I remain perplexed by a system that creates the conditions by which manuscripts that will go on to be lauded are first broadly rejected. While other sectors have certainly overlooked brilliant new ideas and missed opportunities for innovation, this fact isn’t usually romanticized or celebrated. In other sectors this level of oversight would be called “a system failure,” or “inefficiency,” or “failure to innovate.” And policies and practices would be put into place to try to prevent this from happening in the future.
But I don’t see those kinds of self-critiquing evaluative discussions or major efforts to dismantle such systems in the literary world. […]
One of the most curious aspects of this mode of operation is that it gives rise to a secondary narrative: that of discovery. Instead of dismantling […] barriers, literary power players emphasize how they “discovered” an author, even though that author was knocking at the door of the literary establishment the whole time, just waiting to be seen and let in.
These barriers are steep for all writers, but they are even more daunting for writers of color and other underrepresented writers who write narratives that revolve around themes of identity. Not only is it harder for writers of color to get published, but when rejecting our work, publishers tell us that what we’re writing about is too narrow and niche and won’t appeal to mainstream audiences. It’s hard not to perceive this as both a rejection of the relevance of our work as well as ourselves. And for many writers of color who face barriers in other parts of their life due to their identity, the rejection is compounded, forcing some to put down their pen and give up their voice.
Kavita Das on rejectomancy.