An Appeal to Poetry Editors

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).

No Note
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.

Empty Envelope**
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?”

No Response***
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.

Bottom Line
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?)


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29 thoughts on “An Appeal to Poetry Editors

  1. Khara E. House

    Thanks– I wrote that with a pile of rejection and acceptance notices sitting on my desk. Just now I felt compelled to check a few of the thinner envelopes … Sure enough … there was that empty one. I’m kind of hoping it was *already* sealed and I just stuck it in the pile by accident (versus having to cop to having licked and sealed an envelope without remembering to put the notice in there).

  2. Khara E. House

    On Behalf of Poetry Editors (or at least one of us):

    After Mrs. Weasley screamed at the Weasley boys for rescuing Harry Potter with "beds empty, no note," you would think the whole world would know it’s just common courtesy to give some sort of message indicating what’s going on. As a poetry editor, I will not lie: I appreciate the form rejection note I can simply shoot off my printer, but I also appreciate getting a little hand-written note of some sort so the rejectee knows, "Hey, look … I’m actually personally involved in … well … rejecting you. But, at least it’s got a little bit of a personal touch, right?" So on behalf of all poetry editors who take the time to print and send off decent rejection notices (especially those of us who take the time to include personal notes) … We are sorry for the rest.

    As to the second point, let me consider the alliteration … Ew. Just … Ew. Personally I’d like to believe the cause of an empty envelope rejection is either a) an editor as absentminded as myself who believes she has actually in fact stuffed the envelope full of love or b) an old school comic fan who thought he or she was following in the footsteps of Stan Lee’s No Prize envelopes. Unfortunately, it’s still … Ew. So, on behalf of all poetry editors who take the time to fill your SASEs with more than invisible wishes of luck in the future … We are sorry for the rest.

    On the third point, I actually have to apologize for myself, too. With so many poems to read, I’ll be the first to admit that the last thing I’m looking at is the date I received your poems. So to all the poets who sent their poems December of last year, despite the fact I was not yet the poetry editor and wasn’t around during the Summer reading period that would have gotten you a response within 6 months, and especially to all poets who will be receiving my response in the next 5-10 business days with apologies handwritten for the delay … again, I apologize for myself (and for the others like me. We’re poets. We can be absentminded. Forgive us.)

    To those of you receiving no response acceptances … again, I apologize for myself, too. Because I have a pile of your poetry sitting in my office stamped with notes of love being worked into a page layout as we speak, and a contract with your name on it just waiting to be printed … and a million other distractions that have kept me from hitting the CTRL + P button combination that would end your suffering. You’ll hear from me soon. My bad. Our bad. Like I said, we can be absentminded. Forgive us. (But in my defense … watch your mailboxes.)

    Bottom line … Our bad. We repent. And not in a sarcastic, "Oh, I’m SOOOO sorry" kind of way. We apologize to the poets writing fantastic poems about fairy tale characters getting drunk we can’t publish because we forgot to tell you we were still considering your stuff and by the time we get around to it you’re forced to shoot back an email saying, "Thanks, but you might as well burn that one ’cause it’s going somewhere else." We apologize to those of you turning from twenty to twenty-one before we reply because, honestly, we just forgot. Visit us: next drink’s on us. We apologize to the poets whose stuff is great but we have no room for it, so we send you the same generic rejection letter we send everyone else, leaving you thinking the poems were no good and opting to use them to heat your homes in Winter. It’s not quite that time yet. Save them from the kindle pile. We apologize to everyone who has sat and wondered, "What’s with these people, anyway? Are they just sitting back laughing at the thought of me sitting here biting my nails down to stubble waiting for their answer?!" We’re not. We’re sorry.

    Forgive us.

    Khara E. House
    Poet (and Poetry Editor– but, shh … keep that one to yourself)

  3. Karen H. Phillips

    Bahahahaha! Robert, I loved this. And it not only applies to poetry, but to other kinds of writing as well. I have finally had to contact editors when I never heard back, to make sure my piece was freed up for other possible submissions/acceptances. Unfortunately, this is how the publishing business seems to be run. But it still seems arrogant to me, as if we’re little dogs at the table, panting and begging and waiting.

  4. Robert Lee Brewer

    Madeline, I’ve never received one of those rejections myself.

    That is a pretty cowardly way to reject things. If editors are getting that mathematical about the process, then I would think the publication would be rather vanilla in content.

    I could see if the publication uses established poetic forms, but outside of that, it’s hard to be objective about the process. Either the editors like the poems or they don’t.

  5. Madeline Tasky Sharples

    Robert, you are right on. However, you missed one. The editor who takes the time to give the reasons why your poem is rejected and how his ranking system justifies his response. I found that more annoying than a no response or a no. What this editor was trying to do was turn a subjective response into something objective. i don’t think that works with poetry.

  6. Walt Wojtanik

    Agree with Iain, well said. I found my chuckle sort of fade into this knowing nod. Your scenarios all reminded me of when we were kids collecting cards: "Need it, Got it, Got it…" I’ve had a few of those things knock me for a loop early on. But, either way, it has taught me how to handle rejection better than I ever did, and made me more aware of how to use the editting process as a learning tool. My Dad always showed me how a real "craftsman" knows how to make the best of his tools. So I have that going for me. And his stubborn streak. Waiting on a few responses and looking to put another wave out there. Just plugging away.

  7. Iain D. Kemp

    Really well said Robert – Bravo!! I am waiting for a whole batch of replies at the moment so very into this just now, as I’m sure most of us are.

    The flip side is I have had a poem accepted within 4 hours and on a Sunday!!!! Amazing!



  8. Mariya Koleva

    Robert, you are so right!
    Once I submitted something and I expressly asked for an answer, positive or negative. I enquired like 3 months later and they were patient enough to tell me, that "we will mail you as soon as your work gets reviewed/considered". Two years passed from that moment.
    As I’m a well-organised person, I really prefer to hear the answer – good or bad, it’s better than nothing.
    You’ve said it all, in fact.
    It makes me feel somewhat well to see that some editors will be like that everywhere, not only in Bulgaria.

  9. Jennifer

    Yes, yes, and yes.

    Actually the thing about no note at all just my poems returned (It just happened to me this summer) doesn’t give me false hope, it makes me think the editors looked at the title of the first poem, didn’t like the title, and so put all the poems in my SASE and sent them back without reading any of them.

    Seriously, how expensive is a Post-It Note and a pen?

    I’ve got poems pending 6 months at a journal that recently changed their guidelines to read Please don’t query us at all about pending poems, we don’t have time to reply. It didn’t say that when I first submitted. I probably wouldn’t have submitted had it said that when I first looked at their guidelines.

  10. RJ Clarken

    This was perfect!

    The most annoying thing ever to me was a real nasty editor. On their site, it said, "Query us after three months if you haven’t heard anything from us,."

    I waiting nearly six months, and then wrote a query letter (via email, which was how this editor wanted it.) I asked politely if there was any interest in my work. The editor wrote back within a few minutes and (without any form of address or signature or preamble) simply said, "None whatsoever." This was to a publication which was looking for poems presumably like the kind I write. (Yep – I study the market, and until then, had a reasonable amount of success,)

    I was flabbergasted. Not because I was rejected – hey it happens, But because of the absolute rudeness of the editor. I did not write a return note thanking him for his time, by the way, However, I did have a right old rant-up with my writing group.

    A few weeks later, the nicest, most polite, sweetest-natured member of my writing group said she needed to ask me something of me – and that something was a promise not to get angry at her. I could hardly imagine anything this lady could have done to make me mad.

    She said, "I knew you couldn’t – and wouldn’t – write a nasty letter to that editor, although he sure did deserve it, So, in the most genteel terms, I did. I told him that attitudes like his not only demean him, but his publication, too – and I would be sure to tell ALL my friends (writer or not) to never ever buy or read his magazine."

    It was truly a lesson learned!

  11. Robert Lee Brewer

    Joshua, I’ve received (and well, not received) all the above-mentioned rejections (and even a no response acceptance).

    Collin, it is annoying. Luckily, I don’t wait more than six months anymore. In fact, I try to submit mostly to publications that allow simultaneous submissions now–just in case they are taking a long time to make a decision. That way, I don’t feel guilty for submitting elsewhere when I lose patience.

  12. Linda H.

    I enjoyed reading that. Especially the part saying "Perhaps, there is only room for one more poem, and it’s between me, Mary Oliver and Billy Collins" and your solution for that.


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