“Thanks for sharing this—it’s perfect in spirit for this project, but we received over 200 poems every week, over 100 about the Baltimore riots and maybe 50 about the earthquake—and I can only pick one.” -A rejection from a Rattle Poetry in the News submission “…we are currently reading over 400 poems a week…. We accept less than 2% of all submissions.” -Tar River Poetry The reality of submitting is that there are a lot of people doing it, and editors only have so much room in their magazines. This isn’t to discourage you, but to remind you of what you’re going against. All of us are inevitably going to face rejection in the writing world, and if we’re equipped to hit it head-on, we won’t be beaten down when we get that first “thanks but no thanks” letter. Magazines typically accept less than 1% of the submissions they receive. If I take a look at my Submittable page, I see that my rate of acceptance vs rejections is 56/497 (since 2011). So my acceptance rate is about 11%. This varies for everyone, but I think it’s good to figure out your acceptance rate so that when you submit, you have realistic expectations on how many of your pieces will actually be accepted. I find that it motivates me to submit more—for about every 10 pieces I send in, one’s probably going to be accepted. Editors are looking at thousands of submissions and can’t always give feedback or respond personally to submissions. You’ll often see editors acknowledge this in a rejection letter. But if you volunteer to work on a litmag, you’ll quickly come to understand their perspective. When reading so many submissions, there are certain patterns that begin to appear. After seeing the same pattern enough times—even if it’s a careless error, or not even an error at all—it’s very easy for an editor to stop reading that submission and move on to the next one. Therefore, to understand these patterns can help improve the likelihood of your work not being rejected. Why Was My Work Rejected?
- You didn’t follow the guidelines (arguably the most common reason for rejection): With so many submissions received that do follow the guidelines, editors don’t have time to look at ones that don’t. It’s a quick turn-off to them if someone didn’t take the time to make sure the submission followed the rules, and it definitely makes them skeptical that the work will be a good fit for their magazine.
- It’s just not a good fit for this magazine: The work’s good but it’s not in line with the editors’ or the magazine’s values. Reading the magazine and reading the editor’s work can help prevent encountering this one. If you read the other work and don’t get it, or find it not in line with your aesthetic values, don’t submit! Don’t waste your time, don’t waste theirs. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
- Wrong timing (also very common): Sometimes editors love a piece, but either they don’t have room for it (they loved other pieces more) or it doesn’t fit into the theme of the other pieces they’ve already accepted. It might also be that they’ve already accepted a piece similar to yours (e.g., “We already have a lot of poems on lighthouses”). This is one situation that you can’t really prepare for. The take-away lesson I get from it is that you should always be striving for unique work. That way, they can’t say they already have a piece like that. But even if you get this rejection, don’t be discouraged. It means you’ve found an editor who values your work, so resubmit next time!
- We’ve already accepted a poem from you: Some magazines only accept one piece per author per issue. So if that’s the case, congrats for your acceptance!
- You’re on the “black list”. Most editors have a “black list” of submitters who have either 1) not followed the rules, 2) been rude in their interactions with an editor 3) not informed them of a simultaneous submission that was already accepted elsewhere 4) some other “unforgiveable crime”. I don’t say this to scare you, but to give two important lessons:
- ALWAYS follow the guidelines and be polite with editors. They’re people too! And you never know when you two will cross paths again, so don’t be unprofessional.
- If you did something careless a long time ago and are blacklisted, don’t fret it. Take it as a learning experience, and act more professionally in the future. There are plenty of other litmags; don’t let one bog you down.
It’s very important to read your rejection letter carefully before throwing it out! We have a tendency to feel that because our work’s not being accepted at this time that there’s nothing valuable in the rejection letter. But think of your first submission as a first date. The rejection letter isn’t necessarily a no to a second date. In fact, many editors use the rejection letter as a place to say, “This piece didn’t fit, but please submit again in the future!” You don’t want to overlook that invitation in a moment of despair! So here are some things to look for when you receive your rejection letter:
- Is there a hand written note? This is really for paper submissions, but sometimes an editor will write on the corner of a form rejection: “I really liked X poem”. It’s not much, but it’s a sign that your work was noticed and that this might be a good home for future work.
- Is there a specific reference to a submitted piece? If your piece is mentioned by name, that can be a good sign.
- Are they asking for a resubmission with changes? Some writers are discouraged by this, either not wanting to change their original work or perhaps questioning their own work. Try to not let this discourage you! This means the editors feel your work is so noteworthy that they’re willing to take the time to help make it a good fit for their magazine! Take a look at the changes—often they’re very minor changes. Try to keep an open mind looking at the changes. But if you feel the changes truly change the intent of the piece, or aren’t comfortable with them, politely tell the editor. If they took the time to offer some revisions, they’re probably open to hearing what you have to say.
- “We have to turn down many great submissions” vs “Thanks for thinking of us…find a home elsewhere?” If a magazine specifically mentions “elsewhere”, they probably don’t feel like you two are a good match. It probably means your aesthetics are different, and that you should focus your efforts on other magazines. However, if a magazine encourages you to resubmit work in the future, or apologizes for having to turn down “so many great submissions”, it’s probably worth submitting again. They don’t have to tell you to submit again, so if they say it, they mean it.
Remember that a rejection letter says NOTHING about your value or quality as a writer. It’s merely a statement on whether your work is compatible with this magazine. Also remember that editors are people too—busy people with certain subjective aesthetic tastes. Always be polite and respectful in your interactions with an editor. Do not reply to the rejection unless they invite a resubmission, or if they have a note that they’re happy to provide feedback on why your work wasn’t accepted (rare). Definitely do not argue with them about their decision! You don’t want to burn literary bridges. Reading A Series of Rejection Letters Also check out this great video by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz on rejection:
Homework For homework we’ll be looking at some sample rejection letters that I’ve received. Ask yourself what the letter is really trying to say. You’ll notice that in some, the editor reaches out to create a relationship. They may describe specific things in the pieces that they liked, or that they see could use improvement. Other editors may feel that the work is so far apart from their values that they’ll tell you to “read an issue” of the magazine. Others may use it as an opportunity to plug a sales pitch for you to buy an issue. Read these letters carefully and try to determine if it’s worth resubmitting to this magazine again, and why/why not. After doing this exercise, if you already have some rejection letters, try this same exercise on those. Make a list of which magazines might be worth resubmitting to. Discussion This is our last class! It’s been such a great time getting to know each and every one of you and your work. I hope that this class has been helpful in demystifying some of the publishing world, and has encouraged you to send your work out. I’d love you to use this space to reflect on your own journey thus far into the publishing world, as well as to project your future “game-plan” for how to pursue your publishing goals. In your game-plan, feel free to consider your three-tiered goals from two lessons ago, how you can get connected in your local writing community, why certain literary magazines might be good steps, and other ways to be involved as a writer (becoming a reader for a literary magazine, writing reviews, volunteering at a conference). These are all ideas—use this space to process and reflect in whatever way is most satisfying for you. Optional: Because this is our last lesson, I’d like to give you the opportunity to either 1) resubmit an edited version of last week’s submission to a litmag or 2) provide a new submission to a different litmag. This will follow the same rules as last week’s assignment. End of Course Questionnaire Please complete the End of Course Questionnaire. We will use this information to understand what is working for you in the course; what can be improved; know what courses to add to our schedule; and understand how you came to find us. Thank you for sharing your words and talents with us this month. We hope you’ll join us again. Make sure to check out the upcoming course listings and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be happy to make recommendations. Free Alumni Promotions As an Eckleburg Workshops Alumni, you now have free access to our listservs in quick and easy to complete forms with automatic distribution to students, alumni and faculty of The Eckleburg Workshops, readers at The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Eckleburg Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Tumblr followers. See below:
- The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Spotlight: In this spotlight you will not only speak about your workshop inspiration, but also about what the writing process means to you and your work. You will also let Eckleburg readers know about your current writing projects and focuses.
- Tell Us About Your Eckleburg Works! This distribution is for works you wrote and/or critiqued here at The Eckleburg Workshops, either in part or whole.
- Alumni Publications Shout Out! This distribution is for an alumni works published, whether they were workshopped at Eckleburg or not.
- Recommended Reading: What veteran writers know, and new writers sometimes do not, is that the literary community and markets are not only about talent and craft but also about the karma. The generosity you show other talented writers who have inspired you will come back to you. Start the good karma on your upcoming publication by sharing with us a work that grips you. This distribution is to spread the word about works you are currently reading and feel others should be too. This can be a book, a short story, a poem, etc.
Meg Eden’s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Eleven Eleven, and Rock & Sling. Her work received second place in the 2014 Ian MacMillan Fiction contest. Her collections include Your Son (The Florence Kahn Memorial Award), Rotary Phones and Facebook (Dancing Girl Press) and The Girl Who Came Back (Red Bird Chapbooks). She teaches at the University of Maryland. Check out her work at megedenbooks.com.