Monday, January 18, 2010

A Few Good Thoughts on Rejection

This post is from Kelli Russell Agodon's site, Book of Kells. Kelli is the co-editor of the journal Crab Creek Review. She recently shared her ideas on editing and other things at the Whidbey Island Low Res MFA Program. I think Agodon helps any writer understand why poems / stories / essays  are rejected by a journal. As she points out, it isn't personal.

Crab Creek publishes work because the editors are utterly passionate about it. I've worked as a reader, assistant poetry editor, poetry editor, and co-editor of several different journals and I would take individual passion over poem by committee (almost) every time. And for the record, I am one of those people who enjoys sending work out into the world. I have never been to Alaska, but my poems have been published in the Alaska Quarterly Review several times. I hope someday to go all the places where my poems have traveled. Today is a good day to send your work into the world. Why not? Even though ...

Here are some reasons your work might be rejected from a literary journal (or our literary journal) --

You sent at the wrong time or didn't follow submissions guidelines.

Your story/poem/essay is too long.

Your story/poem/essay is too short.

We have realized our issue has a theme to it and your story/poem/essay doesn't fit it.

We have everything we need for the next issue.

I am tired or cranky.

Your story/poem/essay made it to the final part of the process where we talk about it, but no one stood up for it and said "I love this."

We became frustrated in choosing and decided no.

I have read your story/poem/essay right before bed and just wanted to get through my batch of work and didn't go back in the morning to give it another good read.

Your story/poem/essay is pretty wonderful, but there is one weak part.

Your story/poem/essay is very well-written, but it's just not to our taste.

Your story/poem/essay is wonderful, but we don't like it.

Your story/poem/essay is not very well written or feels as if it could use some revision.

*** As you can see, there are a lot of reasons on this list that you cannot control.

What I think is interesting about this list is that only the last 1, (Your story/poem/essay is not well written...) is really, the only thing you can control and only one reason out of many for something to be rejected, and yet, as writers when we get a rejection we might think we're rejected because 1) we're not good enough or 2) our writing is not good enough.

I tried to remind the writers/students that when your work is rejected to think "not now" instead of "not good enough."

If you have worked on writing, revised in and sent in the best possible draft you can, at some point we have to realize that editors (myself included) are human and that your work may have been rejected because of other reasons.

I know that sometimes if I read submissions at night, I reject more than I do when I read them in the morning. Knowing this about myself, I make a point to reread submissions the next day in the morning if I felt I've rejected too many the night before or didn't give the work a fair reading. I know when I am tired and want to get to bed, I am more likely to pass on a piece just for the sake of getting all my reading done and getting to go to sleep, where as if I read your work in the morning, you have a much better chance of being selected, because I am fresh and not cranky.

I hate to say this, but it's true. You may have sent me an incredible story/poem/essay and I may have passed on it because I had just had an argument with my husband, or was annoyed because something in my house just broke. I try my best not to read during these crazy times of emotions, but sometimes deadlines are approaching and we read when we're not at our best.

The positive of this is that there many other editors who will stand up for your work when one of us being a crankster.

And here's something you may not know, in Crab Creek Review, we will publish your story/poem/essay even if one of us hates it.


Yes, we do not believe in consensus between our editors. We want to publish the poems/stories/essays that any one of us love. We do not have to agree on a piece for it to be published. We decided early on that if we go that way, then we'll have a lot of bland work in our journal. So if I love a poem and another editor hates it, but I say, "This poem needs to be in our journal," we will publish it. And vice versa. I have agreed to publish poems I did not like, but another editor was in love with and fought for.

I guess in the end, this is what we want-- work we will stand up for. Work that makes us fight for you.


  1. If you liked this discussion, you also might like Spreading the Word and The Whole Story, two collections of essays by editors on why they choose the stories or poems they do.