Upward-Looking Caution

Who reads these journals? asked my friend. We were sitting outside at the picnic table. Other writers, I said. For the most part, I think. It was late, the party was starting to die down. I’d mentioned some particular rejection slip I’d received recently, although I can’t remember which (they’ve been flooding in lately). Why do we do this? he asked. What do we hope to accomplish? Who do we want to reach? Why do we send our stories to lit journals if the only people who really read lit journals are other writers? Why don’t we just make ten thousand copies of our best paragraph and hand it out on the subway to the first ten thousand people we see? Here’s the tidied-up version of what I did a clunky job of saying right then: because there are a lot of people out there who like good stories. Most people. All people. But we, all of us, make a lot of culture. People need trusted recommenders. We need an army of editors, we need movies, we need Oprahs. Ten thousand paragraphs handed to ten thousand strangers would end up in ten thousand garbage cans. A good story sent to the right place at the right time, on the other hand, has a chance to be a step on the road to that goal, to reaching a reader. Isn’t discovering a new writer like the courtships of the extremely shy? Agents, editors, publicists, reviewers, booksellers, they’re all yentas. A natural caution requires a slow woo pitch. These things take time.