Submitting stories to literary magazines that respond within a week is a double edged sword. It’s wonderful that I don’t have to sit in suspense for months, but receiving so many rejections in such a short period of time really hurts the writer’s ego. I know, I know. Lit mags accept so few submissions, so I shouldn’t take it personally. But it’s hard not to.
One of the rejections I got was a generic, “Dear contributor…” email, which isn’t a big deal. You get used to those after a while. It was the one I got yesterday that really stung.
I sent them a story involving an old lady who drove her car off the cliff and miraculously survives. The beginning is supposed to be ambiguous with the very end reveals the truth about what really happened. No, I don’t slap the reader in the face with the revelation; I hate to write as if I assume that my audience is stupid by yelling out things they can come to on their own. I also sent it to two friends with English degrees and both of them understood what happened without being told.
This is what the magazine said about it, “Although there’s a fine sense of mystery and intrigue in the story, there’s too much ambiguity that undercuts it, both in the descriptions on the sentence level and contained within the ending.”
Grumble grumble. I don’t even know what ambiguity on the sentence level even means. Does it mean there’s not enough description. Does it need to be longer with more details? What? What? Whattttttt?!
Plus the ending was clear to both friends who read it–but was my mistake in giving it to people studying literature and not non-literary people?
I just don’t understand.
I suppose the real reason I am so irked by this rejection email is not that it’s a rejection, but because I want to improve my story and submit it again elsewhere, but with the limited critiques from this magazine, I don’t know how. I’m grateful that they took the time to read it and send back their thoughts, but they’re not particularly helpful. The ambiguity is an important part of the story, and I don’t want to bluntly state what actually happened. I believe that will ruin it.
Perhaps I will leave more clues for the reader and let them learn more about my protagonist. Or perhaps I will drink a bottle of wine, forget this rejection letter that is ambiguous down at the sentence level, and send my story off to a different magazine. Sounds good to me.