The Rejection Saga

What follows are all the posts from my blog Noise and Signal that constitute The Rejection Saga. Posts here in chronological order for easier consumption.

I have included some notes in green about what was going on behind the scenes. These were not included in the original posts.

Reject me, Baby!  Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I recently submitted a story to the Journal of Universal Rejection (motto: “reprobatio certa hora incerta” (for which my translator gives “false contest hour uncertain”, but that can’t be right).)

I was expecting a rejection, you know. I mean, their guidelines say they will reject anything you send, and point out the advantages of knowing in advance what the outcome will be: reduced stress, no need to spend hours on your cover letter (which, you know, I always do), and not least of all the satisfaction of knowing that you were rejected from one the most exclusive journals in the — any — industry.

Wow!  With all those advantages, I just had to submit! So I sent in a short I have called “Done” — something of an experiment because it is comprised entirely of dialog (yes, I am that good) — and waited (breathlessly) for my rejection letter, which I assumed would be arriving quite soon.

For the first time in my life, a rejection to my story was not only assured but eagerly awaited.  This time for sure I’d get exactly what I’d hoped for.



Thank you for your interest in the Journal of Universal Rejection.
Due to the high volume of correspondence we have received of late, it
may be some time until yours is properly answered.  If you have
included a submission, rest assured that it has been filed and is
under review.  We will get back to you as soon as possible.
Caleb–Caleb Emmons, PhDEditor-in-ChiefJournal of Universal Rejection

Rejection Fail   Thursday, March 17, 2011

I figured I’d heard the last from the Journal of Universal Rejection when Dr. Caleb Emmons sent me a form letter saying he’d get to my story one of these days. I lamented the lack of a bonafide rejection but in my usual classy way was able to shrug it off and move on with my life.

Then he wrote me again. I’ve been invited to resubmit my dialog-only story, which he has even, clearly, read:

Thank you for your submission to the Journal of Universal Rejection.

Our readership prefers stories with lots of landscape description.
Clearly as your story stands we cannot accept it for publication.
Should you add something about (e.g.) the hills around Derbyshire into
your story, we would give the story another look. We also accept
bribes, and are almost as trustworthy as the characters in your story;
small bills only please.

Best regards,


My letter back to him:


Dear Dr. Emmons:

It is beyond me to put into words how delighted I was to receive your encouraging note vis-à-vis my story “Done” rather than the swift bona-fide rejection promised me in your Instructions for Authors.

As a writer little could please me more than an invitation to rewrite a story with the possibility dangled before me of being corrected again prior to my pending rejection. Despair and glee war within; never has lack of rejection left me feeling so conflicted.

But I am helpless in the face of editorial whim. Thus please find attached a new version of “Done” which includes a good number of what I hope you will find tasteful and appropriate references to landscape.I look forward to your reply.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Sonia Lyris

P.S. I will, of course, blog about this. You’ll be famous. Possibly.

P.P.S. Send PayPal link.

Stay tuned.

The attatched story I sent Dr. Emmons was not included in my blog posts. Here is the first part of that story. Remember, the first version was dialog only.

   "So, it's done?"
   The second man paused before answering, looking past the other at the purpling hills
of Derbyshire, etched against a blue sky that was darkening toward twilight.
How fragile these people were, and how poorly they knew it.  Like the ants
on the ground, scuttering about, thinking themselves safe.
  "I said it was."
  "I know, but I want to be sure."
  He glanced at his watch.  The car idled behind him, waiting and ready to take
him to Chesterfield, where three children, two cats, and a snake all waited on
his careful attention.
  "It's done."
  "All right.  Good.  Perfect. So now--"
  "So now you pay me and we both go away happy."
  A big snake.  He glanced down at the ants at his feet, shifted his stance slightly.
  "Yes, of course.  But--"
  "But what?"
   The evening star sparkled overhead, as if to say that only in fiction could
it ever be so bright.


Can’t Get No Rejection   Sunday, March 20, 2011

By now I am beginning to suspect that my sought-after rejection from Journal of Universal Rejection will not be so easy to come by:

We were very pleased to read your updated story. So much so that we shared it with our wife, who was also very approving. The landscape descriptions are fantastic.

That said, however, there is still too much dialog. Our readership doesn’t read dialog. Perhaps a story that is solely about the hills around Derbyshire? Or a travelogue (sans dialog) of popular vacation spots for hit men? Ideally it would be a story with 6 characters and no dialog.



Caleb Emmons, PhD


Journal of Universal Rejection

My reply, which follows, attached a story called: “Landscape, No Dialog, Six Characters”

Dear Dr. Emmons:

I lament my inability to express my pleasure at receiving your non-rejection. You are right: there is too much dialog in the story. I see how your audience could not possibly read such a thing.

I wish I could express to you my gratitude for your willingness to work with me on this issue.

Please find attached my complete rewrite with no dialog whatsoever. I hope it will be more to your and (perhaps more importantly) your wife’s liking.

P.S. It occurs to me that despite your fearless reputation in academia, you might be withholding a rejection out of misplaced concern for my emotional well-being. Be assured that I have been rejected before many, many times, though rarely with quite this much work.

P.P.S. Grateful regards to your wife. Does she publish a journal, by any chance?

What will Dr. Emmons do next? Don’t miss the next exciting installment in the Rejection Saga!

The attached story, “Landscape, No Dialog, Six Characters”was heavily based on (and nearly exactly the same as) a 6k word story of mine published in 1993, called The Animal Game; no one could have been more surprised than I when Dr Emmons asked for a story nearly identical to one I’d already written.

Rejection Saga: Dr. Emmons Finally Delivers   Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dr. Emmons’ most recent letter to me would appear to bring The Rejection Saga to a close, but stay tuned for my reply before you consider the matter concluded.

Dear Sonia,

Please excuse my yet again tardy reply. You will surely understand that we are busy here, and these decisions take time.

We have decided to reject your submission. Although we don’t need a reason, here is one. Although you claimed your story had no dialog, clearly on page 37 of your ms appears:

“Carry on,” the monkey said to Alan, with a smile and a rose.

Frankly you can only give us the run-around on this issue so many times. We have demanded more landscape descriptions, and no dialog, and yet you continue to have your characters jibber-jabber throughout the entire story (or at the very least on the last page.) I hope you in general submit to editors with more patience than I.

Thanks for playing.

Best regards,


p.s. You needn’t have worried about our fear of rejecting fiction writers. For example, we rejected Geoffrey Landis on the first go.

It’s not over yet. Stay tuned.

Rejection Saga: I Must Decline    Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yesterday I posted Dr. Emmons’ most recent letter to me in The Rejection Saga. Here is my reply:

Dear Dr. Emmons:

I have a confession to make. I trust that, given the length and intimacy of our friendship, you’ll carefully consider my words before passing judgment.

I knew you would bring up the monkey. Given your extensive education, uncommon insight, and position as the editor of the most prestigious arts and science journal in the world, it was inevitable.

Assuming, that is, that you had read the story. We writers are a delicate and insecure lot, never certain that our darling creations will get the attention they deserve. I am deeply gratified to discover that you have, indeed, read all the way through. Yes, the quotes were a deliberate ploy. I trust you understand.

Now, as to the rejection. Yes, of course you need give no reason, but, alas, you have. As I have sought this rejection most ardently, I am loathe to explain your error, but integrity demands I do so.

The monkey is not in our world, but in a virtual reality, and thus not speaking at all. Indeed, the illusion of monkey-speak in this story is a postmodernist reflection on the collective cultural delineation of “speech” in contrast to the abstract notion of “silence” highlighted by appearing within artificial quotes in a story with no true dialog. It is a literary device representing man’s struggle to be heard.

From a scientific viewpoint, the monkey’s actions move no air molecules and thus fail to change the physical world in any fashion whatsoever. The monkey is, for all intents and purposes, both literarily and literally, mute.

I trust you see the profound symbolism here.

I must therefore with great disappointment reject your rejection as standing on no solid ground. While I long for the rejection I have worked so hard to obtain, I cannot, alas, accept it under false pretenses.

YOS, etc.,

Sonia Lyris

P.S. Thank you, but Mr. Landis is a better writer than I am, so that’s hardly a fair comparison.

P.P.S. Should these subtleties be unclear in any way, you may wish to consult your wife, as she has shown uncommon good judgment on these matters in the past.

Will Dr. Emmons disagree? Issue another coveted rejection? Or…? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of the The Rejection Saga.

Rejection Saga: A Deconstructionist Argument   Monday, April 11, 2011

In this chapter of the The Rejection Saga, Dr. Emmons disagrees with me about the nature of punctuation:

I have faced these fancy deconstructionist (or whatever) arguments from others. If it is in quotes it is dialog. Except in the case of those crazy fishmongers that put “FRESH” on their signs (with the quotation marks!–we don’t buy fish there), or similar circumstances of which your talking monkey is not one.

I did not bother to ask my wife about this, but I’m sure she agrees.

Best regards,


Stay tuned for my fervent reply.

Rejection Saga: Left Wanting, I Take Action   Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dear Dr. Emmons:

I have been so disconsolate since your last letter I have barely known how to reply. We differ, you and I, on the subtlest of tenuous post-modern deconstructionist arguments. Thus I am forced to ask: have I earned this rejection? No, I must answer; I have not!

So hard and long have I worked for this rejection only to find now it tastes no more of success than failure. It is to me as a glass of water that has sat beside a wine bottle for five minutes is to an alcoholic. How can I show my face to my fellow writers who receive handfuls of rejections a month, all pure and unsullied by questions of reality and “quotes”? (I have just now spoken that word, so this is correct usage.)

Simply put: I cannot!

While you may understand your rejection to be true and right, good sir, I am left wanting.

And so, please find attached another story submission which I send in the hopes that this time, perhaps, I will have truly earned the rejection I crave. I trust you will give it all the consideration I have by now surely earned.

YOS, etc.,

Sonia Lyris

P.S. Here is my story. It is called “A Story.” I have quoted it because that’s what I call it.

A Story: Once upon a time there was someone who innocently acted with the best of intentions, or perhaps out of ignorance, we can’t be sure, and things went wrong. He or she tried to fix this but it only got worse. With a mighty struggle, help from an unexpected source, and attendant personal growth, he or she finally managed to fix the problem in a delightful way that leaves us feeling good. The end.

The Rejection Saga: Another Volley   Monday, April 18, 2011

Dear Sonia,

Thank you for submitting another story. It is always a delight to hear from you, and see the multisplendent amalgams of words you arrange. This submission was no different. But we did find a problem with it. It is too descriptive. Our readership doesn’t have time for all the details, and other aids to imagination that you have included. Please do a rewrite that lacks any adjectives and adverbs, and avoids long words. And we’d like to see a fishmonger named Mollie in the story.

Best regards,


The Rejection Saga: My Serve   Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dear Dr. Emmons:

It is likewise always a pleasure to nearly hit my target. I dare say I’m getting quite good at it.

Please find (below; really, it’s not that hard to find) my rewrite as per your thoughtful and insightful rewrite suggestions. As is so often the case, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your feedback.

YOS, etc.

The Story: Once upon a time there was a fishmonger named Mollie. Some stuff with fish happened. It was intense. It’s over now. The end.

The Rejection Saga: Dr Emmons Offers Me Another Go And Something Else   Friday, April 29, 2011

Dear Sonia,

According to my dictionary, “intense” is an adjective. I thought I asked for none of those. Also your story is too short, and not enough happens. I want more details. Put me into Mollie’s life. I want to hear the wet slap of fish as Mollie plops it on her display counter. I want to feel the sparge of the fish’s last exhalation, as its eyes go glassy. I want to smell–no, to taste!–the delicate parfum of sea salt and kelp gracing Mollie’s sun roughened neck. But pretend I am a blind man; I don’t want to see anything.

Best regards,


p.s. We correspond so frequently, perhaps you could address me more informally. (E.g., use a comma.)

p.p.s. We have received many short stories of late. (I also consider blank documents and research articles short stories.) Perhaps you would like to join our Editorial Board?

The Rejection Saga: Epiphany, Commas, and Anticipation   Friday, April 29, 2011

Dear Dr. Emmons,

> p.s. We correspond so frequently, perhaps you could address me more informally. (E.g., use a comma.)

Ahha! It’s all been about the commas, hasn’t it. All that has kept you from issuing, me, a, proper rejection, lo, these many, many months, has been my miserly use of commas. This moment is nothing short of epiphanic! At last I understand!

> Perhaps you would like to join our Editorial Board?

My goodness, yes! Nothing could please me more than the chance to help issue rejections for your esteemed journal. (I suppose I’ll have to say “our” esteemed journal, now.) Yes, yes, and more yes! I am ready and eager to serve.

So eager in fact that I beg you to tell me the moment I am installed on the board and am authorized to issue rejections. My fingers are twitching in anticipation.

YOS, TIA, etc.

The Rejection Saga: Another Revision for the Esteemed Doctor   Monday, May 9, 2011

As a followup to my last letter to Dr. Emmons of the Journal of Universal Rejection, I send a letter in which I (naturally) discuss the great challenges I faced in this delicate and tricky rewrite, express my eagerness to start my editorial duties, and present my story offering.

Dear Dr. Emmons,

After reflecting on both your new and standing requirements and struggling with various revisions, I present to you my — I cannot help but think of it as “our” — newest version. I struggled with how to provide the needed verisimilitude without including any description whatsoever, which provided me with a stumbling block until I remembered that the heart and soul of a story resides not in the words but in the reader.

This story, perhaps my greatest effort thus far, is, in typical fashion, below. This letter. Below this letter.

YOS, etc,

Sonia Lyris

P.S. I’m eager to hear back about my start date.

A Woman and a Fish

Fish: Mollie. Fish. Done? Go plop. Repeat Fish. Plop. Big kiss. Whap! Ahhh…! The End.

The Rejection Saga: Dr. Emmons Gives Me My First Assignment   Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dear Editor Lyris:

Welcome to the Showboat, a.k.a. the Editorial Board. I am forwarding you your first assignment (see message below). Please carefully review and reject this submission directly to the submitter. You may cc me on the rejection if you think it is blogworthy.

Best regards,


Dear Dr. Emmons,

After reflecting on both your new and standing requirements and struggling with various revisions, I present to you my — I cannot help but think of it as “our” — newest version. I struggled with how to provide the needed verisimilitude without including any description whatsoever, which provided me with a stumbling block until I remembered that the heart and soul of a story resides not in the words but in the reader.

This story, perhaps my greatest effort thus far, is, in typical fashion, below. This letter. Below this letter.

YOS, etc,

Sonia Lyris

P.S. I’m eager to hear back about my start date.

A Woman and a Fish

Fish: Mollie. Fish. Done? Go plop. Repeat Fish. Plop. Big kiss. Whap! Ahhh…! The End.

Yes. Yes, of course. Hmm.

Rejection Saga: Satisfaction at Last   Thursday, May 19, 2011

As you may recall, in his last letter Dr. Emmons, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Universal Rejection, gave me my first assignment which was to reject a particularly tenacious submission.

I took on that assignment with pleasure. Here is my letter to the author:

Dear Ms. Lyris,

Rarely do we see such talent. Your provocative characters and intense drama kept us deeply engaged until the brilliant ending, after which we felt the need to plant forests and work at soup kitchens.

To be blunt, your stories have brought us the personal transformation and transcendence we might otherwise have spent a lifetime seeking.

On behalf of the Journal we must reject your submission on the grounds that our readership is simply not mature enough for this sort of insight. We’re sure you understand.

Should you decide to submit again you might consider something more light-hearted. We understand that Dr. Isaac Asimov wrote limericks in between Nebula and Hugo acceptance speeches. Perhaps you can do likewise.


Sonia Lyris, Editor

Ahhh, satisfaction! I have my rejection, finally, from this most prestigious publication. I ask you: is there any reason for me to seek further rejections from lesser publications?

For those who want to hear about my non-rejections, follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

A Final Note on the Saga

Since the conclusion of the Rejection Saga I’ve joined the Editorial Board of the JoUR and been tasked with providing rejections to submissions. It is gratifying to at last put my life-long experience with rejection to such good use. With luck, Dr. Emmons will be
blogging about some of these rejections. [Note 2020: Dr Emmons apparently thought better of his plans to blog. Entirely understandable: he must hold himself above the fray. Though he does dabble on twitter upon occasion. As do I, once in a blue.]

My bio at the Journal of Universal Rejection is here.