6.34 The Walrus 2.0
This weekend, I listened to an episode of CanadaLand where the host Jesse Brown did a story investigating the not so pleasant culture behind the Canadian magazine The Walrus. I wrote this story in April 2013 and felt it might be interesting to bring back in light of Brown’s story. To avoid confusion, the story was actually two stories: I wrote one version, was dissatisfied with it, picked it apart and wrote another version commenting on the first. I must admit that I am always a bit terrified to read things from so long ago, but there are some good points here and some bad points. After listening to the CanadaLand episode, I’m sure that an editorial intern sent the rejection letter I discuss below and any vitriol is not aimed at them. At least I redeemed myself when discussing the management. To listen to the CanadaLand episode about The Walrus, click HERE.
So, I had this piece sitting in the queue for a few weeks. Written in somewhat of a fit of anger, I kept putting off posting it. Something about it didn’t sit right. Something false about it. I submitted an article to The Walrus magazine and got rejected. Nothing new here, but for some reason, it pissed me off, this rejection. Sure, I sussed it off, made fun of the magazine to my friends, talked as though it didn’t bother me. But the response I wrote to The Walrus rejection kept sitting there, teasing me, calling me a coward. Just post me, it whispered. What’re you, scared?
Yeah, I was scared. Scared of what? Repercussions from the magazine? From the publishing industry as a whole? Ridiculous. This shows that although I present to the viewing public a self-deprecating persona, my ego is very healthy. The very thought that an article posted on my personal blog could potentially find its way to computer screens of the powerful and influential is both ridiculous and somewhat delusional.
Let’s examine this. Basically, as stated, I set out to write an open response on my blog to the rejection letter I received from The Walrus. The parts that are indented are the original piece. Here was where I started:
After reading, or during, you'll probably dismiss me as either bitter and talentless. Maybe both. I'm really okay with that, certainly, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. And if everyone is entitled to their opinion, that includes me. Listen, I'm very intimate with rejection and it really sucks. It's informed a large part of my personal and professional life. Rejection builds character, right? Many submissions have been sent to publishing companies and literary agents, and I've pitched numerous projects. As these things go, I've been met with various degrees of success, although, usually the response has been somewhere between indifference and outright hostility. But I couldn’t let this one go, I had to take The Walrus to task.
Okay, I have to interject already. Am I not taking the wrong person or entity to task? Why did this particular rejection piss me off? Back up. As I said in the above section, I’ve sent out a fair amount of submissions. Did those earlier ones bother me? Hell, yes. What about jobs and places I worked? Lots of rejection there. Relationships? We’ve gone over that one before. I actually had to take a break while writing because I got overwhelmed by thinking about this. Each rejection on its own is one thing, but when you pile them all together, organize them and see that it outweighs the places you’ve been accepted, well, it’s a good time to do laundry. Or perhaps do something I should’ve done a while ago and sit with these feelings. Look at that big blob of rejection and realize that there’s a larger problem here. I’m getting ahead of myself. My response to my rejection continued:
This past summer, I went to visit a friend in Jordan. The trip was an incredible experience and naturally, I wanted to write about it. The finished article might not have been the greatest addition to the art form, but I worked hard on it and discussed subjects that I felt were important, both in what I experienced over there and how it affected my life here. Being a subscriber to The Walrus, I felt that my article would be a good fit between the covers of this publication. The submission guidelines were quite specific and I did my best to follow them down to the last detail: 'The Walrus invites writers to submit brief query letters detailing prospective stories on Canada and its place in the world. A good query will convey clearly and concisely the elements of the story, the intended approach, the intended section, and the author's credentials.' Although my story was about Jordan, the bulk of it focused on my return to Canada, musings on my perception of how Muslims are treated in our community and offered a discussion on one person's experience of the Middle East. I felt it reflected the mandate of the magazine. There was a section for shorter pieces and the submission guidelines recommend that: 'Writers new to The Walrus or without long-form journalism experience are encouraged to pitch this section before seeking more ambitious assignments.' This was what I did.
Bravo. Okay, so I did exactly what they wanted, but what's my point? I’m really trying not to do this kind of thing anymore, this explaining of my position, which I realize I'm kind of doing right now. I feel like I am constantly explaining and justifying myself, in writing and in life. Maybe if I change one, the other will change as well? Also, the desperation in those words makes me cringe just a little bit. The desperation of trying to get the reader on my side. How condescending. I shouldn't even care what the reader thinks, I should just say whatever the hell I'm here to say and be done with it. Let the reader make up his or her own mind. If I read this I would stop reading. It took a while to get to this, but here’s the rejection email from the magazine:
Dear John Paul Dore,
First, thanks for your kind words about The Walrus. We're so pleased that you subscribe to the magazine and enjoy the content. We receive dozens of pitches every day, and we take care to review each idea thoroughly. We enjoyed reading your thoughts on vacationing in Jordan. However, we rarely publish memoir-based stories, and unfortunately we do not see a place for yours in The Walrus. We appreciate your interest in the magazine, and wish you the best in placing your story elsewhere.
And I went on to say: "Let's analyze this pathetic attempt at a rejection letter." Name calling. Very mature. The next section is especially troubling. I attempted to be clever - oh, the death of anything truthful or authentic - by deconstructing the rejection letter and pointing out what was so outrageously wrong:
I facetiously sometimes use my full name, Jeffrey Paul Dore, in all my writing because it has a nice ring to it and the three names sound pseudo-pretentious. My entire life, people have had trouble with my relatively simple last name, spelling it as 'Door', or in French with an accent above the 'e', or even, on one occasion, as 'Dorito'. You will notice that the Editorial Staff called me John Paul Dore. As stated, I'm used to people misnaming me, am even quietly amused by it, but to interchange John with Jeffrey is an act of laziness and incompetence. My name was listed, clearly and in a laser-printed label, on the front of the envelope. One. The submission's first page was the cover letter. In the letterhead, my name appears. Two. At the end of the one page letter, my name appears typed and with my signature. Three and four. Included with the letter was a business card. Five. Next was the seven-page article, which has my name in the footer of every page. Six to twelve. If we count all the times my name was written - twelve times - you'd think I had some kind of ego problem. My point is that you have to be quite an idiot to get my name wrong.
The troubling aspect to this section is that I lied. Although I do use my full name – Jeffrey Paul Dore – and it appeared on the envelope and cover letter, my business card and the footer did not include all three names. I lied to get sympathy. And I knew it would work. Think about that for a second. So, here I am writing in previous posts about honesty and all that and how I can’t be false about this stuff anymore and blah blah blah. I didn’t need to take The Walrus to task, I needed to take myself to task. Now we're getting somewhere here. A bit clearer why this article remained in the queue. But it’s still not the whole story. More cleverness:
Let's get to the email: 'We receive dozens of pitches every day, and we take care to review each idea thoroughly.' I know that you're not supposed to say this, but publishers and agents need to get over telling writers in their rejection letters about how busy they are, implying that there is just so much work that is much more important than you. Instead of humanizing themselves, it sounds like an excuse. We're all busy, get over yourselves. A publisher's job is to take submissions, if you receive too many, stop taking submissions. Easy solution. I've seen many publishing companies that say they are not taking submissions at the moment. Easy. I bet these companies don't receive dozens of pitches every day, thus eliminating the need to inform us of their inability to balance their workload. What I take issue with is the '...we take care to review each idea thoroughly.' I strongly disagree because of the sentence next door: 'We enjoyed reading your thoughts on vacationing in Jordan.' This sentence, combined with receiving the rejection so quickly, led me to believe that the Editorial Team did not read past the opening paragraph of my story. My article was so clearly not about 'vacationing' in Jordan that frankly, I found this insulting and garnered a growing amount of resentment towards the magazine's response.
My resentment attained completion with this statement: 'However, we rarely publish memoir-based stories, and unfortunately we do not see a place for yours in The Walrus.' Wait a goddamn second. They rarely publish memoir-based stories? I went back to the submission guidelines and reviewed: 'Our front-of-book section contains timely short pieces, reported from Canada and around the world. They take the form of reported narratives, memoirs, humour, profiles, dialogues, correspondence, or reports on cutting-edge ideas.' If you didn't notice, the word 'memoir' was second on the list. I even made it bold. And furthermore, for other sections, there is an entire category for memoirs: 'The Walrus is looking for long-form autobiographical writing that illuminates issues relevant to Canadians.' The Editorial Team should really review and become a little more familiar with the submission guidelines of the magazine they work for instead of sending rejections that are full of embarrassingly incorrect information and looking not only foolish, but as stated above, lazy and incompetent.
Misplaced resentment. More name-calling. Jesus, take some goddamn responsibility. I will spare you the next part where I tried to write about my empathy for the Editorial Team, that it wasn’t their fault, that they are just trying to get through another day at work. I even inserted a bit more self-deprecation around the quality of the article and touched, ever so briefly, on my feelings of being rejected, saying that I didn't mind if they didn’t take it based on my ‘poor writing skills’. Here's another problem. With so many ways for people to express themselves, there can be a tendency to present yourself in a positive light. Present yourself as the person that you believe people want you to be. Such bull shit posturing. I will repeat: take some responsibility. This rant followed:
The email I received is symptomatic of a larger problem. It provides evidence as to how a magazine such as The Walrus functions because I believe that unlike wealth, the tone of management trickles downwards. The publishing world is in trouble and well-placed professionals in the industry continually dispel dooms day scenarios. If the traditional publishing industry collapses, it's because of the failure to embrace technological evolution, the failure of taking the time to sift through the current gluttony of content and the failure to establish innovative ways of presenting an author's work to a hungry public. So, perhaps words like foolish and lazy are correct, but should be directed upwards towards the people in charge.
I wanted to write about this because, whether publishers or agents recognize it, it's the actual writers that are providing the content and product to which their businesses are based on. This seems obvious to point out, but between all the outlandish statements being branded about, there should be more respect paid to writers, those people who work tirelessly to produce quality and are trying to navigate new ways through new delivery systems to make their work more easily accessible. Perhaps instead of focusing on how the industry is collapsing, maybe people in positions of power should pay more attention to the details. All I'm saying to a magazine such as The Walrus is get your shit together. At least enough to avoid bitter and talentless hacks such as myself from slinging poorly constructed arguments about the depth of your publication's laziness and foolishness. Sure, The Walrus has taken steps to include more online content, and this is all fine, but from my perspective, they also risk alienating themselves from the community as a whole, thus isolating writing and writers into a position of elitism, which never works out in the end for anyone.
Now, I want to get back to that blob of rejection. What I thought of as my main problem is that I have trouble separating my identity from my work. To me, they are one and the same. So, in theory, if you reject my work, you reject me. Cute. But really, it provides an escape route for me, allows room for self-pity.
Let me tell a story. Years ago, I was head over heels for this woman. She invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with her and her friends. It was going to be a new millennium, and with it, a new love. Very romantic comedy. They picked me up at the bus station and she was so excited to see me. We got to her friend’s house and she seemed overly affectionate with this other guy. Her friend pulled me aside and let me know that they had hooked up the day before. And I realized that I was stuck hanging out with the woman of my dreams and her new boyfriend. It being 2000, many predictions surfaced about disasters and the end of the world. The next morning, I turned on the television and found no evidence of any such destruction. Disappointed, I stayed with our plans of spending the night at her parent’s house. We ate dinner and she openly discussed her new relationship, and I’ll never forget her parents turning towards me with a quizzical expression on their faces: So, who’s this guy, then?
Look how fresh this still is and it kind of stings to write it down. Added to this, the person who I’m talking about never knew how I felt. Over ten years ago and still part of that blob of rejection. I bring this up because it’s definitely in my top ten. But I never blamed this person, people follow their hearts and they don’t always end up where you want them. But by not talking about it, by pushing down my feelings, they manifest in other places, in other ways. And so, it’s not about The Walrus rejecting me, it’s that all these things are connected, how can they not be? And yeah, get over it, stop whining, and that’s true, but still, doesn’t it suck to get rejected, in whatever form?
As a way of redeeming myself, I finished with this:
Before I present myself as completely lost and burn every bridge, I received this rejection letter from Nicole Aragi, who discovered authors such as Junot Díaz and Jonathan Safran Foer. If she told me she was busy, I'd believe her.
Dear Mr. Dore,
Thank you for sending me an excerpt of your novel, The Walking Man. I'm so very sorry to be sending this letter but I'm afraid I can't offer to represent your work. I found much to admire in these pages and it's clear you are a talented writer but I simply did not connect fully enough with this material to feel I could champion your work effectively. I wish I wasn't sending such a disappointing response and I hope you find a terrific agent soon. Good luck and best wishes,
To start, she spelled my name right. The message was short and maybe it's a form letter, but I still appreciated what was said. It made me feel like a human being actually went through my work and considered it. In fact, I even sent a letter in response because I felt as though I was actually writing to someone. I thanked her for a rejection letter.
Listen, I'm at the bottom of the bottom and at the end of the day, who gives a shit about my complaints. Take it or leave it.
John Paul Dore