Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Electronic Spike

Who was the writer who saved all of his rejection letters on a spike on his desk? Not sure. I suspect it was Stephen King. Anyway, I've decided to post my spike for the year so far on the internet, seeing as all of my rejections came via email.

For the first time ever I've had more rejections than wins. I'm breaking down this rather devastating statistic into several factors: the law of averages (I've been sending more stuff off), the law of the tinny thing (like playing pool, pure arsey beginners' luck is sensational and always a lot of fun) and then there is when the said tinny thing is forced to come up with something better next time (I believe this situation is called 'a discipline', something I resist against my floundering ethical standards and better judgement.)

So here we go, here is the spike with an accompanying commentary ...

Dear Sarah,
Thank you for submitting your short fiction to Southerly.
We have received a large number of short fiction submissions recently, many of them of very high quality. Unfortunately there is no space in the coming year to publish your work, but we look forward to your future submissions.
We apologise for the delay in correspondence, and thank you for you patience. Please don’t hesitate to contact the journal if you have any further queries.

(That rejection took about eight months to hatch out and fly home to me. I'd quite forgotten I'd sent anything to them, which was fine because Overland had snapped up Whale, Daughter in the meantime.) 

But try this next one for an impersonal form rejection email that makes your shoulders slump at the computer.

Dear Sarah,
Thank you for submitting your story to Westerly. We regret that we are unable to use your work in the forthcoming edition. We look forward to receiving submissions from you in the future.
Best wishes – and thanks for your patience,
The Editors
Westerly Centre


The rejection emails I really liked came from the Griffith Review. I got a few but they always felt like a rebuff from fellow writers who gave a fuck:

Dear Sarah,
Thank you for submitting your short story 'The Venus of Breaksea Island' for consideration in the 3rd Annual Griffith REVIEW Summer Fiction Edition. Our editors enjoyed your piece; we feel it demonstrates considerable merit and skill in creating a vivid and harsh landscape and exploring loneliness and companionship in the face of isolation. Unfortunately, however, we were unable to fit your piece into the developing shape of the edition. While your piece did reach our second-round longlist, the overwhelming number of submissions we have received for the Fiction Edition has presented us with some difficult decisions to make; ultimately, this means that many high-quality pieces such as yours must regrettably be turned down. I wish you all the best in getting your work published elsewhere ...

This next one is to date the nicest rejection letter I've ever received. I told them that, to which they replied that they were seriously considering an eBook.

Dear Sarah,
Thank you again for submitting to our Novella competition.
Your submission, The Seal Wife, sailed through to the long-listing stage of the judging process, but I regret to have to inform you that it did not make the final cut.
More than 200 submissions were received and Griffith REVIEW was impressed by the amount of work and skill that went into all of them. The huge response indicates to us that there is a great deal of interest in the novella format and we hope to run a similar competition in the future. We would urge you to consider submitting if that happens.
In the meantime, ML, editor of the Review of Australian Fiction, has asked Griffith REVIEW to pass on to him those submissions that we considered to be especially strong.
With your permission, I would pass on your submission for his consideration.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Damn ... missed out on ten thousand bucks there.
I'm still waiting for a rejection from Overland regarding a story I sent them a month or so ago but Overland's print and internet outlets have both proved to be reliable and pretty egalitarian (and lucrative for me in the past) so if they don't publish me this time, it doesn't bother me too much. I like their style and anyway, that particular story about drinking rum out the back of Ravensthorpe may not have gelled with their progressive politics agenda.

I'm also still waiting for a rejection letter from Black Inc's Best Australian Essays. I'd like one from them this week purely for the sake of good manners, seeing as they have just put up their list of contributors for this year's book and I'm not on it.

It's not all bad. After all, this year I got signed for a ripper book deal which is a nice raised middle finger to the world and the US mag Creative Nonfiction have printed my story about plucking Aunty Jack out of Oyster Harbour in the early hours of a morning when we should have been plucking out crab pots. Coming out this month.

The funny thing is the 'no thanks' emails get easier to handle the more other publishers say 'yes please' because I am beginning to understand what the whole scene is about. 
But writing stuff down and sending it into the ether or a publisher's letterbox to be scrutinised is, was and always will be a case of giving someone an axe and baring your throat upon the chopping block. Writing, acting, painting or sculpting still takes a greatheart, a day job and plenty of spinach.


  1. Lovely to read this - thanks, Sarah. Griffith do indeed sound like they give a damn. So rare and precious a thing these days.

  2. Dear Sarah,

    Thank you for submitting your post on rejection slips.

    Please understand that - for the last 100 or so years - we have been rejecting unsolicited manuscripts from people as varied as F. Scot-Fitzjerald (approximately 140 times) to J.K. Rowling (approximately 75 times), and the number of submissions we receive yearly makes it next to impossible to distinguish between our arses and our elbows, so this further rejection in no way reflects on all the hard work and dedication you have obviously put into your very interesting piece.

    I can assure you that we have dedicated a full three minutes into flicking through your submission, but we were unable to find any firm justification for even a small advance or offer of editing, because - due to market pressures - we cannot at this time see any way to recoup it, or make squillions of bucks from film-rights and translations, let alone air-port sales.

    This somewhat negative response should in no way put you off your great work, however, because when you take a little peek at all the shit which we do actually commit to print, yours stands out head and shoulders above it all.

    Bear in mind, however, that about 80% of the manuscripts which we do purchase, sit unprinted - and gathering dust - on our shelves as I write, and the remaining 20% have a print run of no more than about 500. Of these 500 editions, we are wholly reliant on the distributors who have a strangle-hold on the high-street sellers themselves, so it is little wonder that excellent work such as yours will go unnoticed until someone manages to get their head out of their arses and finds a market for it.

    Best wishes,


  3. Great post and brilliant last paragraph. I really resonate with that one.

    I have now submitted twice and been rejected twice, and, because I am trying to crack academic publication, not particulary kindly either. This recent rejection really smarted because my supervisor really liked it. Many academics can be a bit stodgy, and perhaps also my research is pretty 'out there'. My supervisor also says it's really hard to get published. Here is my recent rejection:

    Hi Michelle
    Thanks so much for your patience and sorry to take so long to get back to you. Unfortunately, your paper was not accepted by the editorial board to go through for reviewing. One of the board members had the following feedback:

    "The use of poetic journal entries combined with paintings and digital images of paintings confuses the register of analysis - raising the obvious question as to where the 'imaginal art practice" or "the imaginal way of knowing and making meaning" is generated. I would like to see the paper totally revised to focus entirely on the imagery with no reference to the journal poetics. In other words foreground the visual production from the beginning and bring the theoretical reference into play against the backdrop of the imagery".

    Another member found the paper to be a bit solipsistic.

    You are of course welcome to resubmit the paper if you have the time to rework it, or another paper altogether.

    Yeah right, like I have nothing else to spend hours on.

    (BTW I had to look up the meaning of 'solpsistic' and now have a couple of paras in my thesis telling them to 'fuck off, this is not solipsistic because...')

    1. I wonder if there is a home somewhere for all the rejection letters in the world, where they sit in a dark, musty lounge room, watching tv and drinking beer ...

  4. Oh, those so-close-but-not-close-enough ones are the worst! Sometimes I even think the impersonal ones are better than the whole 'we really liked it, but unfortunately...'
    Chuckled at the book deal as a 'a nice raised middle finger to the world', hehe.
    Keep on sending those babies out there, sista!

  5. Thanks Ms PoW! It is a good point about the form rejections.

  6. As Eric said at the Olympics 'always look on the .......of life' Hey, you've got us as readers. What else do you need? Did I hear you say recognition? Income? A wide readership?
    More than a page or two at a time? Soldier on. Life is full of cliches .... and rejection slips.
    Finished 'To the Highlands'John D is/was out there. Hope his diseases don't catch up with him.

  7. Despite my whingeing sprays Mr Hat, I suffer from a condition called optimistic fatalism.
    Yes it is an 'out there' yarn, that book. And he is in fine form.

  8. nice one, sarah. posted a link to facebook and getting comments already