When I first started submitting my work to journals, I already had a good idea of what to expect. I had previously been the poetry co-editor of Lumina, a literary journal. I had already sent out almost a thousand rejections. Most of those were unpersonalized, generic. Rejections that went to individuals whose poems had almost been accepted were more personal. I described what I liked about the work, and what problems I had with it. My co-editor and I also wrote a number of acceptance letters. Those letter’s complimented the poems, praised them for their use of language and humor and for the most part, I hope, made it clear why we accepted the poems in the first place.
Before submitting I knew to expect many rejections and also that acceptance would eventually happen. I motivated myself to start submitting and to continue submitting because of those acceptances.
In the three years since I started submitting I received many personalized rejections. Editors have said that my work manages to be both intriguing and stunning, that one line was unforgettable, that I made the reader cry. In the end, all those editors refused to publish my work, for one reason or another. Usually they made that clear as well. For example the editor that called my work intriguing and stunning, informed me that the poems were too confusing for his taste. The feedback I receive from the personalized rejections is sometimes very helpful. That said, I do not mind generic rejections, they are a quick read.
The only thing about the submission process that surprised me, were the acceptances I received. I had previously assumed that acceptances would be short but complimentary. Instead the first acceptance letter that I every received was not even personalized. I had to read it twice to figure out that it was an acceptance letter. It used almost the exact same wording as the rejection letter, the only difference was the word acceptance.
Most acceptance letters are not that bad. Often editors mention that they loved the poem, or thought that it was interesting, but that is it. Nothing specific at all. My poems have been published in over thirty different publications and only three or four of them have ever given me personal feedback. This is just part of the reason I love Menacing Hedge so much, the editor, Kelly Boyker, really gives artistic feedback, and I have grown to understand and appreciate her taste as an editor. Another journal, The Conium Review, accepted my work, without explaining why. Instead they invited me to do a podcast. During the podcast the two editors explained in great deal why they chose my piece. It was so gratifying. I had always wondered why so many acceptances felt hollow, it was only then that I fully realized why.
I work hard on my poems. I spend a lot of time writing and even more time editing. I spend a fair amount of time each month submitting. I do not mind getting rejected, however when I do get accepted I want my poems to be appreciated, even if it is just in a small way. Sometimes that is the only payment I receive, particularly if it’s an online journal. With print journals at least, you often get a free copy, which is great. I have also gotten paid (last October I made 300$’s through selling poems, but that is a whole different story), but that is relatively rare occurrence.
I think that the lack of personalized acceptance is part of the problem one faces as a poet today. Most poets I know have similar stories. I understand that having a job as an editor can be overwhelming and arduous but I also know that through giving personalized feedback the poet might be encouraged to submit again. They might earmark favorite poems for a press that is doing a good job. By giving positive feedback to a writer you are choosing to build a relationship. A good acceptance letter can go a long way. I always appreciate the publication of one of my poems, but a little additional feedback is a wonderful thing.