Thursday, November 6, 2008

Work in Progress: Rejection Stories

Writers are a hopelessly hopeful lot. How else to explain the cycle of bleeding out a perfect, heartfelt story/poem/essay, sending it out to a journal, getting it rejected with an impersonal three inch by four inch preprinted slip of paper, and…sending it out again! And again. And again. It defies logic.

Yet, every writer who’s been around the block has a few rejection stories, some hopeful and some that serve only to illustrate the idiocy of certain editors. I thought I’d share a few of my more hopeful stories:

Years ago, I wrote a story called “The Invisible Hand” that sprung from a famous exercise, “write about the worst thing you ever did.” (What I like about this exercise is that “worst thing” doesn’t necessarily end up being a vividly dramatic horrible thing you did, but something that has eaten away at you nevertheless. You can read more about this exercise and a resulting famous [and excellent] short story here.)

So, I was pretty pleased with “The Invisible Hand,” and I sent it off two excellent magazines (you know the ones I mean!), and got a nice note back from one. Then I decided to send it to a prestigious literary journal that I liked, where I had been previously published, where I knew the editor. I mailed in on April 28 and got a nice letter (not from my editor-friend) on May 12.

Okay…more journals, more letters, but ultimately, more rejections.

Then I got a phone call in late October. From my editor-friend at The Iowa Review. He had “found” my story on his desk and loved it. Could they publish it?


I don’t believe I ever mentioned that this story had been rejected already by the journal, especially when this story was selected as one of the “100 Distinguished Stories” in that year’s edition of Best American Short Stories.

I wrote a short story called “Shortcuts,” about four generations of Polish-American women making pierogi. Again, I was pretty happy with this piece and as an added advantage, it was shorter than most of my stories so I thought I might be able to place it fairly quickly.

Again, I sent it to some of “those” magazines, and again, I got a couple of nice notes. Then I revised it, and started in on the literary journals. Some more nice notes. Then I revised it again.

I was really moving through my list of literary journals. By this time I had sent this story to 21 different journals and contests, and three years had passed.

One Saturday, someone knocked at the door: the mail carrier. “Sign here for certified mail,” and he handed me a large, unexpected envelope.

Inside the envelope was
--a letter telling me my story “Shortcuts” had been selected as the winner of the University of Alaska Southeast Fiction Contest,
--copies of the journal with my story already published, and
--a check for $500.

Also, this story became the first chapter to my novel, Pears on a Willow Tree, and a selection I often read to audiences who often tell me how much they enjoyed hearing it.

So, I think you can guess the lesson for today: send out your work! Yes, again, and again, and again. And then one more time.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.