Dear Writer

By Melissa Febos


Dear Writer,

We are sorry, but your work does not suit our editorial needs at this time. We sincerely enjoyed reading your proposal—yours is a compelling story, and just exquisitely written!—but the subject matter simply does not accord with our identity. We do not have the resources to figure out how to market a dominatrix memoir that falls above a 5th grade reading level. Perhaps ironically, we also suspect that this story has already been written.

Writer, we thank you for sending us this essay. You are a master of the finely wrought description, but have you ever heard of a plot? Perhaps we referred to it in our last letter as a “thru-line”? In any event, your story conspicuously lacks one. As a consolation gift, we will send you our next four issues, so that you can admire the prowess of our accepted writers’ thru-lines. Happy reading!

Writer, we regret to inform you that your writing suffers from a disconcerting superfluity of intimacy. In the parlance of our times, TMI, writer! Too Much Information. Our readers do not want read about your bodily excretions. They do not want the unsavory details of your most private humiliations. Readers want to feel like they are reading secrets, but they do not actually want to read about your secrets, writer.

Writer, we have done our best to remain polite, but you aren’t you listening. Perhaps our letters are too small. Please consider how many trees we are saving by rejecting your work on a less than a Post-it! Writer, we are trying. Can’t you try harder to assume a more familiar shape? You are making our heads hurt with all this brainy, dirty material. Sex should be sexy. Sex should be serious and sexy, or serious and not sexy at all, that is, serious and sad, and possibly so tragic that you never want to have sex again. Sex can also be funny, but it should only be funny and easy, and it can never be funny and gross and sad and smart. You should know this. You are a writer. Stop trying so hard to be honest. Nobody wants sex to be honest. You are making them uncomfortable. You are making our inboxes more crowded. You do not smell like money. You are making us lose our hard-ons.

Writer, we thank you for your submission. And your self-addressed, stamped envelope. Please rest assured that it’s not you, it’s us.


The Editors

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MELISSA FEBOS is the author of the memoir, WHIP SMART (St. Martin’s Press, 2010). Her writing has been published in Hunger Mountain, Salon, Dissent, Glamour, The Southeast Review, ReDivider, Storyscape Journal, The New York Times, Bitch Magazine, and The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, among other places, and she has been profiled in venues ranging from the cover of the New York Post to NPR’s Fresh Air. A 2010 & 2011 MacDowell Colony fellow, she has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, The New School, and NYU, and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence. Currently Assistant Professor of English at Utica College, Melissa splits her time between Brooklyn and Clinton, NY. She is currently at work on a novel. More info at melissafebos.com.

13 responses to “Dear Writer”

  1. matthue says:

    This is totally a form letter. They sent me the same one.

  2. dwoz says:

    You do SO smell like money.

    I could smell it every time I walked in to Twelve Pine, or Aqua Bistro.

  3. Sue Katz says:

    The very fact that they bother to write at all means that you’re doing a lot better than many of us. Unfortunately, that and $3.50 will get you a cuppa coffee.

  4. J.M. Blaine says:

    Sex is so unsexy!
    Shhh, mankind will end
    if anyone ever finds out.

    Was talking to a Bible-Belt
    sex therapist the other day.
    My brain is still spinning.
    I should write a post about

  5. Gloria says:

    Nobody wants sex to be honest. You are making them uncomfortable. If I had a nickel for every time…

    This is hilarious. I’m hoping (against hope) that all of the words are the work of your brilliance and not real words from a stranger you ever had to read.

  6. Joe Daly says:

    Are you effing kidding me? As I begin my proposal-writing process, I am horrified to read how personal these letters were. Is this normal? If so, I’m going to need to start steeling myself before sending off my packages.

    Thanks for sharing these- funny in a “Jesus Fucking Christ, That Fucking Hurt” kind of way.

    Rock on, Febos.

  7. Matt says:

    “We do not have the resources to figure out how to market a dominatrix memoir that falls above a 5th grade reading level.”

    WTF?! Is the market glutted with one written below the 5th-grade reading level?!

  8. Marni Grossman says:

    Melissa: as a reader, I can say with some authority that I absolutely want to read one of your plotless, oversharing, exquisitely-written essays. Any time.

  9. I loved this, especially the sex paragraph. Sad but true.

  10. Judy Prince says:

    Excellent criticism, Melissa, of book-approving folks who take the ignorant and easy ways out of approving sexual honesty as given by a brilliant woman.

    USAmericans are often thought “Puritanical”—-a reasonable reaction to this huge culture of folks dipped in the binary view of sex (“normal” and “exploitative”) from their personal experiences with family, friends, church, schools, universities and mass marketing media.

    Continue your clear view, your strong commitment to the truths you see and the ways you describe their unfoldings. You have much to reveal to us, much to hold up to us for serious—-as well as healthy and joyful—-discoveries about this continuously essential, fundamental, dynamic power in all of our lives.

    Help us grow understandings beyond our stunted views on sexuality. It is a worldwide issue and at the heart of all politics, religions, educations and relationships.

  11. Simon Smithson says:

    “Perhaps ironically, we also suspect that this story has already been written. ”

    Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

  12. Joanq says:

    My favorite agent rejection was this one: “Although we found your material to be compelling and well-written, your novel is set in 19th-century England, which is unfamiliar to most American readers, and American readers don’t read about things that are unfamiliar.”

    It’s a fair cop.

  13. Becky Palapala says:

    The rejection + subscription invitation.

    Good grief. Who the hell thought of that?

    One of the most curious practices I’ve ever heard of.

    Thanks for taking this opportunity, random literary magazine, to poke me in the eye and humbly ask for my patronage at the EXACT SAME TIME.

    What? Really????

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