Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rejection Thursday special: a quick idea for literary journals to easily provide more than just a no

Work informed me that today was "Thankful Thursday" and asked us to share our gratitude. I thanked the lady who sells me my coffee. She's probably more efficient and performs more tangible good in the world than anyone else I see at work. Then again, I thank her every time she gets me coffee. I'm an asshole, but not a jerk.

Anyhow, I've decided to dub the day "Rejection Thursday," which has zero alliteration, but is still 97.2% less dumb. The day after posting about a really strange coincidence where a story I voted on in the literary journal I work with showed up in the copy of Prairie Schooner I was reading, I got my own rejection from Prairie Schooner. Not really a big deal; it's a tough journal to get into. But this is one of those stories I really have an extra amount of attachment to. It's inspired by my daughter, who is not officially my daughter, but who needed a place to stay six years ago and I've called my daughter since. It's not much of a real-life-transcribed-into-fiction story--almost none of what happens in the story happened in real life--but it is the best shot I've taken at expressing some of the things I've felt and learned having her in my life. It's got all my own inadequacy and failure to be for her what she needed, all her elusive charm built of her own survival mechanisms she's developed while dealing with things I can't--and don't want to--imagine. I felt drained after writing it. Every rejection I get for this story feels like I've failed her somehow.

So what do I want journals to do?

I understand all too well that journals can't respond to every submission. They can't even do it for 10% of the stories they get. But here's something I'd like to see journals try: have each reader/editor who weighs in on the story assign it a 1-10 rating. They don't have to justify the rating, just based on the stories they see come in, is this a 1 (utterly unredeemable, horribly written), a 10 (publish!) or somewhere between? I'd say a 7 or above is a story you probably read all the way through.

The writer would, in addition to the standard rejection notice, get a readout of the number from each reader who provided one (naturally, the readers' names would be kept off the ratings).

I know journals will never do this, because it opens them up to all kinds of hate from writers. Journals already face occasional anger and bitterness from writers who are certain their stories were better than what got published. A unexpected low rating to go along with it would only fan the flames.

But it would be extremely useful to me, especially when trying to figure out where to go from here with a story I can't just walk away from. I know the number would be something the reader spent two seconds assigning, but that's actually useful, since the up/down decision also happens nearly as quickly. It's not the same as criticism: that requires a full reading every time, no matter how bad it seems. It's just a quick, first-number-that-pops-into-your-head reading of how close a reader was to yes.

As much as I doubt any journal would ever try this, I think it'd be a really interesting experiment for one to try for a single reading period.

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