July 20, 2021 § 10 Comments
By Kirsten Voris
Five rejections in two months. I should be congratulating myself. It’s simple math—submitting more = more rejection.
I still find the stream of “nos” dispiriting. And draining. I was at the bottom of the drain, and calling a summer submissions break, when I attended How to Publish Your Writing in Literary Journals. The editors of Radar Poetry, Rachel Moles and Dara Shrager, appeared as part of a free monthly Zoom series on writing and publishing, offered through Authors Publish Magazine. (Which, by the way, is a great resource for fee-free submission calls.)
I was looking for surefire acceptance tips. What I heard was more math. The “pandemic effect” meant submissions to Radar Poetry’s 2020 summer contest were up by 50 percent from 2019. Increase in competition = higher bar = more rejection. I felt a touch less dejected.
Then Rachel and Dara shared the news that there are different kinds of rejection. That rejection is nuanced. Sometimes, they said, rejection is an invitation to try again, with a different piece of writing.
I’d imagined rejection emails were boilerplate assigned at random each time the editor pressed their big, red “no” button. Some are short, some have two paragraphs. Some describe the sheer volume of spectacular essays cascading through the submissions window. Some wish me luck, elsewhere. All of them amount to the same thing. Or so I thought.
Not so. Rejection, it turns out, is tiered. The difference between a standard rejection and a tiered rejection is encouragement.
A tiered rejection may not refer to the name of your piece. But if the editors have read your work with interest, enjoyed your writing, and/or encouraged you to submit again, this is good news.
Google “tiered rejection” and you’ll find increasingly granular breakdowns. Here, I offer a simple, three-tiered cake:
Top-tier rejections come with suggestions for improvement, praise of particular elements, encouragement to resubmit.
The middle tier includes the invitation to resubmit, perhaps praise for your story, and regret that it’s not the right thing for right now.
Standard rejections are a brief statement of polite regret, scrubbed free of reassurance or praise. And, like the foundational, bottom tier of the wedding cake, most of us get a slice of this.
Rejection is part of writing for publication. Sadly, my usual reaction doesn’t reflect this understanding.
I internalize rejection as an erasure—of my person, my sensibility, my ability to string words together. I cop an ungracious attitude. Get resentful and act like a baby– in front of my cat. This has nothing to do with journals or editors and everything to do with the climate of my upbringing. Thankfully, amassing rejections has made it easier for me to see this pattern. Which means I can change it—at my leisure.
Here is where I admit that I haven’t actually read my rejections. I skim. Absorb the sting and try to forget. Which cuts me off quite neatly from actionable information. What would happen if I went through my Submittable queue? Dug out the most demoralizing rejections and read them? What, I wondered, is actually in there?
The contest rejection that felt so cold? “Judges change every year, we hope you’ll consider submitting again…”
The third rejection of a piece I love? “You’re a good writer and this is a difficult task…”
Armored in a new mindset, I began to see the difference between “Unfortunately this is not a fit” and “We read your submission with great interest.” I begin warming to my oft-declined pieces, because maybe they weren’t so terrible. Maybe it is the math.
Even better, I found myself interacting with my rejections. Responding, instead of reacting. And one potential response to a tiered rejection is to resubmit.
When you resubmit, choose a new piece; then help the editors remember how much they liked you. Duplicate the language of the tiered rejection, and reference the previously submitted work in your cover letter.
For example if the rejection said, “We read your work with interest and hope you’ll consider sending us another piece,” you could write “Last year you read Y with interest and said you hoped I’d consider sending another piece.”
Some standard rejections always invite resubmission. If you’re not sure where your rejection falls, head over to Rejection Wiki, where you can search for sample rejections by journal, to determine whether yours is standard or special.
Radar Poetry’s Dara and Rachel wanted us to know that the editor who sends a tiered rejection is overwhelmed with submissions. They have day jobs, their own writing projects, small children. Despite this, they took time that they didn’t necessarily have to send you a personal message of hope. Because they think you have promise.
The fact of tiered rejection blew open my all-or-nothing thinking. Knowing the nuances is compelling me to read my email. To give up on giving up. Rejection, like everything else, is complicated. In fact, it may actually be a little cheer for you and your beautiful writing.
Kirsten Voris is an essayist and co-creator of The Trauma Sensitive Yoga Deck for Kids. She’s on draft two of her stage psychic bio and looking to connect with women writing about the history of magic and mentalism. Find her on IG @thebubbleator and Twitter @bubbleate.
March 26, 2021 § 6 Comments
By Lisa J. Wise, M.Ed.
Dear Rejection Letters,
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my submissions. Writing has recently become my deepest passion as I pour my heart and soul into every word count. When you are a polite yet brief six-word “no” – screaming auto-reply form letter – it hurts. When you are a charming, personable, upbeat “no thanks!”, you offer hope. But when you are complimentary, speaking admiringly of my voice, inviting me to submit again, taking the time to personalize your message, you lift up my soul. The subtle encouragement of your gracious “thank you, no” makes me believe in my publishing dreams coming to fruition and validates the promise of good things to come to those who wait patiently by their inboxes (maybe). That is enough to keep me writing and submitting.
I have been cautioned by the writing elders not to take any of your rejections personally. They preach that a spoonful of thick skin, strong ego and a dash of narcissism helps the dismissal go down. Acceptances are merely a matter of timing, personal taste, hitting the right tone and errant wizardry. But mining my most heartfelt memories for clutch material and using them as my creative tools makes it tough to shake off an editor’s hard pass (or seven). That does not stop me from persevering because writing for an audience is addictive. Once you have drunk from the fountain of publication and public praise, nothing can keep you from desperately returning for more. Seeing your words in print next to your own name is intoxicating.
So please be kind, dear Rejection Letters, as you pile up with greater frequency. We will be seeing more of each other as I bravely put my voice out there. My goal in 2021 is to collect 100 of you as a testament that I have taken risks, put my words in the hands of others, trusted the process, and tried my best to get published. Accumulating as many ‘no thanks’ as I can handle is my celebration of that risk. Rejection paves the only path to that one treasured, golden ‘Yes please!’ While you collect in my inbox, I humbly offer my Writer’s Invocation over your stack:
May you not diminish the fun of writing one iota.
May you never make me question my passionate dream.
May your glints of encouragement fuel my drive as I speak my truth.
May your mounting tower act as a powerful reminder of how badly I want my voice heard.
Thanks for reaching out. We noticed that you have been quite busy sending a slew of submissions and we appreciate your efforts. Sorry if our rejections are getting you down. It must be tough to keep hearing ‘no’. Your note sounds like you might be getting a tad dejected (some of us thought bitter). Kindly consider asking yourself these three questions before submitting any further:
1. Who are you writing for, really?
If it is because you need to write in the same way that you need to breathe, eat and sleep, then bravo and stick with it! If it is because you long for only that cloying ego stroke of external validation through publication, find another career. The ‘yeses’ are few, the hours are long, the pay is pitiful. Do this because your heart must be heard and your soul can do nothing else but speak. Fame is a sham.
2. What do you want to say, really?
Are you holding back? Perhaps submitting what you think we want to hear in the style you think we like to see? Are you changing your truest voice in an attempt to grab our attention? Stop doing that. Stay authentic and speak genuinely. Be clear about your own truths. Don’t alter your tone to suit anyone else’s view but your own. Trust your voice more and us a little less.
3, Why the rush, really?
You love writing. It brings you sheer joy every day. Why not bask in that and let the rest follow? Don’t chase what is not yet yours. Instead, enjoy the soothing company of your weathered journal, your favorite purple pen, your steaming mug warming that peaceful time of stillness. We see you perched contentedly at your cozy desk, scribbling away in the early morning light. Let that be enough for today. Who knows who will knock on the door at tea-time tomorrow? Leave out your grandmother’s best china cup and saucer alongside the sugar bowl and a hint of hope. Good things are coming your way (maybe). But either way, be sure to write today.
Your Rejection Letters
Lisa J. Wise lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with her husband of 30 years. The proud mom of 23-year-old fraternal twin sons, one of whom carries the diagnoses of Crouzon Syndrome and Hydrocephalous, their family has learned how to manage life with multiple complex chronic conditions. Born into a cancer-cluster family, Lisa navigated the palliative care journey with three of her immediate family members. Her experiences with illness guide her work of 22 years as a family and patient-centered healthcare specialist and as IWMF Vice Chair of Support coordinating global cancer support groups. She has a Bachelor of Education from McGill University and a Master’s in Education from Harvard University. She has been recently published in the New York Times, The Boston Globe and New York Daily News. Find more of her work at lisajwise.com.
November 30, 2020 § 12 Comments
By Michele Genest
My sister-in-law is just starting to think about submitting stories to magazines. When we were chatting about our writing the other day I told her I’d been collecting rejection letters lately, and quoted John Haggerty, founding editor of Forge Literary Magazine, who said rejection was the default state of the writer.
Barb said, “The default state! If that’s the default state, isn’t there another word we could use? Something more positive than ‘rejection’?”
I thought back to the trek around the Dhaulagiri Massif in Nepal my husband and I had undertaken a few years ago.
“How about ‘acclimatization’?”
Barb said, “Explain.”
On Day Eleven we reached Italian Camp, about 12,000 feet above sea level, and were five days away from climbing to French Pass; at 17,500 feet, our highest pass. At breakfast on Day Twelve, Scott, an informal leader in our small group, announced that in consultation with our guides, he was renaming our “rest” days. We would now be calling them “acclimatization” days.
“In other words,” he said, “We will not rest today. Today we will hike up to 13,000 feet, to acclimatize for tomorrow, when we will reach nearly 14,000 feet.” So we abandoned our plans for washing socks, reading, snoozing in the sun and drinking tea, and set off on our acclimatization climb.
For the first time on this trek, air was hard to get. Inhales were frequent and deep, exhales hurried, to get to the next inhale. Scott said it might be a good idea to push it, go a little faster, expand our lungs. And so we pushed it, moved a little faster, breathed a little harder. And it felt like pushing, pushing, against a block of resistance with our chests.
We reached a stony plateau, the end of our hike, and stretched out on the ground. Our guide Devi attached bright new prayer flags to a faded, tattered sling of flags strung between two ancient cairns. Choughs flew at eye level up the valley, across the flanks of Dhaulagiri peaks One, Two and Three, their black backs shining in the sun.
In a small hollow we found wild rosehips, as big as apples.
We rested for a while in the thin, clear air, and turned to go back down.
The next day we climbed to 14,000 feet, one foot after another, breathing carefully, and reached Japanese camp in good time and in good shape.
When I finished the story, Barb said, “Yes!
We decided: we would rename “rejection” letters. They would now become “acclimatization” letters—not a rejection, just a moment to pause, do some squats, hoist our knapsacks onto our backs, get back on the path, expand our lungs, and climb to the next height.
There, we will hang prayer flags.
We will watch choughs fly at eye level, shining in the sun.
We will find rosehips, as big as apples.
Michele Genest lives and writes in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Her work has been published in Geist Magazine and national newspapers. She is co-editor of two anthologies of Yukon writing, Urban Coyote and Urban Coyote New Territory. She is currently writing a memoir set on a Greek island and in Toronto in the 1980s. Find Michele at borealgourmet.com.
July 2, 2020 § 27 Comments
By Erica Goss
My favorite rejections start with “Dear Erica” and end with “sincerely.”
They explain that regretfully, unfortunately, after close review, even though it was lovely, even though it sparked interest, even though they were impressed, even though they enjoyed reading it, even though there was much to admire, even though it stood out from the rest, even though they appreciated the opportunity to read it, my work does not fit their needs.
They often seem disappointed. After all, they read my work with care, with pleasure, with interest, with gratitude, and with the closest attention. I almost feel sorry for them. I certainly feel sorry for myself.
Once in a while, the rejection comes with the explanation that they received so much high quality work it made their selection process extremely difficult. This is hard. I understand. I assume, of course, that my submission was part of the high quality work they refer to.
There is often a fee for rejection. This is also called a reading fee.
After I receive my rejection I’m frequently asked to buy something else. I’m invited to make a donation, buy a subscription, enter a contest, contribute to a tip jar, and recommend that others do as well.
Of course, due to the volume of submissions, they cannot respond personally.
It makes me happy when I’m asked to submit again, even if it requires another reading fee.
I keep track of my rejections. No rejection is ever forgotten. It lives forever as an entry in my spreadsheet.
I don’t like to see the word “rejected” in my spreadsheet. I prefer “declined.” It’s easier to see “declined” over and over, page after page, year after year.
I look back at my spreadsheet. I calculate my acceptance rate. From my figures, it seems I have mastered this rejection thing.
When I’m bored, I’ll see if the rejection email from a particular journal has changed. Some journals have sent me the same rejection email, word for word, for years.
There’s a thing called a “tiered” rejection. From a menu of rejection emails, the journal chooses one based on how much they liked your submission. From the rejection emails I have received, I can see that I’ve gotten rejections that range from terse to encouraging and back to terse again, from the same journals. This is true of journals that have accepted my work, as well as the ones that have rejected me over and over.
I try not to send my work to a journal that stipulates, in words similar to these, “If we haven’t responded in x number of months, consider yourself unchosen.” I want an actual, emailed rejection to seal the deal.
However, for reasons that aren’t always clear, those rejections might not come. Fairly often, the journal goes under and fails to inform the writers. When that happens, it’s hard to know what to put in my spreadsheet. “Never heard back?” “Ghosted?” “Crickets?”
I’m never sure if I should consider my work rejected if I haven’t heard back in a year. You’d be surprised how often a year goes by before you hear from a journal.
Sometimes, like curses or wise men, rejections come in threes, on the same day, in the same hour. Sometimes, this is how the day starts.
Rejections have a special look to them. The subject line almost always starts with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”
I’m an editor as well as a submitter, and much of the above applies to me when I receive submissions of other people’s writing. If I have to decline a submission, I try to inform the writer as soon as possible, and in as kind a tone as possible. If I liked their work, I invite them to submit again.
Every time I send a rejection, I remember how it feels to get those emails that start with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”
My rejection might be that writer’s third in one day.
Some days are like that.
Erica Goss is a poet and freelance writer. She served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA from 2013-2016. Her essays, reviews and poems appear widely, including in Lake Effect, Atticus Review, Contrary, Convergence, Spillway, Cider Press Review, Eclectica, The Tishman Review, Tinderbox, The Red Wheelbarrow, and Main Street Rag, among others. She is the founder of Girls’ Voices Matter, an arts education program for teen girls.
March 10, 2009 § 2 Comments
Well, it isn’t easy, and we don’t enjoy it, this turning people down. There is no joy in saying “no.”
So to all of the writers who we have had to say “no thank you” to lately, our regrets.