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+?