The process of submitting to literary journals is dehumanizing and demoralizing. I've been doing it for about two years now with just a handful of acceptances to show for hundreds of submissions. The vast majority of responses are worse than impersonal: over-photocopied slivers of poor-quality paper declaring that my story (poem, essay) did not meet the journals needs at this time. A few print the same notice on slightly weightier paper. Rare is the journal that does it in a whole page or, wonder of wonders, with some human touch.
This week has been all over the map. This afternoon I received a form rejection slip from Willow Springs, a minor journal out of Eastern Washington University. Although just one-third of a page, the form is printed on heavy stock, a warm brown color, bearing the journal's whooping crane logo. They rejected my good story, "Stonewall," but at least they did it promptly.
I also had a rejection today from Five Points, and that's really why I'm stirred up about dehumanization. I submitted an earlier version of "Stonewall" to Five Points in November 2004. Their guidelines say they will respond in three to four months, but in early October 2005 I had still heard nothing. They won't respond to queries by email, so I sent a letter with a fresh SASE, as required by the guidelines. Although they didn't have the courtesy to respond to the original submission, to my query they quickly responded with a flimsy slip of paper to say that my "work did not meet the needs of the magazine at that time," to which I have to ask, why the fuck didn't you respect my submission enough to reject it in a timely manner? This is a magazine that does not read simultaneous submissions, and treats contributors like shit. I will not be submitting in the future. If I had a subscription I would cancel it. I may burn the one sample copy I own. I'm sure Megan Sexton is crushed.
On the other hand, I had a fantastic note from Chicago Quarterly Review this week. They rejected "What Child Is This," but they respected it enough that they provided comments and included the note of one reader who enthusiastically endorsed the story. It took several months, but at least I know the story was read.
What a horrible process this is!