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Reading between the Lines

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reading between the Lines

Got this the other day.

Hi Joe, 

I hope you don't mind my contacting you. I got your details from your blog.  

My name's Ben and I'm currently putting together a new free online magazine. It's going to have a different theme every issue and the content is going to be sourced from various creatives I know and admire around the world... The theme for issue 1 is STREETS.

The magazine will contain photography, short stories, poems, factual writing, illustrations, and we would love to feature some of your work if you are interested in taking part.

I am in touch with the guys from the Railroad Poetry Project and that's how I discovered your stuff. I really like the style of your poetry; it feels raw and honest. Essentially it feels very street even if that isn't the basis of the poem. Also I like that the tag line on your website is 'Sometimes the safest place to be in a riot is in the street'. That's perfect.

So, I wonder if you'd be interested in showing any of your work in our first issue? If you are up for it, it would be great to have something in the next week or so, yeah, I know, short notice! Sorry.

I really enjoyed 'Places I Refuse to Sleep' from Railroad 2 and felt that would work with our theme. But if you have something that would be more applicable then that would be great. 

I'll look forward to hearing from you,

Ben Turner

I get letters like this from time to time, as you know (http://tinyurl.com/3m6cdvo), but it's always nice.  Especially the part about apologizing for interrupting me, like I am some big, important writer high on a golden throne of awesomeness with no time to mingle with the lowly masses, a "let them eat cake" of literary disconnect.  Of course, I shatter that illusion by responding within about 7 seconds with an attachment of 8 pieces from which to choose.  Image is everything in this world, and I'd probably be smart to play it cool.  Like with the ladies, jumping too eagerly at opportunity reeks of desperation, which stinks worse than the refried beans Justine leaves in the back of the fridge until a nice urine-yellow film forms (she's a pack rat).  But I don't pretend to be something I am not (one of my more redeemable traits).  Or as a girl who once desperately wanted to sleep with me said, "Joe, what I like best about you is you're not completely full of bullshit."  (Wonder if she'd feel the same way if I looked like Chad Kroeger.)


You don't get rich playing another man's game, and I am one needy mutherfucker.  So, yeah, Ben.  No problem.  Awesome.  Here you go. 

I sent off what few remaining pieces I have left that haven't been published (I know, boo-fucking-hoo me).  I only have two (good) short stories that haven't been taken, and maybe half a dozen poems, some going back ten years, since I don't actively write that shit anymore.  Of course, I have the memoir.  Which almost feels like cheating, goddamn thing is so chockfull of kick-ass writing.  So I found a couple selections, cut and pasted, titled them, and sent them off. Then I get this.

Hi Joe,

So, thanks again for sending those documents over. I've just heard back from my colleague on the magazine. If you don't want to get a big ego ignore the next sentence... but in his words:  "I've read all of them and they are nothing short of brilliant--captivating, emotive and engaging"...

Ben Turner

Somewhere Jenny Dreadful is going, Damn you, Joe, for getting a letter like this.  Well, don't worry, Jenny, because in the writing world, what goes up (ego) will come crashing down in about 3, 2, 1...

No sooner do I get done exchanging an e-mail with Ben (who had asked where he could pick up a copy of what must surely be a printed copy of the memoir, to which I responded it's not out yet, but I just sent out a batch of queries to small, independent publishers and shall remain hopeful), when I open an e-mail that has just come in.  It reads,

Dear joseph clifford,



We have reviewed "Junkie Love" and have decided that it's not for us. We appreciate the chance to look at your work and wish you the best with it.



Sincerely,



Publishing Company I Will Not Name for Fear of Looking Unprofessional

I know.  You're thinking, "Well, where's the rest?  Did you check the back?" Ain't no back; it's a goddamn e-mail.  That was the whole thing.  And as so often is the case when you rely on outside sources of validation, the ego dick went limp, and my vagina started to hurt.  

The only thing that kept me out of a season long funk was this piece I had read earlier in the morning over at Chunk Wendig's wonderful Terrible Minds http://tinyurl.com/7lmn8o7.  If you are pressed for time, the gist is, Toughen up, crybaby; this is the way the game works.  And it's good to be reminded of that.  I like Wendig because he writes the way I try to, only better, funnier, his skin a little thicker.  Then again, he is a little more successful.

One of the best ways to get confidence is to have success.  I am less susceptible to being devastated by rejection letters these days because I've enjoyed a modicum of it.  Chicken?  Egg?  Who the fuck knows.

Still, reading those two e-mails, virtually back to back, you might see why I am left scratching my completely full luxurious head of non-thinning hair.  Like Wendig writes, these kinds of impersonal rejections can't be weighed too heavily, because there is nothing to them.  It is possible this particular editor really did read the manuscript (I can't recall the specifics of guidelines, and this particular publisher is now closed for the rest of the year), and might just think I suck slimy moose dick.  Usually these places ask for a synopsis, maybe chapter-by-chapter outline, and an actual chapter or two from the book. He (or she) could've read this, and unlike Ben and his partner, simply not saw anything redeemable.  But I doubt it.  And it's not because I have some conceited, unwavering belief in my genius.  It's more like when someone actually does take the time out to read something, you can usually see that in the response. Stuff like "reviewed" and not "read," and no specifics other than my name and book's title leads me to believe that this editor did the same fucking thing I did when I was editing literary magazines: he read until his didn't feel like reading anymore.  And that can happen at any time.   

For me, that varied.  Could be I had a bad night's sleep, or had just suffered a break-up, was trying to quit smoking, endured a particularly unfulfilling fiction workshop, that "not so fresh" feeling, who knows, but there were plenty of times I picked up a submission, read a line or two, or just the title, maybe the guy's name (I had a strict "No Chad" policy), and wrote "No."  Seems kinda counterintuitive, I know, so readily dismissing another's work, especially being a fellow writer.  Except that as an editor, you get tons and tons of shit to read. Every fucking day.  And this was just some rinky dink literary journal.  Book publishers?  Fuck, man, they get thousands pouring in.  And adding to their ire, these submissions come from folks who have never read a single goddamn book they've published, which they (no doubt) lost money on.  (I sometimes buy books from the publishers I am soliciting; unfortunately, however, often I do not.  And no, I did not in this particular instance).

My guess is this guy (or gal) saw the title (Junkie Love), looked over the query, went, "Another fucking story by a former drug addict?  And it's only Tuesday. Next!"  And how do I blame him for that?  Actually, I don't think one way or another about the guy. What I do give a shit about his how to get reactions like I got from Ben and the guys at PoV (and here's that link again to their site: http://www.povmagazine.co.uk/--they're looking for good shit, from down in the bowels of hell, so you should submit.  I'm talking to you, Ms. Bean).  The obvious difference is Ben wanted to read it.  He'd seen my work, liked it, sought me out, and so when I sent him something, I had his full attention; I wasn't just another fucking blind submission from some cocksucker who doesn't even know the books we publish.

I guess this fills me with both hope and dread.  Hope, because when I get someone to actually read my memoir, they are seldom less than impressed.   And dread, because I don't know how to get publishers to do that.  They've never met me, don't know how charming and good looking I am, that I'd be a rock star on any book tour, and oh yeah, that I have a really really good book here if they'd just give it a chance.  I was hoping an agent would help, but we kept smacking our heads against the "junkie" tag, and in the rare instances we got acquisition editors all squishy, sales' departments slapped the big kabosh. But the book was at least getting some consideration.  This new approach, blind submission shuffled with the rest of the drek in the slush pile?  Oh, vey.

Maybe it's like Bob Dylan sings.  The only thing we know how to do is to keep on keeping on...



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13 Comments:

At December 14, 2011 at 11:35 AM , OpenID thestifledartist.com said...

I think it is super funny that I can't publish my non-fiction short stories right now, but my poems are just taking off.

Hilarious.

I'm laughing so hard I'm crying.

And I send some of my street poems to POV, thanks for letting me know. :)

And I bet you a million bucks (ok, five bucks) that if you keep putting your memoir out there, it will get picked up. People still read them. Or you can do what Chuck Wendig does and sell it yourself...since everyone keeps asking for it.

but I'm going to stfu now.

 
At December 14, 2011 at 12:16 PM , OpenID courtmerrigan said...

Persistence, man. When you ain't got no success, persistence is what's left.

I recently received my first-ever solicitation from an editor, who LOVED my work, and asked for more. So, like you, I sent stuff in about 3 minutes later. She liked one of the pieces, but not the other. Or the other, or the other, or the other, repeat 5 more times. Fuck knows why. Not her cup of tea. So I sent the one she did like out somewhere else, and it got picked up in less than a day, by, dare I say, a higher-up-the-food-chain pub.

There's no logic to this shit. None at all. You just have to keep on playing the odds.

 
At December 14, 2011 at 12:32 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Feel free to chatter away, Kyrsten. Always a joy... ;)

And, court, good for you! Just wish we could figure out the pattern though, no? But you're right; there is no quitting. You only need one to take the flyer. It'll happen as long as we hang around long enough...

 
At December 14, 2011 at 6:04 PM , Blogger Jenny Dreadful said...

DAMN YOU, JOE CLIFFORD!!!

If you can hear wailing on that side of the coast, well, it's me.

Rejection, schmajection. Your shit will get picked up. You're the only one that's worried it won't.

And yes, it was gratifying how promptly AND courteously you answered your e-mails. I remember when I asked you for a review, I expected viral biceps to reach out through e-mail and rip me a new one.

 
At December 14, 2011 at 6:29 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At December 14, 2011 at 6:31 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Jenny, I am actually a very nice guy. Sure I can bench press 350 lbs., but my biggest muscle ins't my pectoral or even my rear delts; it's my...heart.

 
At December 15, 2011 at 2:28 PM , OpenID thestifledartist.com said...

oh man. that was bad. And leaves lots of room for dirty jokes.

 
At December 15, 2011 at 2:36 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Like a big ol' softball toss...

 
At December 15, 2011 at 3:47 PM , Blogger Jenny Dreadful said...

Buahahaha! Mayhap your biggest muscle is your ego.


ROTFL

 
At December 15, 2011 at 3:52 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

What the fuck?! Doesn't anyone believe I'm a nice fucking guy?! I have an 8-lb. poodle! Only nice guys have 8-lb. poodles!

 
At December 15, 2011 at 11:32 PM , OpenID thestifledartist.com said...

I don't see that written in any rule book.

 
At December 17, 2011 at 6:40 PM , Blogger Jenny Dreadful said...

It's in the "I'm a NICE FUCKING GUY Handbook" by Joe Clifford.

 
At December 17, 2011 at 6:45 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Unfortunately, that one can't find a fucking publisher either...

 

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