On Form Rejections…

Posted: July 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

It’s true, I’ve let this blog stagnate for a good long while. And I’m not back out of some pent-up need to write, or because something of import has happened that I want to share with you. Nope. I’m back because The Rejectionist is giving away mix CDs to five people who write blog posts on the topic “What Form Rejection Means to Me” and, well, I’m a sucker for a mix CD. (Yes, shut up, I’m pandering. If you don’t like it, go start your own pander-free blog.)

My favorite rejection of all times was a form rejection, though of course it wasn’t just any old form rejection. No, it came from one of the most prestigious journals in Creative Nonfiction (big giant hint right there, since usually I say I write memoir) and was for a piece that I had been invited to submit, although with substantial changes–in fact, I had to shave three thousand words off of it first, which required two weeks of pretty painful editing.

The first correspondence I got from this journal was an email entitled “About Your Essay.” It had nothing whatsoever to do with my essay, of course, it was just a form offer to subscribe. I was a little put off by the tricky subject line, but like any hopeful writer, I expect journals to treat me badly and to get bitch-slapped by apologists if I complain about it. Heck, I have even heard poets defending The Paris Review’s recent decision to “unaccept” a bunch of poems. We know where we are on the food chain: at the bottom.

Still, I was surprised when I got a form rejection of only two lines on a poorly-cut 1/6 of a page of typing paper, tucked into an envelope with–of course–a large, glossy page urging me to subscribe. I don’t remember what the rejection said, but it wasn’t the wording that made it so spectacular. It was the blood.

The thing had obviously been cut from a sheet of similar rejection slips using one of those machete-on-a-block-of-wood paper cutters, and some hapless intern had cut herself on the blade. A streak of dried blood two inches long and 1/4 of an inch across ran right through the “does not meet our needs at this time” boiler-plate rejection.

And I thought, “You know, it sucks to be a writer sometimes, but it must suck to be an intern at a journal like this all the time.” So I put the three thousand words back into my essay and sent it out again. Eventually, Ninth Letter took the piece, it was awarded a Pushcart Prize, and it will be listed as a “Notable Essay” in the 2010 edition of Best American Essays.

Was it the magic vodou power of intern blood that blessed the piece? Maybe. I hear it’s some pretty powerful stuff.


  1. I love the name of your blog. BUT THAT CD IS MINE.

    • sarahemc2 says:

      There are five. Maybe we can both have one. (I was going to trash talk you, but then I read your post, and I realized your either talented or crazed, and in either case, trash talking seemed inappropriate.)

  2. Sarah W says:

    I have this vision of all those poorly paid interns skipping the plasma banks to sell their magical blood on Etsy to frustrated writers . . .

  3. sarahemc2 says:

    Sarah… that would pay for a lot of whisk(e)y, if it’s as powerful as I think. (I know we are all as desperate as I imagine us to be, though we’re also pretty impoverished. Maybe it wouldn’t be all that lucrative after all.)

  4. J. A. Platt says:

    My eyes went very wide at the mention of blood.

    I’ve gotten those slips too (usually tucked into my own query letter), but none of mine were involved in any kind of pagan ritual (my imagination has already rejected the idea of the paper cutter as the culprit. Clearly it was some sort of spell).

    And of course tucking that into a subscription form was very classy.

  5. Annika says:

    “I don’t remember what the rejection said, but it wasn’t the wording that made it so spectacular. It was the blood.” Oh. my. goodness. That is tragic, hilarious, and perspective-broadening all at once. Bravo! And congratulations, as well, on your achievements. Here’s to the power of perseverance, and to the magic of hapless-intern blood!

  6. inktarsia says:

    Funny story, Sarah. There was blood on the lintel while the angel of rejection passed over. You will get much mileage out of that story when you’re being interviewed (name of rejector omitted, of course).

  7. the rejectionist says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA and that intern was having such a bad day s/he didn’t even bother to print out some un-bloodied rejections. Ninth Letter! Congrats!

  8. Thank you Sarah, In a gesture of vengeance for your Unrejection, I will blogroll you.

    • sarahemc2 says:


      In a gesture of great and unprecidented magnificence, I will post a copy of the playlist here once I have received the CD, so that you mere mortals can make your own–far less glamorous–copies of Le R’s mix CD. Admittedly, it’s a pale substitute, but you can bask in my reflected glory.



  9. Maine Character says:

    They weren’t kidding when they said it takes blood, sweat, and tears. I just didn’t know it could be someone else’s.

    But really, that’s a jaw-dropping story.

    (One of my first stories had a guy PUSHing an apple CART, as a sort of wink to the people at the Pushcart Prize. You can guess how close it got to winning. Or being published.)

    So yeah, congrats on your CD prize, and thanks for the promise of a playlist – I was going to ask le R for that, and you already thoughtfully thought of us.

  10. kellyeparish says:

    That’s an awesomely bizarre story, you totally deserve the BIG PRIZE. Thanks for offering to post the playlist though, I love it when people indulge my bootleg sensibilities.

  11. I have read that Living Well is the best revenge. That’s good. But I think “winning a Pushcart” trumps.

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