Lisa Mecham, my friend and fellow writer, shared with me some happy news this week – news that on the outside might not have seemed to be so great: she received a rejection from The New Yorker for her poem, “A Manual for Approaching the Horizon.”
How can rejection be good? There have always been many levels of rejection, whether you are pitching to agents or to magazines. On one end of the spectrum – the bad end -- are form letters and flat-out silence. On the other end is acceptance. In between, there are nicer form letters and personal letters and in-depth critiques and sweet notes and invitations to submit again. Lisa’s rejection was a significant step up from the form letter and she rightly interpreted it as very good news. I asked her a few questions to help you see how she knew that, and what it meant it to her. It's a good story, and a good reminder that success is a process.
Was this the first time you submitted to The New Yorker?
I submitted twice in 2013 before this one poem in 2014. (Important to note, you can only submit to The New Yorker twice a year.)
What did those early rejections look like?
I went back to look at the other two rejections (I print and file all my submission correspondence just to be safe) and this is what they said:
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work. We regret that we are unable to carry it in the magazine.
What did this recent rejection look like?
Here’s the latest rejection letter as sent to me:
We are grateful for the opportunity to read and consider your new work. We very much regret not being able to carry it in the magazine. We do, however, look forward to reading more when the time comes.
Paul Muldoon, Poetry Editor Elisabeth Denison, Poetry Coordinator
Jennie’s note: Here’s a great interview with Mr. Muldoon about poetry and The New Yorker.
How did you know this rejection was good news?
All writers hope our submissions receive deep attention from front-line editors but after volunteering as a reader for Tin House for two years, I understand that just isn’t possible. Form rejection letters while disheartening are, quite frankly, very practical. Top tier journals receive thousands upon thousands of submissions and there isn’t enough time or people-power to respond to each one.
The fact that this rejection was addressed to me personally and referenced “new work” (signaling they were aware of my previous submissions) let me know this letter was different from my previous rejections. And although I don’t want to read too much into it, I think the choices of “very much regret” and “look forward to reading more” imply more interest than before.
Then again, the doubtful writer in me has already convinced myself this is simply their new form rejection letter for 2014.
Jennie’s note: The “look forward to reading more” is v-e-r-y significant. The New Yorker does not need to boost its submission rates. If they ask to read more, they want to read more.
How did it make you feel about your work and your writing path?
I’ve been pushing up against a wall of writer’s block lately so this gave me hope and inspiration to keep going! There are lots of places to be published but The New Yorker holds a special place in my heart. I’ve kept a scrapbook of poems I love from that magazine since I was a kid.
Where has your poetry been published? What about your short stories? Besides the New Yorker, where do you dream of being published?
I’ve had poems published in Word Play Sound, Emerge Literary Journal, Chaparral, Carve, Word Riot and Bodega. My short stories have been published in Cheap Pop, Juked, Barrelhouse Online, Digital Americana and The Drum. While I’m always happy (and relieved) to be published anywhere, I would be thrilled to see my work in Tin House, The Missouri Review or American Poetry Review.
Jennie’s note: here’s one of Lisa’s poems from Bodega – you can see what a powerful voice she has, what a command of language, and what a sense of story and moment:
by Lisa Mecham
I’m always in the wrong spot
in line, last in a row of women
pulled to the edge
of the curb to fetch children.
Cars idle, mothers gather
at rolled down windows, poking
heads into mint-conditioned air, whining
about lists of to-do’s and brown
ladies who clean, and husbands
strutting around with the starch
of profit, the stench of industry.
Sunlight storms my car, singeing,
reflecting off those other
paint jobs that make black go light
or maybe it’s the silver
smirk of their bumpers.
A bell sounds the release
of leotards and pink tights
and the one with knee circles of dirt
raps her knuckles at my window.
Where else do you submit and do you do so with any kind of strategy?
I keep ongoing lists of literary journals I admire but each piece I write requires its own specific strategy. I use Duotrope, New Pages, The Review Review and Twitter to keep up to date on what’s happening in the literary journal world. I also highly recommend attending an Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference (known as AWP). Their Book Fair is a smorgasbord of literary journals and small presses.
Jennie’s note: See how seriously Lisa takes her work? This is not a “hobby” – something she just sort of does. She is not tossing off submissions. She has a strategy, a purpose, a plan. All writers need this, whether seeking an agent, seeking publication or seeking readers.
Do you use a submitting system like Writer's Relief? If not, how do you find the submission information for big publications?
I rely on Duotrope and Submittable to track submissions as well as a personal spreadsheet I maintain.
Where can people learn more about you and your work?
www.lisamecham.com or @lmecham
Jennie’s note: Rejection is never fun. It's someone saying no. It's someone slamming a door in your face. But never forget that rejection means you are taking action, and action is what moves your work forward.