Pardon the existential angst, here. This post on Literary Rejections on Display, among other things, has put me in a dark mood. LROD posted this 34-times-rejected story to ask if it actually deserves all those rejections, or if it is really good enough to be published. Well, heck. There are enough little rags out there so that anything -- almost anything -- can be published eventually. The LROD story isn't terrible and could get published somewhere, but after 34 no's, what is really the point? So that on the 38th try your story will be accepted by FishHead Literary Review, circulation 200? If that? I don't even know the names of 34 literary magazines. I certainly don't read that many.
Oh, wait a minute, now I remember: acceptance makes us feel good. It means we don't suck.
But if FishHead Literary Review were any good at all, wouldn't we subscribe to it?
The power of "publication" to legitimize our sense of self-worth is enormous and inflated. I'm including myself here. My first published story, printed in a magazine called Kinesis which is at least a dozen years gone now, was definitely bad. It contained a couple of charming elements, maybe, including a electrician I liked, but it was really not very interesting or complex or funny. But when I try to cheer myself up, I include that publication on my mental list of accomplishments -- near the bottom, for sure, but still: I wouldn't want it not to have happened. It's still a little bit important to me. What I don't include on that mental list is writing that I know is better but was never published. Such is the power of someone else's approval.
At core I'm an idealist (I think) and I firmly say to myself, and to anyone: One reader is worth it. One reader is all you need, really. So maybe in that sense the $1.50 postage plus envelope times 34 and all the waiting and the rejection heartache really are totally worth it to reach those FishHead Review subscribers.
Here's what screws up the calculus: the Internet. Didn't appearing on Literary Rejections on Display just reach more readers than any small lit rag would? I don't know her (his?) stats, but I'd guess they're pretty solid. What does that mean, to get all one's readers in that context? I can't even guess. Such strange times we're in, vis-a-vis the written word.