Dispatches | May 20, 2010

Rejection is a significant part of a writer’s life.  Everyone gets rejected.  This is simply the way it is for writers, whether you are an emerging writer or A Very Famous Writer.  You can read a list here of 30 famous authors who were turned down by various publishers (tip o’the cap to Nathan Bransford for posting this on his blog, via The Rejectionist).  Often, as noted in the link, these rejections are given with no sense that there is a real live person who put so much time and energy into the manuscript.

The Missouri Review makes an effort to write comments on our rejection letters.  According to Duotrope, about one in three of our writers receives a personal note.  Sometimes, this is as simple as a little ink on the rejection slip (when I get rejected, which is often, I for one, absolutely count the “Sorry” scrawled on the rejection letter as “personal” even if, well, really, I’m being a wee bit optimistic counting that as a personal note).  Sometimes, there are acknowledgements of what is working in the poem or story, and sometimes, there is a little bit more, getting into the specifics of what didn’t quite work.

What does this mean?

To be pragmatic, it means that your work has been turned down.  It means No.  Nothing more or less than that.  This is one simple, rational, and perhaps mind-saving way of looking at the rejection process.  It doesn’t, ultimately, mean your work is good or bad.  It’s one subjective opinion from our staff.

So, why do we bother to write anything at all?  Because we’re writers, too.  And because we know what it means to the writer, somewhere, to get that response, however small, knowing that we simply can’t do it for everyone.  Why not?  Because we receive 14,000 submissions every year.  We simply can’t write back to every writer.  There is no way we could do so and still publish a quarterly literary journal.

How we decide who to write to and what to write is, like the submission process itself, a subjective response driven by experience.  I write the author back when the work deserves it.  I write back when the work has those moments that open your eyes and makes me feel I’m no longer reading something too familiar, too commonplace.  My comments are always sincere and encouraging, and however brief, when my name appears on a rejection, it should give the writer (I hope) encouragement that the story was engaging, worth reading, in fact, demands to be read.  So keep at it.  Write more.  Read more.  Send us your next poem, your next story, your next essay.  Be stubborn and be hopeful.  Don’t let our rejections, or anyone else’s, get you down.