Every writer sometimes gets their work back after sending it in to magazines. The more you write, the longer you’ve been writing for, the more often this happens. I’ve had my share over the years, but today, getting the second batch of poems back in two days (different poems, different magazines) has made me think about the issue.

The reasons for sending back vary:

  1. your work is not appropriate for that magazine
  2. the next issue is already full, and the slush pile is overflowing
  3. your work is about Christmas and the next issue is a summer one
  4. your work doesn’t fit with the themes selected for future issues
  5. the editor doesn’t like your work
  6. the editor likes it, but not enough to publish – there are better ones already accepted

These reasons are all perfectly understandable, and so the word ‘rejection’ isn’t really the right one (I don’t have an alternative though). I hope 1, 3 and 5 don’t apply here, and I suspect the reason these poems have come winging back to me is related to number 6. One editor has helpfully told me that two poems were contenders, but didn’t quite make it.

What do I do about it though? Well, my usual reaction is first to look at the poems again, to see if they can be improved or corrected. That’s a positive step. Then, after a pause for editing and reflection, I’ll dig out my ‘Submissions’ table, which has columns for Poem, Submitted To, Rejected By, and Try Next. I’m organised this way because I think I have to be. I usually send out thirty or so poems in a year, and I have to make sure I don’t send the same poem to a magazine twice, or send the same poems to several magazines at the same time. I look at the poems again, to see if they match the style and content of the ‘Try Next’ magazines, and then I send them out again.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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13 Responses to ‘Rejections’

  1. BarbaraS says:

    Actually this comment: ‘The more you write, the longer you’ve been writing for, the more often this happens’ gives me good comfort to hear. I go through spurts of sending – sort of can’t do sending when I’m working, so it’s good to know that it’s not just me. ‘Rejection’ is a hateful word, we should come up with a better one. When you look at the synonyms for rejection, you get ‘denial, which also has negative connotations, as do ‘refusal,’ ‘denunciation,’ ‘denial,’ ‘rebuff,’ ‘refutation,’ and ‘dismissal.’ It certainly gets you thinking…

  2. apprentice says:

    I’m reading a biography of Plath just now – that’s what she did, she just rolled up her sleeves and sent them out to the next lot on the list – she even managed Hughes early submissions. Funny how she wrestled all those demons and yet had to confidence to believe in the merit of her work.I’m sure your will find a home, you’re writing some good stuff at the moment.And you have to submit to get rejected. Half the time I can’t even cross that threshold.

  3. Rachel Fox says:

    You’re right Colin it’s not ‘rejection’…it’s a ‘mistake’ (on their part, obviously). Well, that’s how I always see it…p.s. I am joking…a bit anyway. I am not as into the whole poetry magazine thing as some people (ghetto? did someone say ghetto?)…lots of reasons…too many to list here…another time!

  4. Colin Will says:

    Thanks all. Rachel and I have been exchanging messages about magazine publication, and it had me checking up on how many I’ve had first published in mags and anthologies, as distinct from collections. Just over half is the answer, so I’ll keep on sending out. One acceptance makes up for the ones not accepted (still haven’t found the best word).Colin

  5. Rachel Fox says:

    How about ‘postponed’?And I wasn’t suggesting for a second that anyone else should not send to magazines (for a start I do still send some out myself, now and again). I was just saying that I have been using my energies in other ways! Plus there are only so many fights a girl can get into with editors…life’s too short and too full…x

  6. Rob says:

    I used to send work out fairly regularly, but I’ve changed my system. I now send out poems to a few magazines (how many depends on how many poems I have that seem good enough) all at the same time. I won’t send anything else out for at least 3 or 4 months, possibly more. Doing it this way means I only send my best stuff out. I doubt it will mean more publication than before, but there’s less chance of me wishing I hadn’t submitted some of my published material.Rejection slips are part of the system. I don’t suppose any poet likes getting them. But to add to your list, Colin, a rejection could mean that the poems aren’t any good and the editor is doing the poet a favour by refusing to publish them!

  7. Colin Will says:

    I used to have an annual ‘Big Send Out’ when I’d send to half a dozen mags all at once. The variation in response times from editors (2 weeks for Smiths Knoll, 8 months for The Rialto) meant that I could then spread out the work of revising poems and sending them to others. I still only send out once a year to each magazine, so the editors don’t get bored seeing my name too often. And to answer your last point Rob, I think the risk of having unsatisfactory poems published in a mag is less than in a collection.

  8. Rob says:

    I suppose it would balance things out more if editors rejected the bad stuff but always took the stuff that was really good.Several of my very best poems have – as yet – never been published.8 weeks for the Rialto? More like 8 months these days!

  9. Rob says:

    I see you said 8 months in any case… My eyes must be reading slant.

  10. Rachel Fox says:

    You seem to think an awful lot about the good/bad question, Rob! (And I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing…). However, it might be that sometimes the editors in question have different ideas about what makes a poem ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (as well as other factors…whether the particular poem fits in with the issue they have in mind etc.). I’m not sure we are always the best placed to judge whether our own work is ‘good’ or not (and there are so many different types of good!). We have our thoughts on the subject, of course, but it doesn’t mean we are right in any kind of absolute judgement kind of a way. Every now and again being wrong is actually a really amazing feeling (especially if it turns out a poem we didn’t rate so highly as somehow better than we realised!). The release! The freedom! The main reason I participate less in this part of the poetry system is that I’ve had some pretty stupid rejection comments. Some of them have shown (what seems to ME like) a complete lack of basic understanding about…well, anything! I appreciate some of the editors have a lot to read through and, like competition judges, their heads must just be whirling with words. It must get a bit like a traffic jam and they just have to clear some space, I suppose. For me that renders the whole thing kind of pointless though. It all gets a bit sausage factory…except that’s such an unpleasant image and not one to finish a comment on. Too late.

  11. Colin Will says:

    Rachel, you were pretty lucky (if that’s the word) to get <>any<> comments from editors. The normal response is the bland, preprinted slip which doesn’t tell you anything. There are a couple of editors (no names, no pack drill) who have given me ridiculous comments which I didn’t believe for a minute. I don’t go there any more.

  12. Rachel Fox says:

    I think sometimes they can’t believe I have had the nerve to send them, say, a poem that rhymes so they then can’t resist the urge to tell me what a fool I am! Don’t I know anything! (No obvious answers please!)x

  13. Claire Askew says:

    Rachel, I agree wholeheartedly. There needs to be whole lot less of this ‘that poet is “bad”‘ stuff. As you say, “good” and “bad” is often a matter of personal taste, and anyone who rejects a submission on that basis alone is a bad editor, plain and simple.Colin – thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of ‘rejection’ (yes, awful word) as I’m writing a couple of things about it for my own forthcoming blog. I agree; we need some kind of new term for it.

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