The New Yorker Rejects Itself: A Quasi-Scientific Analysis of Slush Piles

One of interest to writers and would be writers.

It began as the kind of logical argument that seems airtight to anyone who has never studied logic.

If the New Yorker is the most desirable literary magazine in the world, and if the New Yorker can have any short story the New Yorker wants, then whatever story the New Yorker gets would—logically—be so intrinsically desirable that all lesser literary pubs (e.g., everyone) would pine for it. Just like the prettiest girl at the dance: the guy she picks is the guy chicks dig. Basic deduction 101.

After a few glasses of two-buck Chuck I was ready to test my hypothesis. I grabbed a New Yorker story off the web (no, it wasn’t by Alice Munro or William Trevor), copied it into a Word document, changed only the title, created a fictitious author identity, and submitted it to a slew of literary journals, all of whom regularly grace the TOC of Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, O’Henry, etcetera and etcetera. My cover letter simply stated that I am an unpublished writer deeply appreciative of their consideration.

. . . .

That was it. I sowed the seed, and waited.

. . . .

Dear reader, every single one of these journals rejected my poor New Yorker story with the same boilerplate “good luck placing your work elsewhere” auto-text that has put the lid on my own sorry submissions. Not a single personal pleasantry.

. . . .

Still, my work wasn’t done! No scientific experiment can be taken seriously unless it is reproduced, and so I grabbed yet another story, this one by a rather celebrated youngish New Yorker author (not Zadie Smith or Karen Russell) and repeated the process. The results, as scientists so often say when describing a perfectly corroborated protocol, were “elegant.”

Thus ended my life in research.

. . . .

A part of me really wanted to be outed, to have some vigilant editor write back and say, “Nice try. Consider yourself blacklisted.” Or even to put me in the horribly awkward position of an acceptance! That would mean there’s hope, that open submissions weren’t  just, in so many cases, empty gestures.

While academic publications are subject to rules of their own, I suspect that the same is true in any kind of publishing and it does expose the problem of traditional publishing. The reason for traditional publishing existence has always been that it sorts through the rubbish so the reader doesn’t have to. The problem being that it doesn’t appear to be very good at it. With every big success in literature there is always a tale about how they tried for years before someone finally ‘took a chance’ on them (JK Rowling springs to mind).  While it is true the ‘good’ is wildly subjective would be writers tend to figure out pretty quickly that publishing is roll of the dice. Hardily then surprising writers – some very good writers at that – are sidestepping the gatekeepers to reach the readers directly. Traditional Publishing’s future depends on showing the reading public that their label actually means something.


This comes from The Review Review and the full version can be found here.

This abbreviated version came from The Passive Voice.


Filed under Self Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing

2 responses to “The New Yorker Rejects Itself: A Quasi-Scientific Analysis of Slush Piles

  1. Interesting read. Publishing certainly is a tough industry to break into.

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