Good Literary Citizenship: When Rejection Leads to Acceptance
By Lita A. Kurth
Does anyone greet a literary rejection with a really positive response? Perhaps a rare few. I’m not talking about the “practically an acceptance” that says, “Almost! Almost! Please send us more.” No, I mean the definite “No,” whether kind or callous. Recently, however, I had the unique experience of a rejection that left me hopeful and motivated. The journal gently but firmly said my work was not a fit, but I still ended up happy, and a week later, I was even more pleased, so much so that I sent a letter of appreciation to the rejecting journal.
How was this possible? Here’s the solution: the original rejecting journal sent not only a soft “no thanks,” but specifically suggested another venue for my work and pointed me to a long list of journals publishing similar material. I could not help feeling that they had gone very far in creating and sustaining a writers’ community. Instead of the invisible-supplicant-to-oblivious-monarch kind of relationship that sometimes seems to prevail between writer and editor, I felt a sense of connection and an opening out of the literary possibilities.
What journal was this? Who came up with such an idea? The Found Poetry Review and Editor-in-Chief Jenni B. Baker respectively. I had sent them a found poem in the form of a pantoum, created from advertisements and headlines in a cookery magazine. They politely demurred but suggested another great journal, Verbatim, and a long list of publications that also accept experimental poetry. I very quickly sent my poem to Verbatim, who accepted it with a few changes, and you should now find “Happiness is Simple,” on their website. How satisfying for all parties.
I had to follow up this experience by inquiring further in the hope of publicizing a thoughtful, brilliant, and easy practice, perhaps encouraging other journals to follow suit. In an email interview, Ms. Baker pointed out that she put herself in the submitter’s shoes: “Initially, we sent out your standard rejection messages (the typical "thanks but no thanks"). At a certain point, I reflected on how those kinds of form rejections made me feel when I received them after submitting my own writing to other journals, and I realized we had the power to be more kind and help people still feel empowered to publish their work.” She said she, “devised the response template [and]… implemented it in part because I recognized that most people were not aware of the other literary journals and sites publishing this kind of work. So it serves as a general awareness mechanism and helps grow the experimental writing community.” Furthermore, “We recognize that evaluating found poetry, like other experimental writing forms, is a highly subjective process. Just because a particular piece isn't a good fit for us doesn't mean it's without merit.” If there is an award for general good citizenship in the literary world, I’d suggest Ms. Baker as a candidate.
She mentioned that a great many, but not every submission received the “other venues” response. The ones that made it to the top before rejection got more personal remarks and encouragement to submit again, and ones that clearly didn’t follow the rules (were too close to plagiarism, not original work, or needed serious revision) did not receive the list. This again points to good citizenship. Why pass on to other journals material they are likely to reject?
Ms. Baker noted one more advantage of their policy: It “preserves our relationship with poets writing in the field. If someone receives a rejection that says "no" with no explanation or encouragement, the chances that person will submit to that journal again are significantly lower. Since we started sending these kinds of rejections, we've had some people with previously rejected pieces submit again and get accepted.”
Kudos and thanks to Ms. Baker and the Found Poetry Review. Curious about the list of other journals? You’ll find them here.
Lita A. Kurth (MFA Rainier Writers Workshop) teaches Creative Writing and Composition and contributes articles regularly to Tikkundaily.org. She has published essays, poems, and short stories in the Santa Clara Review, the Exploratorium Quarterly, Tattoo Highway, and VermontLiterary Review as well as erotica under a pseudonym in Cleansheets.com and Oystersandchocolate.com. A story, “Marius Martin, Proletarian” appears in On the Clock: Contemporary Short Stories of Work (Bottom Dog Press).