I met the criteria, why wasn’t my poem selected?

OK, so you read the submission guidelines, double-checked your poem complied, read it, read it aloud to some friends who told you to send it in, got feedback, edited it, re-read the guidelines to check it was still compliant and sent it in… and the pesky editor rejected it.

Tempting as it is to respond to the editor or want an explanation that goes deeper than a standard rejection letter, it’s not always a good idea. Rejection is an even bigger part of writing than acceptances. Even acceptances are tempered by rejection. It’s usual to send three or four poems to an editor who’s likely to accept one or two and reject the others.

Rejection isn’t always about the poem being rejected either. An editor working on a magazine or anthology might be looking for poems that work alongside one another or may have already published ten poems on Leicester winning the premiership so not want another on that theme. It’s possible the editor liked your subject but not the way the poem’s worded. Another editor might like your phrasing but not the subject. Your poem may have been brilliant but didn’t fit with the other poems the editor wanted to accept.

Editors don’t have time to give personal, considered responses to poets whose poems have been rejected. They’ve already moved on to the next batch of submissions or are busy typesetting. In any case, “There was nothing wrong with your poem: it just didn’t fit” isn’t going to be helpful. It’s even less helpful to get a hurried, scrawled, illegible note that resorts to sarcasm.

Those friends who told you to submit your poem were right. They were looking at your poem on its own merits and thought it was good. If you thought it was the best version of the poem you’ve written and guideline-compliant, it was worth entering. Your friends, however, didn’t have the benefit of sight of all the poems also submitted and weren’t able to compare your poem with the other submissions. The editor did and wasn’t just considering the sole merits of your poem, but was looking at your poem alongside perhaps 200 others when only 100 could be accepted.

That’s why it’s generally better to submit more than one poem: your Richard III poem might have been too similar to someone else’s, but your Space Centre poem would prove an ideal fit. But if you only submitted your Richard III poem and the editor didn’t see your Space Centre poem, you will have lost out.

If you are submitting on a given theme or in response to a given opening or image, your first or obvious response isn’t going to give you your best chance.

It also a good idea to have a plan B, somewhere else in mind to send your poems if they are rejected. By all means, take a deep breath, seek out some sympathy, re-read some generous words on your work to give you a boost, even put your rejected poems aside for a few days then re-read them with fresh eyes to see if another edit would benefit them, but try again. The next editor might love them.

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3 Responses to “I met the criteria, why wasn’t my poem selected?”

  1. Merryn Williams Says:

    I’ve just had to send out a rejection letter to twenty people. I hated it, and they’re going to hate me.

  2. emmalee1 Says:

    It’s difficult when you have more good poems than you can print. A little courtesy can go a long way. The poets concerned always have the option of trying another editor/publisher.

  3. garylongden Says:

    I do not understand why any poet should have a problem with a poem not being selected for publication.
    As you say Emma, the reasons for non-selection that have nothing to do with the quality of the poem are so many.
    I do think that “road testing” poems at open mics, prior to submission can help. Although most audiences are non-critical, the act of reading out aloud in front of others, and gauging response, can be a useful pointer.


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