Lit magazine mysteries

The day before I left for Boston, I got three pieces of unexpected mail from three different literary magazines.

Two were copies of literary magazines. Except that I don’t remember subscribing to either of them. For a brief and narcissistic moment, I imagined that I was being sent copies of these magazines because they had secretly accepted some manuscripts of mine and never told me. I even, I am embarrassed to say, scanned the tables of contents for my own name. Ha.

Then reality returned. Duh, Elizabeth, you probably entered a contest at some point, paid the reading fee to the magazines (which usually includes a subscription) and there’s been a delayed response in said subscription kicking in.

Sigh. The other explanation for the magazines’ sudden appearance in my mailbox seemed better, somehow.

The other piece of mail was a rejection letter, in response to a piece of writing I submitted back in May. I had given up on that batch of submissions — I think I sent out about eight copies of the same essay at once — because of the responses, or lack thereof, that I have received in return.

Several elicited rejections fairly quickly — within a couple of months. Several magazines that I queried after four months or so claimed that they had no record of my submission, which I thought was even more demoralizing than being rejected outright. One, an online magazine, claimed that their response must have gone into my email spam folder, since anything they received they would have responded to within a month. When I asked for a copy of said email, they couldn’t find record of my submission or their response, and claimed that my email must have gotten lost in their spam folder. Whatever. Note to self: There are plenty of other, more well-run magazines out there.

After all that runaround, I decided to forget about the ones I hadn’t heard from. If I got a response, great, otherwise, I didn’t want to know how my carefully packaged submission was mismanaged, lost, or ignored. (This is not my policy for all submissions, by the way, I just thought that particular batch seemed cursed and so I decided to leave it alone and move on.) Anyway, the rejection I got last week was in response to a submission from that ill-fated mailing. It turned out to be the nicest rejection I’ve ever received.

I think.

The rejection was a standard form response on a tiny square of photocopied paper. But on the back, a personal note that went beyond the usual “thanks for submitting” or “sorry we couldn’t place this one, maybe next time.” I felt pretty encouraged: Someone liked my piece of writing, they just couldn’t place it! Then I read it again, and the self-doubt hit. The reader called my essay “interesting.” Did they mean interesting-good or interesting-different or interesting-weird?

Finally, I pushed the self-doubt back into some recess of my brain. I decided not to worry about it. After all, I had given up all hope on that submission and then I actually got a response, albeit six months later. And it had a nice hand-written note on it. The nicest I have ever received (if I ignored any possible sarcastic meaning behind the word “interesting”).

Maybe my essay can find a home somewhere. I’m printing up a new batch of submissions to send out this week.

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