The New Yorker Rejects Itself (An Experiment) (via @thereviewreview)

An entertaining follow up to my own little rejection story from the other day. David Cameron  runs an entirely unscientific (and borderline unethical) experiment with stories published in The New Yorker:

It began as the kind of logical argument that seems airtight to anyone who has never studied logic.

If the New Yorker is the most desirable literary magazine in the world, and if the New Yorker can have any short story the New Yorker wants, then whatever story the New Yorker gets would—logically—be so intrinsically desirable that all lesser literary pubs (e.g., everyone) would pine for it. Just like the prettiest girl at the dance: the guy she picks is the guy chicks dig. Basic deduction 101.

He grabs a New Yorker published short story, rebadges it under a fictional author name, and starts submitting it to various magazines. I’m guessing most of you can guess what we’re about to find out: that publishing is often luck of the draw.

Dear reader, every single one of these journals rejected my poor New Yorker story with the same boilerplate “good luck placing your work elsewhere” auto-text that has put the lid on my own sorry submissions. Not a single personal pleasantry. What’s more, the timeframes tracked perfectly. For example, if the Beavercreek Fucknut Bulletin (not a real journal, but representative) generally takes thirty days to relegate my stuff to the recycle bin, then ourNew Yorker story—which must have been thoroughly confused at this point—fared no better.

Read the rest of his experience here:


2 thoughts on “The New Yorker Rejects Itself (An Experiment) (via @thereviewreview)

  1. Tom, I live in Australia and last year after getting no fair attention to my fiction manuscript query submissions from Australian literary agents I sent off some writings by Sylvia Plath, from her “The Bell Jar” novel to the supposedly top Aussie agents but said I was the author of the writing – very quickly, a few days, I got a rejection reply from them stating that “my” writing was not up to literary or publishable standard! I was astonished for a few reasons; firstly the Plath writings I sent were of her supposedly better known and better read works yet the agents did not recognize this at all meaning they are not educated or read up with the ‘classics’ of literature. I had thought that they would surely recognize Plath’s text and style but they probably had never even read her it seems! Secondly the rejection by a top literary agent of writing by Sylvia Plath herself means the agents do not at all have an ‘eye’ for what should be obviously and instantly highest quality literary work. So even if someone submits masterpiece quality writing to the “gatekeepers’ of the publishing world one is still ignored – unless it seems that writer is known to the agents personally and/or has some celebrity status and/or a marketable quality separate from their writing. So how can wannnabe writers overcome such banal hurdles in submitting work to under-qualified and elitist “professionals”????
    Tom, your New Yorker tale as well as my example and many such other similar “stings” upon agents and publishers shows that luck and petty fashion play the main role in getting published.
    Ian S.

    • It’s a cruel truth that quality writing is no guarantee of publication. Conversely, there are some horrible bits of writing published, which then go on to make millions. I think the only lesson we can learn from this is how important it is to write for ourselves, instead of to markets, etc. There’s just no guaranteed way to get that edge, despite what many books will try to sell you, so might as well write what we want to write and keep those fingers/lucky rabbit feet/etc, crossed. 🙂

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