Last week I wrote that it is important to read—books and literary magazines. We not only learn from reading good work in our chosen genre, but we also learn which publishers are buying the kind of work we’re writing.
While that’s true, excellent work is likely to be welcome anywhere, except for the very specialized genre markets. And you’ll see all kinds of stories in the top magazines. At most, they vary in edginess, but that’s about it. (Read an issue of Ploughshares and then read an issue of Tin House and you’ll get a sense of what I mean.)
But there’s something that a writer won’t be able to learn just from reading a magazine, and that’s taste. A story that one editor rejects may be loved by the next editor who sees it. It might even have been loved if the first editor had seen it a day earlier and was in a better mood.
For example, I just had a story appear in Blackbird. (See “The Replacement Wife.”) This is a terrific magazine—one of the best, if not the best online magazines—and I’ve been sending them work for years. And I’ve been sending this story around for a couple of years, too, collecting some rejections. Not as many rejections as I’ve had for some other stories, but some other good magazines had a chance to take this story and they didn’t. I have no idea why, other than to say that it’s a matter of the editors’ taste.
I’ve got another story coming out in the next issue of Bellevue Literary Review, “A Hole in the Wall.” This story is a favorite of mine and was the second one I wrote in the novel in stories that’s coming out this September from Press 53, What the Zhang Boys Know. It has collected quite a few rejections, and some of those rejections came from some pretty obscure magazines. For whatever reason, though, something about the story appealed to the BLR editors, and something about it did NOT appeal to the editors of those other magazines.
You can spend all the time you want analyzing magazines (and I do, asking myself whether they have a particular slant), but in the end doesn’t it all boil down to taste? Editors publish what they like, and we’re not all going to like the same things. The lesson here is: Don’t give up. If it seems like a story has been rejected too many times, it may just be that it hasn’t yet found the right editor.