On the Art of Rejection


We all know that submitting to literary journals is a part of being a writer. Acceptance & publication are the end goals, but what happens when you don’t get accepted? How do you handle rejection?


There are posts & posts & posts on this subject, but I think that’s because it’s important for a writer to know how to handle a rejection. While it’s great to receive an acceptance, it’s much easier to say thank you & ride the giddy current of happy feelings than it is to sit down, check your e-mail, and come to terms with the form rejection that most journals & presses will send you.

The truth of the matter? Writers get rejected many more times than they get published. But that’s okay!  Rejection is not a message from God himself telling you to stop writing. Rejection is the first step in finding the perfect home for your piece. In a wonderful article on The Review Review, author Tara Masih writes, “If you don’t lose your enthusiasm for the joy of creating and sending your work out into the world, you will become a published survivor. Promise.” In her article, Masih speaks about surviving those form rejections & working past them to find that place where your work belongs. I definitely agree with her.

My first poetry professor told me that a poem is never really done. I think the same holds true for all types of writing, especially when you’re starting the submission process. Rejection can be scary! But as a writer, you can’t let it scare you into not submitting to other journals out there. In another article from The Review Review, author Chelsea Clammer writes, “…if your writing isn’t right for us at this time, it doesn’t mean we think you in any way suck. You, my dear, are awesome. We’re cheering you on. Keep going.” She continues on to encourage writers to keep editing & submitting work, and she’s right! Without contributors, your favorite literary journals wouldn’t exist. Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you from writing. Instead, let it be the inspiration to make your writing better & find the perfect fit.

As a writer, I often imagined the rejection process as some grand crushing of dreams. Allison K. Williams describes it pretty much the way I always imagined in a post on BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog: “Sometimes in my nightmare there’s a dart board, on which the choicest bits of literary failure are impaled, a group of hipsters mocking each submission as they keep score.” It can definitely feel that way in a writer’s shoes. But it’s a strange & thrilling experience on the other side. As the poetry editor for Gandy Dancer Issue 3.2, I got to stick my feet into the shoes of the editors I send my own work to. And the truth is we absolutely love reading your work. I got to read over 200 poetry submissions in prep for the upcoming issue, and I was thrilled every day to be reading something new. We’re not just sitting there laughing at your work, I promise. We want your work to be the right fit for our journal! While form letter rejections might seem harsh & not thought out, the truth is a lot of journals just don’t have the time to create personalized rejections for everyone. A deadline, is a deadline, is a deadline. So don’t smack the “they hated it” label on your rejections, because 99.99% of the time, that’s not true.

There are hundreds of small presses & journals open for submissions. Aim big, aim small, literally just aim. You’ll find one that’s perfect for your work. But if there’s one thing to keep in mind, it’s that each journal has its own aesthetic, and you should make sure your work fits it before submitting! Poets & Writers says, ” It’s important to read the literary magazines in which you’d like to publish before you submit your work, so that you can evaluate how good a match they are for you.” There’s nothing worse than receiving a rejection letter that says your work doesn’t fit the aesthetic of the magazine or journal. My first rejection was a result of my not reading through the journal before I submitted. Needless to say, I learned my lesson. My rule of thumb is to read at least two issues of whatever journal you want to submit to. Gargi Mehra has a great article up at The Review Review that discusses the basics of good submission etiquette, and I for one think it’s extremely helpful.

So you’ve learned a little bit about handling rejection, got some links to other posts that speak about rejection, and hopefully visited some of those links. In the end, rejection is a part of the process, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a bad part. Keep writing, keep reading, and keep submitting!


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