Like most 39-year-old, single, jobless, hetero men in Seattle, I thought I knew a thing or two about rejection.
Then I decided I wanted to write for a living.
After months of trying to get my writing published in any Seattle publication that would have me, rejection was pretty much all I had to show for my efforts. I'm trying not to be bitter, and my job coach/shrink tells me that rejection is healthy. If that's true, I've got to be in the best shape of my life—over the last few months I've been dissed and dodged by virtually every editor in King County. In the spirit of good health I want to share some pointers with other wannabe writers. You, too, can get snubbed, ignored, insulted, and experience the health-boosting effects of rejection.
THE LITTLE GUYS
The first thing I learned is that any newspaper can reject. Even the Washington Free Press. Just because only 27 people have ever read it doesn't mean they will print anything submitted. The editors of the Free Press have the right to reject and, as I found out, they exercise that right freely. Other teeny, tiny publications can reject too, like Seattle Gay News—which frequently advertises for unpaid "staff writer" positions—and the neighborhood papers. Any publication can reject you, no matter how piddly. So while "starting small" sounds like a good strategy, it's no guarantee that you'll get published.
The Stranger. Oh, how the mere mention of the name stirred fear deep within. Here, I was not only beckoning rejection, but insult and ego-death. But when I called, e-mailed, even bugged them in person, to my amazement they were actually quite cool (in a warm way). The editors were fairly accessible, though it took a few calls to get the top guy's attention. I remember the day I got my reply from Dan, 12 words via e-mail that made my week: "dear jesse, happy to read whatever you want to send me. dan."
I felt like my prom date just said yes.
Then The Stranger staff went on to reject everything I submitted to them (photography, writing, cupcakes). So I moved on.
There is at least one person at Seattle Weekly who looks at randomly submitted material, but that person was in Thailand when I called and I couldn't wait until she returned. So I started at the top—some guy named Chuck Taylor, a man who shares his name with Liberia's former dictator. That should have been a clue. I called Chuck several times and submitted a couple things I thought were worth looking at. Chuck's a no-nonsense guy—he dissed me once via e-mail before going dark. I moved one step down the masthead to the arts editor and offered a review of Menopause the Musical. Rookie mistake—the play's been running for a century. Dissed again.
When a brand-new monthly hit the market, I thought it would be an ideal time to approach the magazines.
Seattle Metropolitan, the newer of the two local glossies, has a fully staffed editorial department, it seems, but their tech department needs to do some hiring. The e-mail address they set up for submissions bounces messages back to the sender. "Idiots," I thought. Then I realized that this was a foolproof way of keeping people like me from filling their inbox. Ingenious! So I began calling.
I had yet to reach anyone. Nobody home—at least not for me. But wait! Just as I was sitting down to write this piece I received an e-mail from Nate, the listings editor: "Hi Jesse, Sorry that no one has gotten back to you. I've had a great opportunity, so I'm leaving the magazine."
Bye, Nate. Seems like I hardly knew ya.
Seattle Magazine wins hands down for the most efficient rejection. They say "no" before you even ask. "So, you want to write for Seattle Magazine?" their website asks. "You and about 1,000 other people..."
The website goes on to list hoops for writers to jump through, songs to sing, and people not to bother. Like a good, guilty-conscience Episcopalian, I followed directions and didn't offer so much as a scribbled thought.
As you know, there are two daily newspapers in Seattle. What you may not realize is that only one of them is run by egotistical jerks. I have visited both of them and it is indisputable that one outfit is managed by meanies. Can you guess which? Wrong. Liberals like me want to think that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, an honest-to-God liberal media outlet, is home to the good guys. Well, I hate to burst your ideological bubble, but the folks at the P-I are asshats and here's why:
After writing, calling, and considering sending a singing telegram to the editors at the P-I, I decided, with a push from my job coach/shrink, to deliver a story by hand. But then the woman at the P-I reception desk was cute and I got shy. Since I was after professional (not personal) rejection, I refrained from asking the receptionist out and instead demanded to speak with an editor. Baffled, she picked up the phone, sighed, dialed, waited, told the person on the other end that there was a freelancer in the lobby, paused, and hung up.
"No go?" I asked.
She shook her head. She then told me that though she had worked there for two years, the editor she just called had almost never spoken to her. Jerks.
Now before I gush about the Seattle Times, I should say that their editorial board has made some very odd choices. That said, my experience is that the Seattle Times—the bigger and, according to their reputation, smugger of our two dailies—is run by decent people who, when it comes to rejection, do it with care and tact. My submission to the Seattle Times was met with a respectful "No thank you" and I even got some thoughtful coaching by the rejecting editor. If you want rejection lite, start with the Times. They'll spoon feed you and ask if it went down okay.
ARE YOU READING THIS?
Recounting my failed attempts to get published wasn't how I intended to make my splash, but if you're reading this it means my rejection streak may be over. Has my luck changed? Maybe I'm onto that new career! Before it fades I think I'll take my newfound confidence back to the P-I... I may still have a shot with that receptionist.