The Other Side

an old bottle of liquid paper

I’m the fiction editor over at Kartika Review, an Asian American litmag founded by Sunny Woan several years ago. I love my work there, which includes going through the slushpile of submissions, reading occasional snarky emails, sending out acceptance letters, working on special projects, and courting and then interviewing Famous Writers, most recently Chang-rae Lee and Nami Mun.

There is one thing I abhor: sending out rejection letters.

Just today, I sent out a big wave of rejection letters communicating, “Thank you but no thank you, and please don’t be disheartened and good luck,” albeit posed in kinder phrases to ease the blow. (Nothing eases the blow–and I know this firsthand). Now I’m ducking from the karma. I hate sending out rejections. I’ve been sending out rejections for over a year now as fiction editor, but I don’t want to reject stories. I want to fall in love with all of them and I want to be able to publish all of them.

This is what it’s like to be an editor, to be an Arbiter of Fiction, lobbing back the hopes of writers. Perhaps other editors love this position but being a fiction writer myself, there’s a part of me that is sickened by empathy.

And here’s the honest truth: sometimes after I send out a rejection letter, I experience a wave of self doubt. I think, “Crap. Maybe I should have accepted that one.” That is only followed by a massive internal scream that can best be described as, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuck!!!!!” (This “Fuuuuuuuuuuck!!!! is only beaten by the “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!” I hear when a brilliant piece is accepted by another litmag before I can accept it).

But in the end, I have to make choices. How much time will this piece take to be edited/revised to its full potential? Does it pierce my cold heart? Was my heart colder that day than another?

I email the writers whose work almost thawed my heart, to please submit again. And I hope they submit again.

(And as a writer, I’ll keep submitting work, too).

Update: A friend of mine, who is also a teacher, mentioned a similar struggle in grading papers: B or A? Could be an A, but it’s not a perfect essay…so…B+ or A-? Hrmm…B+?


Filed under Fiction Editor, Literary Rejections, Publishing

6 responses to “The Other Side

  1. How very interesting to see your perspective….I never considered this aspect of an editor’s job….

  2. Oh, I totally agree. It can be weird and awful, rejecting things. Especially because being on the other side, getting that little rejection e-mail in your inox, is a familiar (and weird and awful) feeling.

    But hey, you get karma for those acceptances, too! So, take heart.

  3. Nate

    I’m not a karma expert, but I’m pretty sure that if it pains you that much it doesn’t count against you.

    It’s nice of you to send a personal note. It’s no acceptance, but that means a lot.

  4. I love hearing stories of arbiters (editors, agents, publishers) of writing having regrets after sending a rejection letter because it makes me hope all agents who rejected my book will feel that way about it someday. Isn’t that awful?

    • It’s totally okay to feel that way. I now find comfort in knowing that there must be editor out there who feel pained in sending rejections, and who have regrets. Thus, my decision to share my experience with all of you; I’m hoping it gives you all comfort, too. Weird how my discomfort as an Editor/writer also gives me comfort as a writer.

  5. Pingback: On the Other Side of the Other Side « 80,000 words

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