A Bargain at Twice the Price

About a week ago I got a rejection, which wouldn’t normally be all that interesting or unusual except that I’ve hardly submitted anything anywhere in almost a year and a half, so I almost didn’t recognize it when I saw it. Okay, no, that’s not true—I've been through this far too many times to ever forget what a rejection is like, no matter how much time elapses between them. It’s just like riding a bike. Or falling off of one.

Since I hadn’t submitted anything in recent memory, though, this particular rejection sent me into a mild state of panic, because for one soul-sucking moment I thought that publications had seen fit to start rejecting me preemptively. Now that I think about it, actually, that practice would save everyone a lot of wasted time and effort: We hereby pre-reject your intended submission before you send it, allowing you not to bother and to save on postage. Please use the time you would have wasted to do something constructive, like make yourself a really excellent sandwich. You’re welcome. Sort of a Minority Report pre-crime paradigm for literary submissions. Scientists, get on that.

But no, my rejection wasn’t pre-emptive in nature. In fact, it was just about the most post-emptive rejection I’ve ever gotten, in the sense that it came so long after the original submission that civilizations had risen and crumbled, continents had drifted, entire constellations had smeared themselves right out of the night sky, and time had more or less looped back around to the beginning again. Which is my way of saying that the elapsed time between my submission and its subsequent rejection was two years, four months, and a fortnight.

You may well be asking yourself, why would a literary journal take that long to read, evaluate, and reject five poems? Actually, no, make that four poems: one of the ones in that packet was “Tryst,” which I had to withdraw once it had been accepted by Sugar House Review. But even if you leave that one in, the entire submission weighed in under 1,200 words. That means that, on average, this journal read about 1.39 words of my submission per day. Now, since the publication in question is a huge, extremely well-known semiannual journal affiliated with a major Ivy League university, it’s safe to assume they’re capable of reading faster, so they must instead have made a conscious decision to really take their time and do the job right. So maybe they read, say, 1.5 words per day and then took two solid months to agonize over whether or not to reject the stuff.

Now that’s service! Those are some mighty careful readers they have over there. I suppose I should be glad; they only charged me a $3 reading fee, so obviously I got my money’s worth. That kind of attention to detail is worth every penny.  I doubt I’ll ever send them any fiction, though; if I’d sent them my last short story, at the same reading rate I wouldn't have heard from them for a whole decade, and it seems cruel to subject them to ten years of painstaking labor for a measly three bucks. The last thing I need right now is to run afoul of federal minimum wage laws and labor protesters.

Shame on all those tiny, independent labor-of-love publications that don’t even charge you money when you send them material, and then have the unmitigated gall to read your work and respond in a matter of months, weeks, or even days! If they’re reading more than two or three words per day, obviously they just aren’t taking the time necessary to lavish your work with the painstaking attention it deserves.

Ah, well. You get what you pay for.