Feminism / Society & Culture / Staff Picks

LIT: On Dealing With Rejection In Writing

I recently had some poems accepted into a major literary publication.  This journal is one I’ve wanted to be published in ever since I was a college student. Ever since I discovered the journal, really. And yes,  I scoffed at it. It seemed very high brow and a bit stuffy, but every so often I’d see a poem I really admired and think to myself, why not?

Why not?  It’s a natural enough question. People ask it all the time. What I want to know is why do I ask it, and others don’t? What makes me different?  Is that I’m used to the rejection? Is that I really have that much self-confidence?  I don’t think so.   I think I just feel that if I’ll never know unless I try.

What has surprised me, is not the fact that my friends are happy for me, and know how hard I work at my writing, but that friends, and I’m talking especially about female  friends, here, have expressed utter shock or utter awe at this accomplishment I’ve achieved.

Here are some of the comments I’ve recently heard.

1. Oh, I never even thought of sending them poems. The thought has never crossed my mind.

2. You were so brave to submit poems to that journal.

3. I’d never dream of sending poems there.

3. Oh, I couldn’t handle the rejection.

4. What’s the point?

Yes, I’m brave and yes, I’ve built up a tough skin over the years, but still, afraid of rejection? from what, an email?  Come on.  Just delete it and move on.  I sneer at rejection.

Lately, it’s come to my attention that people are impressed that I’m a single woman with a first book, who’s a full-time teacher, and who has a second book on the horizon. So what?

Why are people so impressed?

I learned a long time ago, nothing in life is easy, and sometimes the unexpected happens. You have to embrace it and move on.  If you want something, you have to go and get it because no one is going to do it for you.

If you have a collection of poetry, just sitting away on your hard drive,  it isn’t going to magically surface on an editor’s desk. Send it out!! It takes work. It takes organization; it takes some elbow grease, and of course it takes determination.

You need to keep track of your submissions.  You need to read a lot of poetry to see what presses you think would work best for your work and you need to spend time submitting.

 I’ve also been thinking a lot about VIDA’S “ THE COUNT.” (If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out.)  It’s a “count” of what percentage of women and men are published in a given journal or magazine. It’s fascinating to see where the numbers lie, but its also irritating.

It makes me wonder if the editors of these sources don’t publish a lot of  women because women aren’t submitting to their journals, or if they just aren’t conscious of who they are submitting and what gender they are representing in their journals.

I recently read on VIDA that it is men who send their work out to  journals as soon as they receive word that a submission has been rejected – sometimes even the same journal ! Why aren’t women doing this?  What are they afraid of?

Guess what? I do this.    TAKE THAT, REJECTION !!

Anyone who’s ever been unemployed, and I was for a few months back in 2004 when I left Harper Collins after only three months of working there, knows that  finding a job is a full-time job.   Well guess what, getting poems out accepted into journals is also a full-time job.

Make the time and do it!

 When I was a little girl, my father used to always say, “Leah, you can’t win it unless you’re in it.” Sure, the advice was about the lottery, something I don’t play, but it is sage advice nonetheless.   You can’t expect to win unless you’re in the running. And you can’t expect a journal to publish your work, or even give it a chance if you aren’t submitting your work there.

So, I’m still left thinking about what makes me different from the average woman.  Maybe it’s that I’m hopeful, or maybe it’s that I take risks.  Jeanette Winterson says, in one of my favorite novels, The Passion:

“What you risk reveals what you value.”

She was talking about love. I’m talking about love, too. The love I feel towards my writing.

I want to say to all of you female poets out there


It only takes one set of eyes to read your work, on any given day, and sit back and say yes, I want this poet in my magazine.

Be that poet. Be that woman!

Leah Umansky
Leah’s first collection of poems, Domestic Uncertainties is out from BlazeVOX Books. She is also the host & curator of the COUPLET Reading Series in NYC. She has been a contributing writer for BOMB Magazine’s BOMBLOG and Tin House, a poetry reviewer for The Rumpus, and a live twit for The Best American Poetry Blog. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as: POETRY, Thrush Poetry Journal, Barrow Street, Catch-up, and The Brooklyn Rail. Read more at http://iammyownheroine.com and on Twitter: @Lady_Bronte


12 thoughts on “LIT: On Dealing With Rejection In Writing

  1. For me, it’s not about bravery, but about how I spend my time and money. I ask myself why I want to get published in a certain journal and what is the cost (time-wise and financially) of submitting work to it. Once we understand our motives (to be read? to be recognized? to build prestige? to impress future publishers? to build a C.V. for a career? to win grant money?) we can more thoughtfully spend our time submitting.

    • That’s a great point, Ellen. Ot os about our motives. For me, it was never about bravery but about getting my work recognized and read. Yes, its very, very time consuming and sometimes financially painful. Thank you for reading this.

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  4. I recently sent a set of poems to a journal I admire greatly and while they rejected this first batch, they sent me a kind note that encouraged me to send more in the near future. I was pleased with their response but then hesitated over whether “near future” should be interpreted as “right now” or not. After some hemming and hawing, my husband finally said to me, “They liked your work. They want you to send more, so send more.” Of course he was right and I immediately sent them another set. Thank you for this post.

  5. I’m in your court in this Leah. Plus most rejections are kind or bland not mean. I’ve never heard of anyone getting a “your poems are so bad you should never put pen to paper of your finger to a keyboard again” rejection. Lastly, if a poet is reading widely, she’ll find places publishing stuff that makes her think, “why would anyone publish this stuff?” If there’s a place in the world for stuff we think is bad, there’s room for our work which we love.

  6. Leah, yes. I have to say your advice is the same I would give – READ FIRST and then try. I think men are less conditioned to fear rejection, and as an editor, I find that in general, men seem to be more aware of whether the work they are sending actually suits a publication to which they are submitting it, and they keep trying. I think we as women need to be more tenacious and less afraid of looking stupid or inept or being criticized in poetry and literature. We are conditioned to be this way, but one at a time we can say “Fuck that” and pay attention and do the work.

Want to join the discussion? Luna Luna encourages well-reasoned, thoughtful, useful, civil, constructive, respectful and intellectual dialogue. That said, we're not into name-calling or bullying or character attacks. Violating comments will be deleted. Please read the post thoroughly and try not to make assumptions about the writer's perspective. Let's start talking!

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