A Counter-productive Rejection Letter

I had my own “Stop Writing” advice. When I started submitting poems to magazine editors I expected to get a pile of rejection slips before I started getting any acceptances. It’s very rare a first submission to a magazine I’ve not tried before results in an acceptances. It can take a few attempts before I find the right poem for the editor.

Most of the rejection slips I was getting where the standard “sorry, can’t use” rejections. Magazines fill up quickly as most of them receive more poems in a week than they can publish in a year so it’s not worth worrying about rejections but to submit the poems elsewhere shortly after they are rejected. Keep track of where poems are being sent though, if an editor feels deluged because you are continually sending them poems, they may automatically reject you. Give it a month or so before you send a new submission to an editor who has just rejected your latest submission, unless they have specifically asked you for more poems (even then, give it a week to make it look as if you have considered their request and taken the time to carefully select the poems you are sending.)

The only rejections worth paying attention to are the ones where an editor has taken the trouble to write a comment on the poems themselves. Sometimes these may show an editor has missed the point, but generally the comments are intended to be helpful and point out an area where a poem could be improved. Don’t automatically edit the poem accordingly, but think about what’s been said and whether it reflections what you intended to achieve.

One magazine editor sent me a rejection letter that said, “you should stop writing for a year and only take up writing if you are absolutely determined to write.”

I stopped thinking about where next to send the poems that had been rejected. I re-read the letter. Definitely said “stop writing”.

The first question I had was: did the editor give this advice to everyone or had I been singled out. The rejection slip was handwritten on pre-printed stationery so it wasn’t clear if this was specific or generic advice. I read the poems I’d sent. These were poems that had been workshopped, edited and polished as far as I could write them. The “stop writing” advice didn’t suggest it had arisen from reading my poems, ie the editor hadn’t said, “on the basis of these poems…” or “in light of where your writing is…” or words to that effect. Just “stop writing.”

I wasn’t going to stop writing for a minute, let alone a year. I can’t. Regardless of whether my poems are being published or not, I will still be writing. After my first year of submitting poems, I was getting at least 15 individual poems a year accepted for publication.

I didn’t stop writing and continued to submit work for publication. The poems the editor rejected were not only published individually in other magazines but also included in my collection, “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues”.

Have you had advice that spurred you on to continue? What advice from editors have you found useful?

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5 Responses to “A Counter-productive Rejection Letter”

  1. Tim Love Says:

    I once received this – “… Remember Goethe’s advice to the misanthropic young Schopenhauer … if you wish to enjoy (your) life, then you must ascribe value to (love) this world (as it is). Somehow you need to get out of yourself, your intellectual self.” – which changed my life.

  2. emmalee1 Says:

    Good advice too. It takes empathy and experience to be a writer otherwise there’s a risk of slipping into solipsism or autobiography and over-analysis.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. sheenaghpugh Says:

    Coulda been worse – there’s always Robert Southey’s advice to Charlotte Bronte:

    “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment and recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are, you will be less eager for celebrity.” I expect that spurred her on in hopes of outdistancing the pompous prat!

  4. Charles Lauder Says:

    Roger Elkin, when he edited ‘Envoi’, used to send out a checklist with his rejection notices, stipulating where your poems or writing could be improved. One of the boxes to be ticked was ‘Read Ted Hughes’s “Poetry in the Making”‘, which was I got in my first rejection letter from him. I got the book & read it thoroughly and learned a great deal. Eventually Roger accepted a sequence of three poems from me, which I was very proud to have him publish.

  5. garylongden Says:

    On the basis of a handful of submissions I am sure that you have not been singled out, and if you were, there was scant basis on which to offer that advice.

    More generally there can be some benefits in a pause. That pause might serve simply to clear our heads. It might also be to focus on practical physical experiences which could drive our writing.

    For those unable to stop, a switch of genres can be beneficial. From poems to prose. From fiction to fact. From stories to plays. A change can be as good as a rest.


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