Dealing with Rejection

There’s something incredibly difficult about putting together a collection of poems that is so personal, because it encapsulates your own life story, and submitting it to a press you believe for good reason will enjoy it. Then the email appears in your inbox and your heart leaps! This is it, for better or worse, and you don’t even want to click because the preview doesn’t contain the yes, or no, but leaves you in suspense.

It’s an almost out-of-body experience, watching yourself push the button, observing the moment where two possible futures collide–has or has not been selected. And how dare they use the passive verb tense as if no agency were involved in the insidious not?

But, OK. What happens happens. It sucks. You know you’re going to mope. I won’t help to anesthetize yourself. You’re in mourning. It’s a weird and ridiculous grief but grief nonetheless. Because you tried, you really tried, and you really wanted it, but whatever. Next time. Onward. Find another publisher.

All of the emotional experience aside, your left brain has the following suspicions. There are layers of uncertainty to wrap yourself in and warm yourself in. Try these on for size:

  1. You don’t know who is rejecting you. Even if the managing editor signs the message, your manuscript may not even have reached her desk. That is, some one lower down may have been responsible for its getting tossed in the waste basket, a person who may not have had the experience, wherewithal, education, or personal taste to recognize the quality of your work. Additionally, prejudice or politics may have played a role.
  2. You don’t know why it was rejected. The reason may have had everything, something, or nothing at all to do with your manuscript. I’ve had people tell me my book it too long. Didn’t know that was a thing, insofar as I’m observing length requirements in the submission guidelines. Now people are saying limit between 45-50 poems for a full length, “Aim for the 50-page mark.” On the other hand, maybe you inadvertently violated a submission guideline and got nixed on a technicality. What if the press couldn’t get funding? What if it’s in financial trouble?
  3. You don’t know out of how many subs yours was rejected. 1/300 may mean one thing but 1/3000? Think about the size of that pile. Even Yeats might get overlooked/misplaced.
  4. You don’t know how close it was. From the form letter, you will never know what went on during editorial meetings, what editors may have spoken up and vouched for, or even championed your work, and lost out. It’s deceptive because a manuscript that got a summary glance may receive the same wording in the form letter rejection as one that attracted a great deal of interest.
  5. You don’t know who you were up against. Most of us don’t operate under the delusion of being the best poet ever born. What if you were in direct competition with a Rankine, or Rilke, or Plath? How would you know?

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