Rejections happen. The more writing you send out, the more rejections you get. I got one while I was working on this post. The wording usually follows a pattern: Thank you for letting us see your work. Unfortunately we will not be able to use it. We received hundreds of wonderful submissions and wish we had room for all of them. Sorry for this impersonal response. We wish you the best of luck.
For some reason, this makes me think of those dating breakups where the man or woman says they have to end the relationship, but “It’s not you. It’s me.” Right? You’re never sure whether it really is their problem or they’re trying to let you down easy. Either way, it’s over.
As one of the poetry editors of a new literary magazine called Timberline Review, I have been involved this month in the process of accepting and rejecting poems. It’s a discouraging process. We have only so much space, and we have two poetry editors and two managing editors who need to agree on the final selection. That means that some poems I love are not getting in and others that I was less thrilled about are getting acceptance notices today. It also means that while poets are allowed to send up to five poems—and most send five—we are probably only going to use one or two, even if the others are fantastic. We’re only using one from Oregon’s poet laureate, for Pete’s sake.
In addition, we are trying to create a good mix of styles and subjects, so if we have too many similar works, some will not get in. Ditto if it just does not fit. The process is flexible. When we thought we had our final list, a couple of us had second thoughts about some poems we wanted in and kicked out a couple of others that had been in the definite-yes group.
I’m sure the same process is happening with the prose submissions.
All this explains why a) sometimes it takes a long time to get an answer and b) good work gets rejected.
Discouraged? I don’t blame you. This whole experience has affected how I think about my own submissions. But what I’m saying is that rejection does not mean your work is bad. It could be great and still not make it. When you go shopping, don’t you pass up a lot of products because you just can’t use them right now? It’s the same with selling your writing. Most of the time, it’s not you. It’s us. Brush it off and send it out again. Rejections happen, but so do acceptances. Don’t give up. Next time they might say yes.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about how authors don’t make any money off used books. In the latest edition of Writing-world.com, Moira Allen offers another view of the subject. We authors might not get royalties, she says, but there is great value in having our books being shared and sold second-hand because it lets new readers find our work and become fans who will pay full price for the rest of our books. Click here to read her piece, “Books: Read and Delete, or Read and Share?”
Now let’s go write.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Submittable, the service many literary magazines are using to accept submissions. At that point, I only knew the view from the writer’s side. You fill in the blanks, click on “submit” and wait. Eventually you get an email saying yea or nay.
I recently joined the staff of a new literary magazine that will publish its first issue this summer. As one of the poetry editors, I now have access to the editors’ side of Submittable. Each day, I get a list of submissions that need to be read, click into my Submittable account and call them up on the screen. On the left side are the poems, usually submitted in batches of five, all in one file. On the right is a list of staffers with access to this submission and any comments that have already been made, along with how the others voted. At the top of the screen are three boxes. One shows a thumbs up, one a question mark, and one a thumbs down. Yes, maybe, no. With one click, you are rejected.
I have so many poems to read that I read them quickly, and if I don’t like the beginning I don’t read the rest. Our policy, so far, is not to rewrite anyone’s poems, so if they don’t work, they don’t work. What I’m finding so far is that many start out well but wander off toward the end. I want to lop off the last few lines, to scream, “Stop! You’ve said it. Don’t say anymore.” Some are clichéd or try too hard to be “poetic.” Some just don’t make any sense at all. Others are very good and I’m delighted to click thumbs up. To be honest, I’m clicking more “maybe’s” than anything because there’s only so much space and I don’t know what else will come in before the March 31 deadline.
Some lessons I’d like to share from the editor’s side:
- Take time to make your poem as good as it can be and make sure every line supports every other line.
- Less is more.
- Kill your clichés.
- When the guidelines call for “blind” submissions, don’t put your name on the manuscript.
- Give your submission a file name that sets it apart, such as the title of the first poem. Not “five poems” or your name.
Just as Submittable keeps a running list of your submissions and their status–declined, accepted or in progress–it keeps a running list for me of the submissions I’m assigned to read with thumbs up, thumbs down, or a question mark in the margin and blank spaces next to the ones I haven’t read yet.
It’s daunting having this kind of power over other poets. It also makes me reconsider all of my own poems, wondering whether they would get thumbs up, thumbs down or maybe.
Now let’s go write.