Writing humor is hard. Just ask Dostoyevsky. Sure, he scored big with Crime and Punishment, but do you know how many copies of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gulag were sold? Fourteen, and 8 of those were to members of his extended family.
That’s why humor writers depend heavily on the constructive feedback they receive from the venues to which they submit their work. Understanding this commentary is crucial to developing one’s skills. Thus, as a public service I am sharing, with translations, the rejection messages I’ve gotten from The New Yorker over the past several months. No need to thank me. The enhanced quality of your writing will be reward enough.
Message #1: “Appreciate your thinking of us for this one, but I’m afraid we aren’t going to use it.”
Translation: “What I’m afraid of, specifically, is that if we publish it, someone will make the mistake of reading it.”
Message #2: “A fun premise, but not quite landing for me.”
Translation: “If only your pilot had been David Sedaris or Steve Martin….”
Message #3: “Thanks for the submission, but the timeliness of this topic peaked about two weeks ago.”
Translation: “Please bear in mind that I’m not saying that your submission would have been funny two weeks ago.”
Message #4: “Thanks for considering us, but I think we’ll pass on this one.”
Translation: “Maybe it’s time for you to stop considering us.”
Message #5: “What you wrote really sucks.”
Translation: “OK, let me put it another way. You might want to explore other artistic avenues
for your creative urges. Are you familiar with body painting?”
Message #6: “Please stop sending your stuff to us. Seriously. Please. Just stop.”
Translation: “Keep this up, and we’re going to hurt you. And we’re going to hurt your dog. I promise.”
Message #7: “If you think a submission composed of threatening words clipped from ads in Field & Stream and taped to a blank sheet of paper that you’ve slipped under my apartment door is funny, you couldn’t be more wrong.”
Translation: “How in the hell did this lunatic find out my home address?”
As you can see, becoming an accomplished humor writer is not something that happens in an instant, like wildly swinging a machete at a defenseless editor cowering in his bedroom at midnight. It takes time, mentorship, and more than a dollop of untreated psychosis.
You can do this.
Get back to work.