice for what it is, for what it does to our minds and hearts—and our art.

Perhaps, the original metaphor stands. I’m close, tapping at the plaster, forming hairline fractures I know exist only because of the dust I find in my teeth and hair.

***

I got a chance to read into this today, and while it’s a really strong project (truly, I think you’re such a talented writer!), I’m afraid it’s not a perfect fit for me. That said, I think someone else is going to snap you up with this one. But if that’s not the case, please do keep trying me! I continue to feel very confident that there’s success in your future.

Gritty chalk like substance on my tongue. And it doesn’t matter how much water I drink, how many times I brush my teeth, it binds, invisible.

Form rejections hurt. Because someone pressed a button. Someone clicked decline or nope or not-for-us-at-this-time or haha-they-thought-they-were-good-enough. And that click, it didn’t take much time on the part of the clicker. It happens. And then, for the clicker it’s over.

For the writer, it’s a new email notification after an already too hard day. Or it’s three rejections in a row. Or it’s a week of rejections. Or it’s the flu and one really painful slap to your writer’s heart.

But I’ve digressed…

***

This other kind of rejection is personal. It’s personalized. It’s a balm meant for that soon-to-be-wound. Words we’re supposed to cherish, to pin up on our walls or Pinterest boards, to ease the pain of this hurt—and the ones to come.

But maybe we’ve never talked about how that balm is salt, how salt grates against raw skin, how the burn travels on neurons, lingers, stays, imprints on a part of us that’s critical to the art we practice, how salt kills grass.

Maybe we’ve never talked about how kindness can be unkind.

As practicing writers we will always be rejected. It will never stop. Editors and readers and agents and bookstore clerks who don’t believe you’re the person who wrote the book you’re asking if you can autograph. Even TwitterBots will reject us. That’s a simple fact of what we face as writers.

As humans we will always be rejected. Learning how to process it is part of learning how to live. The moment we think we’ve found the last ceiling, the moment we stop learning, stop hurting, stop bouncing back, stop trying to get rejected, the moment these things happen I believe we’re no longer alive.

Rejection is the litmus test. Around my writer’s desk, metaphorically of course, you’ll find little strips of used filter paper stained by water-soluble dye made from lichens. Around your space, I hope you find this too and recognize the beat of your heart, the oxygen that animates what you are in this life.

Contributor Update: Rori Meyer

Rori Leigh HoatlinPast contributor Rori Meyer was recently featured on Eunoia Review. Her poem, “Catalogue of Ways We Hurt Each Other” can be read on their website here. The poem uses vivid language to grow the tension of the piece up until the very end.

Rori was featured in issue 13 of Superstition Review. You can read her poem “Lake Effect” here.

Contributor Update: Cynthia Hogue

We are pleased to announce the ninth collection of poetry by SR Contributor Cynthia Hogue, titled In June The Labyrinth. The new collection was released in mid-april from Red Hen Press. From the publisher’s page:

In June the Labyrinth is a book-length serial poem that is part pilgrimage, part elegy, in which the main character, Elle, embarks on a quest of sorts, investigating not only the “labyrinth” as myth and symbol, but the “labyrinth of the broken heart.”

Find out more and purchase the book here. And you can read three poems by Cynthia Hogue in Issue 11 of Superstition Review. 

Technology and the Space between Publisher and Author

The most rewarding experience I had while interning at Superstition Review came, rather not surprisingly, during the selection process for our most recent issue. I say not surprisingly because it is during this process that you get the opportunity to give an author the thing they have been searching for: publication.

What did surprise me though were two works that the fiction editors discussed during the selection process and how we were able to work with the authors of those pieces in order to get them published in Issue 11. Both of these pieces would have more than likely received “nos” if we had not been able to work with the authors, something that I was not previously aware was even possible. I had never before thought of the freedom that technology afforded the literary world and the opportunity it offered in erasing the barrier that seems to exist between the publisher and the author.

The first example I want to talk about is the piece by Jacob Appel, “Burrowing into Exile.” Appel originally submitted a story called “A Display of Decency” which looked at a young man’s struggle with religion. It was well written and a good read, but the piece was drenched in baseball paraphernalia and took place in the 1940s. The general consensus was that this created a setting which might be difficult for our particular readership, which tends to be younger. In fact, one of our fiction editors did not recognize many of the references in the piece. This decision about how any given story fits a publication’s aesthetic is one that all literary magazines have to make (and trust me, as a writer this is a difficult lesson to learn). This could have easily been the end of this story: a decline due to incompatible audiences. Instead we contacted Appel and solicited another, more contemporary, piece from him. This is something that I do not think would be possible without the immediacy available through the internet.

Our second “on the edge” story was from an undergraduate student at Utah State University. Since we tend to publish mid and late career authors, we get very excited when we find work from undergrads that make the top of the pile (we don’t publish any ASU undergrads since we have a non-compete agreement with the ASU undergraduate literary magazine LUX).The editors involved in the selection process saw the potential of Kendall Pack’s story, “Make Your Own Lawn Darts (and Rediscover Happiness) in 8 Easy Steps.” It was equally clear that, as submitted, Pack’s piece was not quite where it needed to be in order to be published. There were rough spots and inconsistencies and neither the author nor the publication benefits from bringing a story to the public which is not really finished. This could have easily led to a rejection letter for Pack as well, but the freedom of Superstition Review’s setup allowed us to contact Pack and offer him publication contingent on his willingness to revise his submission. What could have easily been just another homeless story became Pack’s first publication which can only be seen as a great success story.

This ability to become an entity which can work hand in hand with an author to get a piece to publication level is one of Superstition Review’s greatest strengths. As a writer, I am well aware of the distance that often exists between the writer and the publisher, an expanse that is so large that agents are sometimes required as go-betweens. But the landscape of publishing is changing and no longer is an author required to mail out manuscripts and wait months to years before hearing back (at least this is becoming a near extinct process).

Technology has the capability to erase the gap of information between the publisher and writer, something that has not really existed on a wide scale until now. No longer is it a requirement that a publication send out a faceless rejection letter that tells the author only that they have not been selected for publication. Now, with the ability of submission programs to organize all submission along with the comments of the editors involved, it is easier to go back and see which submissions were on the cusp of publication. We can then look at these submissions and see why they were turned down and make that a part of our rejection letter. In an industry where so many variables can lead to a piece not being published it is an invaluable tool to be able to offer the writer at least a slight indication of why a piece was not selected. Or, even better, there is an opportunity to not only disclose these reasons but allow the author the chance to correct these mistakes if they so choose.

Obviously this cannot always be the case. Some large publications just do not have the time to look through all their submissions and tailor a specific response, but they at least have the option to tailor one for the submissions that are on the edge. It will also to take time for these technologies and the assets they offer to catch on. However long it takes, it does give me a great sense of hope for the future of publishing and I see a time where publishers and writers can work as closely as peers in other fields. I can see the benefit of writers and publishers establishing professional relationships that provide brief points of contact concerning the craft of writing.

Bonus opinion: without delving too deeply into an already cantankerous subject, I see these constantly evolving technological tools as a gateway to a future where biases can be circumvented by using submission programs to cloak the identity of submitting authors. This seems like an unbelievable boon to an industry which so recently suffered from a humiliating setback.

Splash of Red

Splash of Red is an international online literary arts magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, non-fiction, art, interviews, and graphic narratives. They have published interviews with many Pulitzer Prize winners, US Poet Laureates, and acclaimed writers as well as some of the top editors and publishers in the country for their Industry Interview Series. What sets these interviews apart from others is that they focus on the readers of the literary magazine, many of whom are writers themselves. The interviews delve into writing processes of the interviewess, editing techniques, and strategies for getting around writer’s block. And the Industry Series investigates the other side of the table that writers rarely get a glimpse into in order to better their odds at getting their work published. But the meat of the publication is the fantastic submissions that come from all over the world.

The name of the publication comes from three inspirations: 1) the infamous red ink in draft after draft to get the best quality writing, 2) the blood and passion that goes into only the most skillfully crafted art, and 3) great work stands out just like a splash of red.
In 2010, Splash of Red organized numerous live events where authors came to speak with audiences for live Q and As. Some of the authors included Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz, famed writer Eleanor Herman, and Daniel Wallace – author of Big Fish, who spoke with eager audience members following a showing of the film based on his novel at a local independent theater. Additionally, the online magazine involved local communities by spearheading a special public mural on the New Jersey boardwalk in Asbury Park. Three artists chose three poems published on the website and created pieces of art inspired by and including those poems which were then painted in multiple, large murals across the backdrop of the mid-Atlantic.

Interested fans can follow Splash of Red on Twitter, Facebook, or become a member and get email updates about newly published work and events. One of the things they pride themselves on is creating an online literary arts community where readers can post comments on anything published on the website, submit art inspired by splashes of red for their Red Gallery, and involving members in creative decisions and directions for the publication including suggestions for interviewees.

If you take any one thing away from this blog post, take this: check it out. The website is www.SplashOfRed.net and feel free to peruse, read, comment, and investigate at your own leisure. Make it your own and enjoy!

Contest: 2012 Gulf Coast Prizes

Gulf Coast will be hosting their 2012 Gulf Coast Contests in Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction.

Submit online ($23) or by mail ($20) by March 15, 2012.Winners will be published in the Fall 2012 issue of Gulf Coast and will receive $1,500. Two runners-up for each category will receive $250.

You can find submission guidelines and more information on the Gulf Coast website.

Is Pushcart Pushing Out Online Publications?

Graphic courtesy of Perpetual Folly

With every new year comes a new edition of the Pushcart Prize and with it, the names of publications and pieces lucky enough to grace its pages. Known for compiling submissions from small presses all over the world, Pushcart has created a high standard of quality that authors and literary magazines alike hope to achieve. Perpetual Folly has released a ranking of Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry submissions published in the Pushcart by each literary publication for 2012.

While some notable names like Tin House, Poetry, and Ploughshares grace the top spots, some new faces have also joined the ranks. The rankings are a great way to discover new publications and revisit some familiar magazines. You can also see rankings from 2010, 2009, and 2008.

The Pushcart Prize, known for its prestigious spot on the small press altar, has come under recent criticism for its narrowed scope. Pushcart editor Bill Henderson wrote in his introduction: “I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous – great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.” There’s an excellent article about this comment in Luna Park, but we’d like to add our thoughts as well..

Publishing has come a long way since the days of stone tablets. Digital media has become a rapidly evolving field that is changing the way we consume literature. While some literary magazines have already converted to online platforms, other notable publications stand by their steadfast printers and traditional paper mediums.

The Pushcart’s bias against online publishing is apparent: only one submission from an online publication was printed in the 2012 Pushcart anthology. Pushcart had long been known for incorporating the best of the best small presses, but if it continues to disregard online publications, it will no longer be representative of small press publishing.

While not all online magazines uphold the same rigorous editing procedures of their print counterparts, many maintain traditional practices of print journals, with the only change being that they are free and immediately accessible.

We can understand Henderson’s argument to some degree. Online publishing, after all, is a double-edged sword. Often, editing is sacrificed in the name of immediate publication. An author can write a sentence and hit submit without a second thought. It can lack the craft and artistic value that many unplugged authors have spent years honing. However, online publication also opens doors to high-quality work. Connecting in a digital environment increases accessibility,  eliminates physical printing constraints, and fosters collaboration and community. We have to ask ourselves, how long will Pushcart continue to ignore the growing field of online lit mags?