Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rating Rejections

No question about it: rejection sucks. But it's part of the process every writer, even established writers, must go through. You send your work out and eventually you get a response. Sometimes (not often enough, of course), it's an acceptance. I'll always remember opening an unpromisingly thing envelope from North Dakota Quarterly soon after I started sending out my short stories. "We like and will publish Leviathan," the letter began. What a thrill that was! My first acceptance! And there have been, happily, many more like that since then (although increasingly acceptances come by email, it seems, which isn't quite as thrilling but is just as welcome). But way more often that unpromisingly thin envelope contains a rejection, and often the rejection is printed on a tiny slip of paper and has been photocopied so many times it's barely legible. I understand that editors can't respond personally all the time, and when they do it's almost (um, no, not really, not even close) as good as an acceptance. But form rejections, which are often a writer's primary interaction with literary journals, could definitely be improved.

So, I was amused to find David Keeling's blog, A Writing Year. And I found it because I frequently visit Charlottesville Words, written by Elizabeth, who does a terrific job of reporting literary happenings and other news about Charlottesville -- which, after all, isn't far from where I live -- and sometimes about Bloomington, Indiana, where we both, at different times, went to school. Anyway, Elizabeth reported the other day about a horrible rejection letter that one of her writing group friends had received. And Waldo, on the Virginia Quarterly Review Blog, linked to Elizabeth's post and also to David Keeling, because David has been grading rejections he's received, beginning last year when he gave VQR a C+. David hasn't graded all that many rejections (not sure if that's because he doesn't get too many rejections, or what; hey, David, if you need some extras, I've got plenty) but it's a fun idea and he's taking it pretty seriously, it seems to me.

It seems like VQR appreciated the feedback. I hope the other journals do as well.


Waldo said...

We've actually gotten David to help test out our new electronic submission system, prior to its public release, because he's clearly put a lot of thought into how an almost inherently impersonal experience (rejecting many thousands of submissions annually) can be turned into one that's more human, more helpful to authors, and ultimately less degrading an experience.

Also, in a small-world discovery, I realized a few months ago that his name was not a mere coincidence: David and I were friends at Western Albemarle High School. He's since moved to Chicago and become a writer, and our paths have crossed again.

Clifford Garstang said...

Yes, I picked up on your connection to David when reading his blog. (And it was nice to meet you at the DPVA training in Richmond recently!)

I'd wager that almost every writer who submits stories or poems to magazines has given a lot of thought that issue, by the way. But I wish you well with that new system. I remember hearing Ted talk about it the first time I met him -- 2004? -- and I've been wondering what happened to it.

Writer, Rejected said...

Hey, yeah, rejections. The worst. I'm looking for writers who will let me post theirs anonymously on my blog: Literary Rejections on Display. Check it out, if you want to learn of a rejectionable saga, or maybe just a normal writing career. Hard to say. I like your blog, BTW.

Clifford Garstang said...

Writer, rejected: thanks for stopping by! I've just visited your blog and look forward to further reading there and I may have a comment or two. I belong to a private discussion board of about 200 writers, called "Rejection isn't personal (R.I.P)" and they're going to love hearing about your site.

Waldo said...

I remember hearing Ted talk about it the first time I met him -- 2004? -- and I've been wondering what happened to it.

That effort was abandoned, and for all of the right reasons. A company was hired to develop it, and they got the bulk of the way finished with it, but it was a vastly oversimplified rendering of the submission process. When I came on at VQR, I only had to review that code briefly before I realized that it wouldn't be useful to us. So I started anew, working closely with Ted, our staff, our readers, and our authors in order to develop a system that reflects how the process really does work.

We were so committed to getting this right that we've been using it for a year now, using the system to track print submissions. That one year internal analysis resulted in an architectural overhaul of the system, along with some radical rethinking of how the process should work. That was followed by an alpha test in June and a just-completed beta test over the past few weeks (with 88 authors participating, all randomly selected from our prior year's submitters). Many changes were made after the alpha test, of course, and I've got a great deal of work ahead of me in the next week to make the necessary changes for the beta test. The results from our post-beta survey are just about all in (there were two surveys, one for authors and one for readers), and while people really like this system a great deal (giving it an average overall satisfaction score of 8.58 on a 1-10 scale), there's some clear room for improvement. My job is to make up that 1.42 difference to get us to a 10/10 between now and next week.

It'll be a long week. :)

Clifford Garstang said...

Thanks for the update, Waldo! And best wishes for the launch of the system. I haven't submitted for a while -- I may have to give you guys a shot at one of my new stories!

(I figured that the first attempt had been abandoned when Ted stopped talking about it and, even more telling, the website stopped dangling it as a future development.)