Hate Mail

epcp-1108-01-o+resonator+hate-mailWhen Spilt Infinitive was starting up last year, I was in a Season of No. You’ve been there (and if you haven’t, keep your good fortune to yourself). It’s that stretch of a week, maybe even a month if you’ve been ambitiously submitting, when you can’t pick up your phone without another innocuous “New Email Message” annihilating your dry bone fragment hopes and self-worth. These terse rejection letters with statements like “we can’t use this” (why? Is the file format wrong? I can convert!) and “best of luck placing this elsewhere” (do you have any ideas where, perhaps?) seem to cluster together in waves. As if every literary journal editor wakes up after a shared wet dream of slaughter, thinking damn. I better clean out my queue today.

On this particular work day, prior to our official launch, I felt my phone vibrate. One new rejection, and a text from Spilt editor and writing life-mate Tiffany Hauck. “Do you want to write our rejection letter?” she asked me, as we were just beginning to get submissions in. Me, the queen of form letter no’s, with a shot at turning the tables.

Absofuckinglutely.

The Spilt rejection email flew from my fingertips, possessed by inspiration. I wrote the letter I wanted to receive, trying to say all of the things I was dying to hear from the dozens of publications that passed on my essays. You’re not a bad writer. Maybe we’re shitty editors. Don’t get discouraged. Try again; prove us to be the morons. Thank you for your work. We really do get how much this sucks.

I read my rejection letter four, maybe five times. Tweaked this and that. Each time, I asked myself, would this be the letter that would make me smile, even in the face of defeat? Would this letter make me still root for the magazine despite its refusal of my art?

I felt so proud to say yes.

Tiffany loved it. Sean, Kase, and Charlotte did too. It was us. It was Spilt. This is what we set out to do—bring personality and irreverence into the literary journal field. We wanted to expand the idea of what a journal could be to include what we loved to read and write. The way we interacted with writers generous enough to share their work with us was a gigantic piece of that mission.

Maybe a month after our yes’s and no’s were first delivered into the world, I received an email from Tiffany. It was a letter forwarded by a writer whose story we had declined. “I thought you should know that your email was extremely unprofessional,” it read. “As a new literary journal, you should be more conscientious of your reputation.”

I read my rejection rejection four, maybe five times, also. Unprofessional. Bad reputation. What did people want, another form letter? Another passive-aggressive two sentences about how happy we are to read something from them but no, don’t send anything again until our next reading period? Of all the rejections I had received in recent memory, this was the hardest punch to the gut.

“Maybe we should change it,” I wrote back. “I don’t want to screw up our magazine.”

“Fuck that,” Tiffany insisted. “If they don’t get that letter, they don’t get Spilt.”

The next few weeks I spent in fear of my inbox. I expected a torrent of hate mail to start flowing in at me. I felt more nervous as an editor than as a struggling writer.

And then, the torrent arrived.

“Thanks for the laugh. God I needed that.”

“Well, you’ve driven me to drink, but at least with a smile.”

“Best. Rejection. Letter. Ever.”

We began to find our readers and our writers. Slowly, people on-board with our vision lent us their support. And with them came my realization that curating work is similar to creating it. Some people aren’t going to dig what you’re doing. Some people are going to take valuable time out of their days to lash out against it. Every once in a while, the process is going to make you feel shittier than you think the whole writing lifestyle is worth. But then, when your patience is worn down to the marrow, you connect. You make someone smile. Or laugh. Or try again. And they tell you so. Those are the crumbly morsels we live for as editors/working writers.

So if you receive our “no,” you can be sure it was sent by a real person and not a spambot. Real, authentic, unpaid writers read your work and made a decision that may or may not be the right one. We love to send out the “yes” message that I also tried to fashion as the best acceptance ever. We’re always hoping that we’ll be tossing that your way rather than our best no. And if you don’t like hearing us decline and decide to stir up a mess of vengeance in your Gmail as a salve, you’re going to make actual people feel shitty. And if you’re into that, then you’re not into Spilt.