Dear Poetry Editors,*
For years, poets have grown accustomed to rejection in several forms (as in rejection forms) and the occasional nice note. However, there are some editorial practices that need to be done away with for the good mental health of poets, who already have their mental health called into question for working tirelessly at their craft for little or no money (myself included).
First, there’s the case of editors who don’t include any sort of note–even a form letter–with rejected poems. I totally understand if you can’t afford to print up form rejection letters, but surely you at least have a pen that can write something on the poems. The word NO would probably convey your meaning.
No note gives poets a false sense of hope. For instance, they may think, “Hey, there was no rejection included, so maybe…maybe they liked what I sent?”
Don’t laugh. Poets are a hopeful people.
This is even more bizarre than the no note tactic. After all, the poet sent poems and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Where did the poems go? Where is the confirmation of rejection?
All you’ve done is make the poet suspicious of their postal carriers (Did he or she steal my poems?) and wonder, “Hey, they didn’t send back my poems or a rejection. That means they’re using them, right? Right?”
Do you want to know how patient poets can be? How eternally optimistic? I’ve met poets who submitted their poems more than three years previously and then ask me with a straight face whether it’s safe for them to submit their poems somewhere else.
Your lack of response has poets sitting around at workshops speculating that since you haven’t responded to them yet that, “they must really be giving my work a lot of consideration. Perhaps, there is only room for one more poem, and it’s between me, Mary Oliver and Billy Collins.”
Seriously, do you enjoy this kind of monkey torture?
No Response Acceptance
This practice is not only annoying, but it can get poets in trouble–if they’re actually lucky enough to get accepted by another publication before they realize you accepted their work without notifying them. Talk about awkward.
Of course, you’re probably banking on the fact that all poets are patient and willing to wait around on you. Or maybe you think that no poet is lucky enough to have the same poem accepted by two different editors. Or it’s possible that you’re just not thinking.
If you’re going to accept a poet’s poems, have the decency to notify the poet. Heck, they might even brag about their acceptance and drive traffic to your site and/or subscribers to your publication. Poets are crazy like that.
Poets don’t expect much–or else why would we be writing poetry? We don’t expect personalized rejections. In fact, though I appreciate them, I know poets who don’t like those either.
The very least you can do is send us that impersonal rejection form that lets us poets know that we’re not good enough for you now, but if we keep trying (and get extremely lucky), maybe we’ll fool you into liking our stuff with our next submission. Or the one after that.****
Robert Lee Brewer
* Look. I know that most poetry editors do a great job of responding. Some even give encouraging feedback and advice. But there are a few evil editors out there who seem to forget that poets are also human beings who like to have some type of response–even a negative one.
** If you’re an editor who returned my self-addressed, stamped envelope without my poems, because you’ve accepted them for publication, please go ahead and print them. I only meant that for editors who don’t accept my poems.
*** If it really is down to Mary, Billy and myself, choose me. Everyone already knows those other two poets. You’ll look like you’re just accepting their work because of their recognizable names. Wouldn’t you rather be the editor courageous enough to reject the other two and accept a relatively unknown poet? Of course you would.
**** Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. (See what I meant about eternal optimism?)
Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer
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