Thank you for your submission to Totally Awesome Journal. However, this work isn’t for us. Good luck with place it elsewhere.
Rejection stings, but it’s a fact of life for writers. If you’re going to submit your work to journals, you’re going to have to get used to this fact: you’ll be rejected more than you’ll be published. There’s no easy way to deal with rejection, but seasoned writers know how to deal with rejections constructively. Rather than beating yourself up and wallowing in self pity or dismissing the journal editors as shortsighted idiots who’ll regret the day they let your manuscript slip away, consider the following suggestions.
Send the work out again. I use this method often. If you’ve sent the work out already, then I assume that you feel confident about it. If after rejection you still feel confidence, send to another journal. Sometimes poems, essays, and short stories make many trips through cyberspace before they find a home. Sending out again also keeps your work in circulation, an added plus.
Reread and revise. I can easily kill two or three hours preparing one submission. Once I begin to imagine an editor reading my work, I become hyper aware of every sentence or line break and every image and word. Naturally, I find myself rewriting certain lines or sentences or perhaps playing with paragraphing or line breaks. Reworking a rejected poem or piece of prose can be generative, too, and inspire you to write a new piece. Now, you’ve got a new and improved submission packet as well as a new writing project.
Consider asking someone to read your work. Unless you’re enrolled in a writing program or active in a writer’s group, finding good feedback for your writing can be difficult. When one of my poems has been rejected four or five times (even after rounds of revision), I ask a trusted reader for some line-by-line feedback. Another set of eyes can help you see issues, weaknesses, and potential strengths in your work that you otherwise might not see.
Resist the urge to beat yourself up. Rejection can be a number of things: the magazine’s publication roster was already filled; the editors had already accepted work very similar to yours; a careless reader may have scanned your piece too quickly; your poetry or prose might not fit into the theme of this particular issue. And sometimes, rejection means that your work isn’t ready for publication. However, rejection rarely if ever means that the editors think that you’re a talentless hack who should give up writing for food (though, admittedly, there are some submissions that make editors wonder . . .).
Ultimately, you can treat rejection as a badge of honor. When I was the graduate student editor of the Panhandler, the University of West Florida’s literary magazine, I used to tape rejection slips to the wall in the Panhandler office. This way, I at least knew that I was sending out my work. Some writers even keep rejection slips, saving them in large boxes as the years go by. Of course, that practice was much easier when journals only accepted hard copy/snail mail submissions.
Whatever the case may be, the worse thing that you can do is contact the editor, demanding to know why he or she didn’t print your work. Doing so is a great way to get blackballed from a journal and develop a bad reputation among journal editors1. Instead, understand that rejection is a part of a writer’s life and no reason to stop writing. Rather, rejection is reason to keep writing and sending your work out.
1 At the 2009 Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers annual conference a the University of South Alabama in Fairhope, I was in the audience of an editors' panel in which the panelists all discussed (without outright naming) one particular contributor who'd hounded each of the editor's journals.
O for a muse of fire,