Battling the Rejection Blues

Anyone who has sent anything out into the publishing world has experienced rejection. I’ve had more several poems and poetry manuscripts rejected since I started sending my work out in 2009. I mean seriously, lots and LOTS of rejections. It’s hard not to take some of them personally or to think that your writing is bad.

I’ve written poems that I love and I’ve written poems that I’m really not fond of (my problem children). When I write poems and revise/edit/redraft them, they sometimes turn out great but other times I end up hitting your head against my desk repeatedly and crying out to the morbidly gloomy sky for a solution to the poem that is just not working.

So, when I get a group of poems ready to send to a magazine for publication consideration, I gather poems that I think editors of that specific magazine will like and some that exhibit my writing style and personality. I use my problem children poems as submission fillers when I don’t have enough “good” poems to meet the minimum submission requirements.

Another important thing to remember when you send your submission out for review is that what you think is bad someone else might think is good. Weird? Yes. I’ve sent out poems that I was SURE would never get accepted in one of my I’m-too-tired-to-care/screw-everything-I’m-going-to-do-it moments and I’ve been shocked by their acceptance notices.

From my experience, you can receive rejection notices for one or more of the following reasons:

1) The editors were not into your work. Again, this does not mean your work is bad, it just means the editor wasn’t on your wavelength. This is probably the most painful reason for getting a rejection and it’s really hard for me, personally, to bounce back from a rejection like this but you always have to remember that there are more fish in the sea, there are more literary magazines out there on the lovely, lovely internet to send your work out to. There are editors who will absolutely love your poetry, you just need to keep sending your writing out and find them.

2) Your submission doesn’t match the magazine’s theme. This is really tricky because while you might think your poem has that special something the editors are looking for, they might not share your perspective. Again, it’s really hard for me to not take rejections like this personally, I get the urge to argue, to prove that my poem about nature does indeed match the nature theme the magazine wants, but really, all that would do is create bad blood between myself and the editor and more than likely cut off a valuable resource in the future. Sometimes you just have to take those punches and say, “Thank you for your time, I’m going to send this poem somewhere else now.”

3) Sometimes editors get so many poems that they don’t have room to publish your work even though they might want to. I sent a chapbook manuscript to an editor who had published a few of my poems in the past. The manuscript got rejected. I thought that my manuscript wasn’t good enough so I took it apart, revised the poems, and sent them off individually for publication elsewhere. Then, a year later, the editor contacted me and asked if the manuscript was still available. What happened was the publishing house did not need my manuscript because they already had others they wanted to publish but they kept my manuscript around and when they had a space that needed filling later down the line, they contacted me. See how the sadness of a rejection turned into the happiness of an acceptance? These things really happen.

Note: these are the most common rejection reasons that I’ve experienced. I haven’t been in an editorial position for a long time and I can’t say that I know the deepest recesses of an editor’s mind and that I know the motivation behind all the rejections. I wish I did.

If you get a rejection do NOT argue with the editor. Mainly because if you send the editor an email containing “HOW DARE YOU…” the editor probably won’t read it. But also, it’s just rude. Unless you know the editor personally, the editor doesn’t know you enough to make the rejection something personal. Even though rejections can hurt a lot, the editor isn’t rejecting your poetry to hurt you. Editors don’t know you enough to want to hurt you (unless you know the editor personally and you have irrefutable, concrete evidence that they are trying to hurt you, in which case, send your work to someone who cares and kick their butts to the curb).

More tips for navigating the online literary magazine scene:

1) If you have a blog like I do, you probably post your poetry/flash fiction/whatever conglomeration of words you identify with genre wise. Look for magazines that let you keep your content on your blog. Some magazines consider posts to your personal blog or blog posts for writing community challenges/prompts as “official” publications and are not too keen on the idea of publishing work that their potential readers can find somewhere other than their site. So when you’re looking through a magazine’s guidelines and you want to send them work that’s already up on your Facebook/Livejournal/Wordpress/Blogspot/Twitter/Instagram, make sure that they specify that they accept work already up on social media. If they don’t, you can either find somewhere else to send your work or you can temporarily take it down and put it back up again if you get that rejection.

2) It’s always a good idea to send the maximum amount of poems that the submission guidelines ask for. If a magazine wants 3 to 5 poems, send 5. Give your potential editors a variety of poems to choose from and show them a broader picture of your writing style.


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Week 3’s theme is Glitches. The deadline is July 25, 11:45 p.m. EDT. Only 1 entry per person this week so use your 350 words wisely!



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5 Responses to Battling the Rejection Blues

  1. I can’t imagine anyone arguing with an editor over a rejection, but I recently read one lit journal editor’s article stating that such a thing does happen! I find that shocking. I was once asked by an editor to revise a line in a poem that she intended to publish … I struggled over the decision for a week. In the end, I did it, and it was my first publication. But years later I still regret that. I’m the sort that won’t send out a piece of writing that I dislike — I may love some more than others, but never considered sending out anything that I didn’t love at least a little (and by love, I mean that I’m proud of the work produced). Thank you for this post! It’s very possible that writers new to submitting their work will find great help in understanding that an editor’s decision to reject is not a personal slander against the poet. Keep on keepin’ on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • skyllairae says:

      Thanks for reading 🙂 I find that I’m happy with any edits that the editor wants if they explain their motivation for the change, usually editors tell me why they want something different and it becomes a fun kind of collaboration. Of course, I always keep an original copy so I can go back to my old words if I need to.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. robert okaji says:

    What I never know is whether editors are just letting me down nicely, or really mean it when they write complimentary rejections. I recently received a chapbook rejection that would have been a great review, except for the, uh, rejection part of it. Such is the writing life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • skyllairae says:

      I know! I get really uneasy when I get one of those possibly “form” rejections that say something like: we really loved this but it just wasn’t what we’re looking for. It makes me wonder too. Thanks for reading 🙂


  3. Pingback: Weekend Wrap-Up | Brigit's Flame Writing Community

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