good work tho

19 Oct

The first thing you will notice, when holding this rejection letter in your hands, is the quality of paper it’s printed on–good, heavy white bond paper, the kind you use for a resume.

And then, the vivid crimson color of the iconic Esquire logo, soaked into the paper like blood.

Then the blue ink, straight from an editor’s pen, which reads:

good work tho not right for us. good luck placing it.

Re: Revolver

“Revolver” is the name of the story I submitted.

“Though” has been unnecessarily truncated.

Words that should be capitalized, have not been capitalized.

I remember distinctly the day I received this. It was raining, and I was walking to the liquor store to get my breakfast, and there was a letter in the mail from Esquire. The envelope contained weight–a good sign. I stuffed the envelope with its potentially life-altering contents in my jacket pocket and kept it there as I browsed the aisles for the finest vodka not bottled in plastic. Then I returned home with my purchase and ripped open the letter.

Ordinarily I would be thrilled to receive a personalized response (from an editor at Esquire, no less!) with a generous note of encouragement: good work. But on this occasion, all I felt was dread and despair. Because at the end of the day, I did not make the sale. I was 28 years old, probably an alcoholic, I was losing my girlfriend, losing my hair, losing my life, and what I really needed right now was a sale. I had been writing and submitting stories for ten years, and it seemed to me that I should be farther along than this. That I should be giving interviews to bloggers; doing local readings; making a name for myself. And it struck me how silly the whole enterprise was, this whole insufferable pageantry of honors and awards and obscure accolades and publication credits and Twitter followers and Google hits. I was too old to want these things and too old not to have them. I felt, in the end, like the worst kind of fuck-up–one who did not even have the courage, the drive, the integrity to establish himself as a world-class fuck-up.

“Revolver” was eventually published by Suspense Magazine.


6 Responses to “good work tho”

  1. ephemeral October 25, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Can I just say how much I thoroughly enjoyed reading this? (:

  2. heather mull October 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Methinks that the use of the word “tho” and the shoddy disregard for MLA style betrays the fact that some editor had his intern “personalize” this rejection letter, so as to try and seem more kind. In effect, however, this is probably worse than not having put some ink on the page in the first place and just sending it out as a plain old impersonal rejection. As an editor for such a lofty periodical as “Esquire,” I would actually be embarrassed to know that I was being represented by the text-message-speak of some college undergrad whose daddy got them an unpaid internship at the magazine making coffee and who can’t even handle the writing duties of respectfully “personalizing” her boss’s rejection letters. But hey, that’s just me….

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  5. Darren Madigan December 10, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    I got this today from Esquire, in my email:

    “Dear D.A. Madigan:

    Thank you for sending us “A writer, a poet, a word artist, and a self expressionist walk into a bar…”. We really enjoyed this piece, but we didn’t feel it was right for Esquire at this time.

    We hope that you will continue to send us your work. When and if you do, please keep the following in mind:

    *We want stories that feel especially timely and urgent and speak to current events and the state of the world around us.

    * We cannot consider stories longer than 5,000 words.

    * We ask that you use 12-point font, double-spaced. Verdana or Times New Roman preferred. Be sure your name, contact information, story title, and word count are at the top of your document and please remember to number your pages


    The Editors of Esquire”

    Pretty much word for word with yours.

    Your post beautifully describes exactly how I feel about my own writing non-career at this point, although I don’t drink. But I’m 52 years old. I submitted my first short story at the age of 17. Other than one piece to CAVALIER, I have never sold anything. I have, over the years, made hundreds of submissions of stories and novels.

    I enjoyed finding your blog post. It made me feel, momentarily, less lonely in my misery. So thanks for that.

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