A short read parsing rejection letters, remembering Bart Giamatti, and learning from the Phillie Phanatic. Also on Substack.
Hello and Happy Monday! Feels like a good moment to link to a piece from last week about how Italian Americans owe ourselves more than Columbus.
I got this from Jon Winokur’s twitter feed. It’s a lot like what Benjamin Taylor and Robert Antoni taught me at The New School:
“The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.” – James Baldwin
Leave it to James Baldwin to define this whole ordeal so briefly, so clearly, so truly.
The Not-So Secret Hierarchy of Rejection Letters
If you’ve been submitting stories or poems to journals for more than a day or two, you’ve probably seen something like this:
Unfortunately, the work you submitted was not the right fit for us. Best luck placing it elsewhere.
It’s impersonal, not exactly brusk, but certainly right to the point. The good thing about these kinds of responses is that you know right away that the good folks at that prestige mag aren’t writing about your major award.
Every now and then, the writing community on twitter has a good laugh about this kind of thing (that is, when we’re not busy discoursing. I’m not sure when any of us actually write). I remember a pretty gross move a few years ago when one journal (don’t remember which) sent a round of rejection emails that started with the word “Congratulations.” I think the rest of the email said something like “this piece wasn’t for us, but congratulations on being invited to submit to our next contest” or something. A few weeks ago, a journal I’ve submitted to (and been rejected from) exactly twice in a dozen years sent me an email inviting me to their “class for beginners.” I passed, and I’m not losing sleep wondering if their month-long workshop imparted some secret I missed during my two-year MFA.
If you’re new to all of this, I give you the Not So Secret Hierarchy of Rejection Letters.
1: The standard form letter like the one seen above. Not very gratifying, but don’t take it personally. You’re busy, they’re busy, and that’s just how it goes.
2: The form letter with your name and the title of your piece. Pretty standard practice. I think I get more rejections with this level of personalization than without. I don’t know if there’s a script that automates this in submission management systems or not.
3. The encouraging form rejection. Exactly what it sounds like. Maybe the most vexing. “This story was great, we really enjoyed it, there’s so much to like, it’s not you, it’s us.”
4: The personalized rejection letter with a personal note telling you how much they liked your story, even though it’s not for them, and encouraging you to send them more. The fact that we celebrate this kind of rejection almost as much as an acceptance is a sad insight into how arbitrary and underfunded this whole process is. We share these near-wins gleefully. That’s probably not healthy. That said, when you’re at this point with a specific piece or a specific market, you know that the editors really looked at your piece, thought about it, and saw enough promise (or whatever they look for) to personally encourage you as a writer. No one owes you that, so when you get it, it’s a good thing. Follow up with a thank you.
The most important thing to remember? We’re talking about subjective responses to art. The thing is persistence (and very often, revision).
Also, there’s this: Rejection Wiki. It’s “a wiki for recording literary rejections to help in determining whether you have a standard, tiered or personalized rejection.” I found it by googling a rejection that felt like a 3. (It was).
Something else to remember: Some journals (well-known ones) reject everything in their queue without reading once they’ve filled a certain issue, theme, or whatever matrix they use. So, that sucks.
Sometimes it feels like we’re working for crumbs, especially since many markets don’t pay (come to think of it, I’m not sure why we still call non-paying venues markets). I suppose the excavation happens anyway, and so we carry on.
Speaking of: Rejection Letters is also the name of a great online journal. They published a piece of mine back in 2020. Anyway, here’s Wonderall.
I lived in New Haven for three years in the early 2000s. Many things from that time have stuck with me. One vivid memory is Randall Balmer paraphrasing Bart Giamatti’s insight about baseball and the immigrant experience both being quests for home.
In this piece from 2011, Lia Petridis Maiello talks to Lawrence Baldassaro about his book on the concept.
I remember collecting this card put out by Donruss when Giamatti passed in 1990, and of his great “Green Fields of the Mind.” I knew the brilliant actor, Paul, was his son, but I never really realized how young Bart was when he died. I was 10 in 1990, which means I’m 42 now. 51 probably seemed ancient to me not that long ago.
In honor of Bart (even though he loved the Red Sox) and in honor of the Phillies making the playoffs for the first time in forever, here’s: Everything I Know About Postmodernism I Learned from the Phillies, a piece of mine at Hobart.
Photo by Tyler Hilton on Unsplash