Dealing with Rejections
Most of my poems are at first rejected before they are accepted. Some never make it out into the world for I made a (personal and quite arbitrary) rule to stop submitting a poem after it has been dismissed 15 times (or I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t good enough.) Here is my five step program on how to creatively respond to this part of the writer’s life.
1st Step: Acknowledge Feelings
Rejections hurt. At first. It is possible to take them in stride (eventually). In the meantime, disappointment, sadness, despondency, anger, or defiance are all grist for the mill.
2nd Step: Explore Believes
Voice teacher Claude Stein claims that feelings come from thoughts—at least in the case of stage fright. Here is a small sample of believes which are challenged or denied by the rejection:
a) It’s me. I’m no good.
b) I thought that my piece was good enough for publication.
c) I loved my piece and believed that others would love it, too.
d) I thought this journal was just the right venue for it.
e) I put so much work in it and that should be rewarded with publication.
f) I am a new poet (or I don’t have an MFA) that’s why my poem got rejected.
g) It is rude to not even get a rejection notice.
3rd Step: Reality Check
Widen the rejection experience by adding facts about the publication process to each belief.
a) Judgment about a person’s character requires familiarity—which is non-existent in most submission scenarios.
b) Rejection isn’t necessarily an indicator of lacking quality. Journals often indicate in their Guide to Authors that they might get a thousand or more submissions, but publish only less than a hundred. Hence, even if every piece submitted were stellar, 900 would have to be rejected.
c) There are different styles/schools of poetry. Moreover, a book/poem lauded by one critic gets bashed by another.
d) Editors often try to create a cohesive whole from the submissions received. Pieces which don’t fit the overall design for a particular issue don’t make it.
e) Hard work means a lot has been learned in the process. Moreover, a writer’s life isn’t like elementary school where one gets credit for trying.
f) Education, an existing publication record, or even fame are no guarantee for acceptance. Sylvia Plath, May Sarton, Jane Kenyon, to name but a few, had poems rejected.
g) Many literal journals are labors of love run by volunteers. They may have only a small number (if at all) of paid staff. This means that there is neither time nor money to send out a thousand or so rejection notices.
4th Step: Constructive Response
Respond to each rejection by establishing a set of personal rules. For example:
Take control of waiting periods. Check the Guide to Authors for average response time. If this information is not given, make a rule to resubmit the poem after, for example, six months of silence.
Counter each rejection by sending out another set of poems to another journal the next day.
Be selective in your choice of contests/journals which require a reading fee. Submit only those journals which offer one or two issues in return (to learn more about the journal’s preferences) or which you would like to support for other reasons.
Network. Exchange publication histories with other poets. This gives insights into response times, editor preferences, markets, etc.
5th Step: Benefit from Rejection
Use rejection as an opportunity for re-evaluation.
Some journals offer feedback. Take it. An attentive, experienced reader is a special gift.
Revise. Time (and what has been read and written meanwhile) improves perception and sparks imagination.
If the poem has been polished to a high shine and still did not make it, change your perception/experience of its rejection by adopting the concept that either time and/or place weren’t right for its publication.
Redefine success by following Erica Jong’s advise and write only for joy.
Write something new.
Brigitte Goetze, biologist, goat farmer, writer, lives near Oregon's Coast Range. Her essays, fiction, and poems were published by Oregon Humanities Magazine, Quiet Mountain Essays, Thresholds, Calyx, Women Artist's Datebook 2011, the anthology Love Notes and others. Her most recent poems can be found in Four and Twenty, Outwardlink, and Mused. A website is forthcoming for Fall 2012.