My poetry manuscript was rejected by one of the two presses I sent it to last month. Rejections are never pleasant: it’s sort of like being slapped. First there’s the surprise (but it’s really good! what did I do wrong?) and then the sting (they thought my work was terrible) and then, if one is a) experienced or b) lucky, one reconsiders the work: could it use further revision after such and such a time? does it need another pair (or two or three) of eyes before you send it out again? Luckily, for me, my poetry group is reconvening next week after a several-months absence.
Gotham Writers’ website offers good advice about receiving rejections. They start by reminding us that “Rejection is part of a writer’s life. Anyone who wants to make it as a writer needs to learn to face rejection bravely, gracefully, and frequently.” They add three tips for coping, the second of which I mention above:
- Laugh at your rejections.
- Learn from your rejections.
- Always have a new project underway, something that will give you hope no matter how many rejections come your way for the previous project.
And it helps to remember that we are in good company (though they don’t mention any poetry, I notice). Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time received 29 rejections before finally being accepted. Beatrix Potter received so many rejections of The Tale of Peter Rabbit that she ultimately decided to self-publish.
Rejections slips are usually pro forma. The one I just received is typical and went like this: Dear (author’s name): Thank you so much for sending us (title of work) for our consideration. After careful review, we have decided to pass. We wish you the best of luck in placing (title of work).
There are exceptions. Years ago the editor of The Missouri Review sent me a form rejection that was still so humane and generous that I had it taped over my desk until I recently gave it to a younger poet. Basically, it reminded the author that taste is subjective: that the very work he was rejecting might very well appeal to another editor; that unfortunately he had to turn down many, many excellent works per year because of lack of space. He encouraged (me) not to give up but to keep writing and to keep sending my work out. Even though it was a “form” letter, it encouraged me every time I looked at it.
But perhaps even it was not as encouraging as this (perhaps apocryphal) rejection letter quoted, again, on the Gotham Writers website:
Rejection from a Chinese economic journal:
“We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”
Another kind of encouragement has come from my friend and fellow poet, Antler, who speaks of all poets (I’m paraphrasing badly here) as bringing their unique vision, their own voice to the great circle of writers, something like we imagine story-tellers of ancient times to bring their own imaginative skills to share around a campfire.
I like the oral aspect of that vision, and, indeed, Antler has always been an excellent reader of his work. It reminds me that poets share their work orally as well as in print. Below are just a few “voices” who have brought their work to the shared circle of writers: