On rejections from literary journals and publishers

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To My Chivalric Rejectors:

Every writer knows rejections hurt, especially when one is a beginner; but even the old veterans of the publishing battlefield find rejections unpleasant. Because so little money goes to both the writers‘ and (as we are repeatedly told) the editors‘ ends of the food-chain, the times when rejectees received personal feedback from their rejectors, seem long gone. It‘s almost amusing to read the same old message with each rejection—not a single word changed for a number of years, for example: “We are sorry to say we’ll have to pass on this submission, but thank you very much for letting us have a chance with your work.” Sounds familiar?

When one gets such a message the tenth time in a row, one begins to feel a single comma or a dash added would change that message into poetry (which acts through surprise). But no. That’s why, when I get a personalized rejection, it feels almost like a distinction. The current times are safely mapped, the borderlines between the powerful and the powerless clearer than ever. Like in an ant-heap, everyone knows where to move, and how. Machines talk to us and we to machines.

Then—suddenly—something humane looms on the rejector’s end. A rejection with some personal feedback. I remember every single one of such rare, chivalric rejections, in which a distinguishable human being tells me “No, we won’t publish you because…” I remember them as much as I remember the acceptances.

I want to tell a story that, on my part, is long overdue. In 2002, soon after my qualifying exams for my advanced degree, I took the courage to send my work to The Atlantic

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