C’mon, Threepenny… give me a break…

I’ve had six stories accepted recently at good literary reviews, so it’s strange to have such a negative reaction to a form rejection letter–I feel like I should say, “C’est la vie” and let this one slide, but The Threepenny Review is a respected journal and I expected a little better from them. The rejection I received from them was a perfectly acceptable form email. It isn’t the content that I find objectionable. It’s not even the rejection that is objectionable! I don’t care about the rejection! So what’s eatin’ at me? Here’s what it says:

We have considered your submission carefully, and unfortunately we are not able to use it in The Threepenny Review.  Please do not take this as a comment on the quality of your writing; we receive so many submissions that we are able to accept only a small fraction of them.Thank you for sending your work to us, and please accept our apologies for the automated message system. We wish we had time to reply to everyone individually.

Nothing wrong there, right? Of course not…it’s pretty much the same rejection that thousands of writers receive everyday. It’s the process by which a writer toughens his or her skin and continues to write, despite it all, because a writer should not be defeated by rejection. It’s the general insincerity that bothers me. Let me explain further:

Here’s the time stamp of my online submission to TPR:  June 23, 2011 9:09:15 PM EDT

Here’s the time stamp of my rejection letter from TPR: June 25, 2011 9:16:31 AM EDT

For those of you keeping score, that’s about a 36 hour turnaround time. In the rejection notice, it says they’ve “considered the submission carefully.” Interesting. Maybe that’s true. Maybe someone received my submission Thursday night right after I sent it. Maybe someone was waiting at the computer totally anxious for a new submission to fly through the transom. Perhaps several dozen people awaited new submissions! A whole room full of careful readers waiting to read carefully on the late-night shift for TPR. Maybe that one reader did carefully read my story–it’d take maybe twenty minutes or so to read. Maybe I was lucky and got an upper level editor and that person felt qualified to reject my story right away because they had a good sense of the needs of the journal. Maybe that person waited a few moments for the story to sink in, pondered it over a refreshing Mountain Dew or herbal tea. Maybe that person mulled it over for the whole night, carefully considering whether or not my story “fit.”

But I highly doubt it. It also says in the email that “they receive so many submissions” that the idea that someone carefully reads them all is a joke. I have nothing against the person who rejected my story–probably a hard working editor or reader with fine taste in stories and essays, perhaps my rejector is a wonderful writer, too, also receiving rejections from literary journals. I understand the business side of things. Once I sent a story to Harpers and three days later I received (in my own SASE) a similar rejection. This was “snail mail,” which means that between the time my story was dropped into the mailbox and three days later when I received the rejection (which also stated my story had been carefully read) there was no possible way that anyone could have even glanced at my story. Someone had opened the envelope and removed my SASE and dropped a rejection slip into its prepaid slot and mailed it away. I can only hope that story was recycled.

Something similar happened at TPR. Sometime late last night, a dedicated editor skimmed through all the submissions that came in Friday. There’s no careful reading involved, or it would take weeks to get through each day’s submissions. He or she looked at the first sentences of each submission and decided it wasn’t up to snuff for TPR. Like I said, I’m fine with that–the reader most likely is well-versed in such affairs. But I wonder how many wonderful stories and essays are passed over in such a way? I’ll even take me out of the equation–how many hundreds of good stories and essays do editors miss while they wade their way through the slush piles? For some reason, my first sentence didn’t catch this reader’s eye:

Behind the Quinn City Recreation Center, down a muddy hill and through a clearing bordered by a slow moving creek and a line of young trees, Andrew Winton molested me in a tent we shared on a camping trip. ”

It’s okay, I believe in this story and think it will find a home at some point, but I have to admit to being slightly miffed at the insincerity of the statement “We have considered carefully.” I just don’t buy it. I don’t buy the “we” because it was most likely one person–no editorial roundtable–and don’t buy the “carefully” because it doesn’t seem like the time allowed for such care.

Still, it’s better than no response or a rejection that takes a year. People who don’t respond at all are at the bottom rung of the editorial ladder. TPR is somewhere in the middle. I don’t mean to criticize TPR unduly–they do put out consistently good product. And even if someone did get past my first sentence and into the story, they still might have felt it not a proper fit. I guess I’m speaking for all of the people who work really hard at their prose–weeks, months, or years getting a story just right–and feel that they never get half a shake at the reviews to whom they submit. I’ve been lucky recently–far more acceptances than rejections of late–but I know that for each of my stories that finds a home, dozens of equally worthy stories are sent back with similar rejections. Perhaps a simple rewording is in order?

8 thoughts on “C’mon, Threepenny… give me a break…

  1. Same here. Only one other publication I’ve submitted to in the past 10 years even comes close, with a turnaround time of 5-6 days. All others take at least a few weeks.

  2. For the second time in two months a story of mine was rejected by TPR. The turnaround was so fast that I think they anticipated my hitting send so that they could click reject the second my finger pushed. We all get rejected but thanks for posting your feelings as misery loves company. I learnt I wasn’t the only one to be amazed at their blitzkrieg rejection. I would love to hear TPR answer to their ‘careful reading’ strategy as I think the reviewer is
    the Mighty Kresken from the old Johnnie Carson show (who could hold up an envelope and answer what was inside without looking)

  3. I know it’s been a few years since you posted it, but I wanted to thank you for writing. They opened their call for submissions up two days ago and I submitted for the first time. Less than 24 hours later, I got a rejection (and keep in mind part of that “less than 24” was New Year’s Day!). I thought, hey, you can reject me so quickly, I can resubmit quickly. So I sent in something yesterday around 3 pm. 11 am today, guess what? Rejection! So I flipped back around and just sent another one. Will they reject it? Yes, probably. And when they do, I’m tempted just to keep sending them everything I have–no matter what condition it’s in–to create more work.

    Is it nasty and rude? Yes. But so is not even reading something then saying you did. In fact, that’s not just rude, it’s lying. Be honest, Threepenny. As another commenter said, just stop taking submissions.

  4. Thank you, thank you! This is a systemic issue. Poetry hardly fares any better. I also get the creeping feeling that our publishing creds are really the “first line” considered. I’m not kidding myself that I’m some Mary Oliver just yet, but if I tried submitting half the poems she’s getting published today I’d be in the rejection pile faster than you can say “indent.” It would be manna from heaven if a few of the top reviews would embark on a renaissance to focus on newer voices.

  5. I decided on an experiment. I send them the story on Friday afternoon, they have carefully read it on Saturday and rejected on Sunday. Two times in a row.
    I’d love to see their black list.:(

  6. Found this story after being rejected by TPR (with barely a day turnaround), and I just wanted to say: thanks for posting this. I’m 99.99999 percent sure they didn’t give my story a read-thru, and y’know, sometimes it’s a little insulting. Rejection is the name of our writing game, definitely, but at least a publication like Glimmer Train thoroughly and faithfully looks through their slush pile. I guess, nowadays I feel like a fraud (I won GT’s Fiction Open last year and have been submitting my stories since but with no bite. I guess it’s getting to me).

    Sorry for the long roundabout, but I really just wanted to say thanks. I was hooked by your first line.

  7. Just got a rejection from our careful readers at TPR. I sent it the day before yesterday reluctantly because they reject usually before the ink’s dry. I’ve been lucky enough to be in Glimmer Train but it’s been some time. Nevertheless, am still fighting the good fight. I was so happy to locate your story. Thanks so much. What are those people up to?

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