Literary MagNet

by Kevin Larimer

News and Trends

Posted 9.1.08

September/October 2008

Want to make an editor's blood run cold? Try writing an autobiographical essay that is sure to be exposed as fiction after said editor proclaims it the artful real-life story he has been waiting his entire career to publish. Or, if that's too much work, post one of his rejections on your blog—preferably a curt form rejection, with a glaring typo or further proof that he is a thoughtless, no-talent hack posing as the gatekeeper of commercial tastes. If you're among the minority of human beings who don't have blogs, post it on Literary Rejections on Display, started last year by an anonymous author going by Writer, Rejected. Or slap it up on Rejection Collection, a Web site presided over by "president and chief rejecutive officer" Catherine Wald, whose freelance career has been "unmistakably marked by rejection," as she admits on the site (nevertheless, she has placed an article or two in this magazine). Of course, sometimes an editor will beat an author to the punch and make public some potentially embarrassing correspondence herself. Rebecca Wolff, the editor of Fence, whose blood is always nice and bubbly, did just that earlier this year when she posted her response to a Fence contributor who had inquired about the free copies that he felt were owed to him. The e-mail messages, posted on Fence's blog under the heading "Devolution of a Literary Correspondence," sparked exactly the kind of spirited online discussion one would expect in response to an editorial missive that contains the valuable advice, "Eat shit and die." Speaking of spirited discussion, Ted Genoways's Virginia Quarterly Review elicited some strong reactions from readers after internal correspondence regarding choice cuts from the slush pile was posted on the journal's blog under the heading, "I can't enumerate all the ways in which this is horrible." Genoways later removed the offending material and apologized. "In short, the tone of our blog post did not correctly represent our commitment to our authors," he wrote. "However, I do think that the comments, if not their public airing, are a fair response to many of the submissions we receive and accurately reflect the righteous indignation that we often feel as readers." On his own blog, Howard Junker, the outspoken editor of ZYZZYVA, wondered, "Since when are Genoways and his minions entitled to righteous indignation while winnowing the infinite chaff from the most rare of wheat?" Is this wheat so rare that editors and writers alike must devote editorial space to the chaff? Rather than dwelling on the lousy submission or the lame rejection—or even the crummy criticism of the lame rejection of the lousy submission—how about devoting one's time to writing and publishing work that is...you know, good? Isn't it the editor's job to read the bad writing so that his readers don't have to? And isn't it part of the writer's job to learn from—rather than reject—rejection? It's a pretty simple lesson, really: Either your writing needs more work or the offending journal doesn't.

It's difficult to decide which aspect of Atlas, the literary magazine of international art and writing edited by Indian author Sudeep Sen, is most impressive. It could be the masthead (with contributing editors such as poets Kwame Dawes, Donald Hall, and Naomi Shihab Nye, and international editors hailing from more than two dozen countries); the number of editorial offices (one in New Delhi, one in London, and one in Cambridge, Massachusetts); or maybe the magazine's sheer girth (four hundred pages). But however jaw-dropping those may be, readers will likely be most impressed by the table of contents: The second issue includes work by Salman Rushdie, Seamus Heaney, Vikram Seth, and more than fifty others. The Web site, oddly enough, looks like it was designed in the early nineties, but as a new member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (www.clmp.org), Atlas will surely raise its online presence to the level of its print edition soon enough.

Kevin Larimer is the deputy editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

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