The other day I received an email rejection letter from Rattle, an excellent US magazine I both subscribe to and aspire to being published in. So yes, it was a blow to have my poems rejected. But I didn’t feel dejected. Here’s why. Editor Tim Green sends out what I can only describe as a model rejection letter.
As we all know, rejections can vary in quality, and you just have to deal with them. But I do believe there are good and bad ways to reject, just as we’re always being told there are good and bad ways to submit our poems.
So, rather than naming and shaming the poor ones I think it’s better all round to draw attention to the very best, in the hope that others may follow suit. With Tim Green’s permission I am reproducing the entire letter here:
Thank you for sending us “4 poems from Robin Houghton – thanks for considering,” but unfortunately we’ve decided not to publish any of these pieces. I want to assure you that your work has been taken under careful consideration—Megan and I each read every poem before replying, so everything has been read twice by the actual editors.
This is a form letter—necessary with a staff of two and all these submissions—but what I’m about to say is sincere: Unlike most literary magazines, we don’t directly solicit work from anyone; we feel that practice isn’t fair, and doesn’t make for a good magazine. Instead, we read a great number of poems—over 80,000 each year—and publish our favorite 150, regardless of who wrote them. The odds are always going to be long, but that’s the only thing that keeps the quality of the magazine as high as it is. We always appreciate the opportunity to read your work—that’s what we’re here to do.
Also, it should go without saying that our decision to return this submission doesn’t mean much. We’re just fans of poetry ourselves, and all tastes are subjective. Moreover, we’re always looking to make the magazine as eclectic as possible—often we end up turning down submissions that we enjoy, simply because they’re similar in tone or content to other pieces we’ve published.
In any event, thanks for continuing to share your work. We’re happy to read submissions any time, year-round—and we just announced that we’ll be paying all contributors $50 per piece, too. So hopefully we’ll always be at the top of your list for places to send new poems.
So there you have it – an honest, matter-of-fact, informative and elegant rejection letter. No hand-wringing, no patronising and no BS.
I’m a big fan of the simple but kind ‘your poems weren’t right on this occasion, sorry’ rejection slip. But if you’re going to say any more than that, then this, surely is the model to live up to.
I hope if I’m ever in Tim’s position I’ll be able to do as good a job.