Although I don’t discuss it often, I get a rhino's share of rejections. It’s more fun to talk about acceptances, after all!
Things aren’t typically rosy. For example, I recently received a rejection after many months on an essay that was solicited from me by a top quality journal. When you get a request for a piece, and they still reject you, it’s doubly hard.
Another rejection this week was from a friendly sounding editor who I’ve submitted to perhaps six times. He’s published a lot of poets whose work I respect. In an affable way, he gives me brief apologies, once calling me “Mike,” another time “Jim,” even though neither one is my name.
Near the top of painful rejections is that ubiquitous quick sting: the terse form letter. This is especially ouch-ful when I take the time to comment positively on the work of the journal, singling out a couple of poems for specific comments. On top of that, I carefully select poems to fit the style of the editor, which can take days.
This kind of rejection happens to me all the time. One I received just today ran as follows:
Dear [Owl Who Laughs],
Thank you for submitting poems to [our Review]. We will not be accepting your poems for publication. Best of luck with your writing.
The above represents the most painful boilerplate of all. It is not even accompanied by the “please try us again” line." You're basically persona non grata.
Perversely, it's also the most common form of rejection, as well as being one of the sharpest needles.
Another kind of rejection is the almost-but-not-quite sympathy note. These editors are either extremely kind or subtly sadistic (I’m pretty sure it is kindness 90% of the time).
My nemesis in this category is The Pedestal Magazine. I’ve submitted to them over ten times, usually getting the form response that includes “try us again.” However, once I was told I was in the top 2%, but they were only taking the top 1%, so ... too bad. Another time I was told my poem would have been accepted, but ... Ah, this is so classic I just have to dredge it up from my records:
Dear [Owl Who Laughs],
Thanks so much for sending your poems to The Pedestal Magazine.
I enjoyed reading your poems, but in the end have decided to pass on
this batch. My favorite, "Autumn Ends", which has some fantastic
imagery and sharp language, made it into the final rounds of
consideration, but in the end just didn't seem to fit with the way
the issue has taken shape.
Really sorry to disappoint again. Do keep trying us!!
So, I keep trying. However, it has been nothing but form letters for a while now. By the way, the poem mentioned above, “Autumn Ends” has never been able to find a home despite many attempts.
Finally, there’s the rejection that never comes. I’ve given up pestering editors who do this, because, well, I don’t like pestering people who are going to tell me what I already know.
Alternately, if they lost the submission, do I really want to deal with them for another few months?
(Caveat: some editors warn you in advance that they only notify in the case of acceptance. I'm not talking about those efficient and wise folks.)
I have many other stories about rejections. I get new ones all the time, and will happily vent more anguish and angst here.
As a final note, I’ve had a lot of acceptances in March, April and so far in May too; but this means my cache of good poems is depleted. Meanwhile, I am going to get hit with a wave of failures soon, because over the past 8 weeks I've sent out batches to what I call the “blue chip” journals--venues like the Poetry Foundation, Black Warrior Review, Indiana Review, and so on--that never accept my work and seem to telepathically communicate with each other and scheme to strike at once.
It’s a roller coaster ride, for sure!