Believe it or not, no good editor likes to reject submissions. But it’s a necessary part of the literary journal business, made no more palatable by the knowledge that there’s someone like me at the receiving end, a writer who’s spent weeks or months on the story in question, the story that I’m about to say isn’t right for us.
Now that TLR is at the two-month point in our first submission period, it’s time to cull some of the stories that we know won’t make it into that first issue.
I can’t tell you how hard it is to pull that metaphorical trigger. With each rejection I pause for a moment, recalling the story I’m about to decline, trying to remember just what it was about the writing that didn’t sound like a good fit for TLR. Many times the title sparks a memory—if it doesn’t I’ll often take one last look to see if I perhaps missed something in the narrative, or to wonder if I can at least say a few encouraging words to the writer.
Those second (and sometimes third) looks reinforce what I’ve said before—most of the submissions we’ve received are quite well written. There’s a variety of reasons they wind up on the rejection queue. Sometimes it’s that the logic of the story doesn’t make complete sense (which could be more of a commentary on me than on the writer). Often it’s just too much exposition—I’m a big believer that a story should not have to explain itself to the reader, but should instead challenge the reader to adapt to its world. Probably the most common reason for rejection is distance—the narration is too distant from the protagonist. It’s as though the author is describing the character from across a field, focusing on exterior, without carefully weaving in glimpses of motivation.
There are, of course, additional reasons, some of them tied to arbitrary tastes, others to my perception of the audience who will read TLR.
Why then, go through all this? Occasionally a story comes across my desk that stops time, which captures my interest so completely it puts all other tasks and distractions on hold. I’ve learned to not hesitate, but to read it two or three times more to see if it continues to amaze. If it does, I accept it quickly, before another journal can. Nothing is more satisfying for a journal editor than landing that story.
And there are plenty of others that get placed in my “Read Again” folder, which are good enough for publication, and which will force me into the even tougher job of choosing from among them for the limited space we’ll have available.
But today I must handle the rejections. I suspect this part of the job will never get any easier.