Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why a Poem Gets Rejected

34º ~ (wahoooo, I found the right key to make the degree sign) ~  wahooooo! it's above freezing ~ early out for both PTC and LRSD yesterday due to ice ~ definitely some hockey puck driving out there on the way home ~ 34º means less chance of that on the drive in this morning ~ some sun creeping through the blanket of clouds

from Science Photo Library, click for link

As promised, here's a bit more about why a poem might have received a rejection.  This is the type of post/article that I have read many times in the past as a poet actively submitting my work, trying to find a tiny sliver of a edge toward publication.  Now, as an editor, I can say that yes, this information is true and knowing it will help, but only to certain degrees.

Poems might be rejected because:

1.  Sloppy presentation, typos, misspellings, etc.
     It's true!  People send in poems that haven't been proofread carefully.  I saw several of the same mistakes I see my students making.  For example, there is a big difference between "where" and "were," but spell check and grammar check won't catch that error!
     Yes, if the poem is spectacular and there is one typo, we will accept the poem and ask the poet to fix it.

1a.  Editors can't tell if a lack of certain punctuation or a weird change in line breaks halfway through the poem is for form (intentional) or results from #1.
     If the poet intends to break the rules of form/grammar/usage, then that needs to be clear to the reader immediately.  As an editor, I don't want to publish something and have the reader of the journal question whether I'm a bad proofreader.

1b.  There is no 1b. but form requires I put it here.  I can't indent b/c of Blogger format issues. :)

2. The poems do not match the aesthetic of the editors.
     I admit that since we were a start-up, it would have been a bit difficult to know our aesthetic; however, Heron Tree did offer information on this on our website and we included a mini-anthology of previously published work that we love to try and help out.
     For journals that have an established publication record, read, read, read. 

3.  The poem comes close and might "wow" the editor on first read, but it doesn't stand up to closer scrutiny.  (i.e. the poem needs one more round in the revision cycle)
      At each of our meetings, we always had several "near misses."  In this case, one or more of us was wowed by an image or a string of language within a poem, but as we looked more closely at the poem and considered it for publication, we noticed weaker moments, moments in the poem that caused confusion or that didn't rise to the level of language/image/meaning in the rest of the poem.  Often, we discussed how the poem might be made stronger through a bit more revision, but usually that involved something too complex to require of the author for publication.  (If we could see an easy fix, we would email the poet and ask for that easy fix.)

3a.  No, we really don't have time to write out our critiques of the near misses.  We do this "for the love of the game" (to quote a not-so-great Kevin Costner baseball movie), and we don't receive any compensation for our time as the journal is not affiliated with our teaching institutions.

3b.  See 1b.

4.  This is a great poem, a fine poem, but we already accepted X number of poems on this topic (nature, love, elegy, etc.).

5.  The most unfair reason to the writer: the editors are real people with real lives and sometimes something goes wrong in our lives and we aren't ready for a particular poem but we have to keep reading and keep making decisions to stay on our schedule.  (Yes, that run-on is intentional.)  I stand by all of the decisions we've made, but go back in time and shake up the ball of events that happened to each of us on any given day (our stress load, our caffeine load, our family/pets-being-crazy/sick/weird load, our oh-god-not-again load) and one or two decisions might go the other way.

What does all of this mean for the writer receiving the rejection?  It means the writer needs to look at the rejected piece and decide between the following scenarios.

Is this piece in need of another go in the revision cycle?
Is this piece sound and just not a good fit for journal X? 

I know, this is a confounding position to be in.  Still, this is the work of the writer.  Inspiration, Draft, Revision, Revision, Revision, Consideration of Audience, Submission, Acceptance? (wahoo!), Rejection? Rinse and Repeat.


drew said...

Excellent tips, Sandy. I appreciate the sharing of your first-hand experience from the "other side" of the desk, but really, all I want to know is how did you get the degree symbol to show up?

: )

Molly said...

Taking notes, taking notes. Thanks for this great 'inside baseball' post.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Drew, it's a Microsoft keyboard that I'm using on my Mac. With the Mac keyboard it was Apple Key and the 0. With the Windows keyboard it's Window Key and the 0. Took me far too long to figure that out! :)

Molly, Baseball! 75 days until opening day at Wrigley!

Kathleen said...

All so helpful!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen! I'm sure you have mounds of your own advice from EIL.

Tara Mae Mulroy said...

Really cool to see your opinion on being an editor and rejection now that you're on that side of things. It really changes how we feel sometimes, huh? Though, I'm on a bad run of rejections (16 in 17 days!), and I forgot that whole randomness and anarchy things sometimes. Thanks for reminding me!

drew said...


Thanks Sandy.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Tara Mae! Hope your run of rejections becomes a bubbling brook of acceptances soon.

Chris Campolo said...

This is all really well put. I think that #5 is real, and true, but hard to quantify. For me, the mysterious one, when it comes to articulating it in a useful way for the poet, is "tripping hazard." Or maybe "road block." When a poem, even a really wonderful one, stops the reader cold, either by abrupt shifts in form, content, narrative POV, subject, and so on...then it is a concern for me. Of course many poems make all kinds of shifts, sudden and otherwise, with no problem. Some of what makes for a tripping hazard is about what the audience knows. Or doesn't know. A poem can be really challenging, really complex and slow and difficult, without posing a tripping hazard. It's not about difficulty, it's about...continuity of path. Still very difficult to put into neuron stone diffraction collar calling dimensions.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Wow, Chris. You've said this so well. Thanks for adding on.