A Guide to Rejection

David Colodney

I admit I’ve never done the research, but something tells me if I were to investigate the etymology of the word “writer,” the word “rejection” would somehow derive from the same root. In ancient Latin or Greek, “rejection” was surely spelled “wrejection,” thereby linking the two words even closer.

And like it or not, “writers” and “rejection” are always linked together, like peanut butter and jelly. Hollywood and Vine. Simon and Garfunkel. Gin and poets. Or vodka and poets. Wine and poets.

If other words, if you’re a writer hoping to get published, get used to the rejection first. It happens to all of us. It can be emotionally crushing, after pouring so much of ourselves into what we write; it’s almost inevitable that we take the rejection personally.


I offer this to you, dear readers: there have been times I’ve considered changing my email address to rejectedpoet@gmail.com or something similar because “rejected poet” is a cliché. An oxymoron. The ultimate double negative.

After all, those pompous editors don’t really get the subtle nuance in our work. They’re beneath our clever puns and poetic metaphors. Our work is too good for those plebs, anyway. Right?

The simple fact is this: some people will like your writing and some people won’t. Some of these people will be in a position to publish it—or not. That doesn’t mean the writing is bad. It just means someone didn’t like it. Or didn’t think it would fit the theme of the publication. Or any of dozens of other reasons.

Earlier this year, I had the distinction of getting a rejection email about an hour after I got an acceptance email. For the same pair of poems. The same two poems were sent to two different journals, read by two different sets of editors. One liked them, the other didn’t. It was the only time I ever laughed at a rejection.

But it was a watershed moment in my writing life. From that point forward, the rejections just didn’t bother me as much. And, believe me, I’ve had plenty of experience and I’m gaining more experience daily.
I’m not alone.

There are websites dedicated to writer rejection. On http://www.literaryrejections.com/, you can share your rejection stories in a blog simply called “Stories of Rejection.” Other websites recount the legends surrounding literary works that were given the boot.

You think you got it bad? At least you aren’t Robert M. Pirsig. His book, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was rejected 121 times. But you know what? The book was finally published in 1974 and went on to sell 5 million copies. The 121 rejections earned Persig a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for bestseller rejected the most times before publication.

One of my literary heroes, Kurt Vonnegut, once casually strolled to his mailbox only to open this cheerful correspondence:

Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, “What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?” have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance.

Hmm, let’s see here. Vonnegut. Bombing of Dresden. Could this rejection have been Slaughterhouse Five, a late-20th Century classic and staple of high school reading lists everywhere?

I suddenly feel better about this tasty tidbit in my email last summer:

Dear Mr. Colodney,

Thank you for offering your poetry to XXXXX. We are sorry to tell you we will not be using it.
However, XXXX would like to offer the following encouragement regarding “The One that Got Away”:

“I regret that this poem is not yet ready. A couple of stanzas work beautifully – but others strain for effect or peter out in weak closing lines, so that the moments of tight discipline are lost amid the much looser, more easily satisfied stanzas. I hope this poet becomes more rigorous.”

Apparently, these folks thought they were being encouraging by calling me lazy. That some of my stanzas were ok, but some of them sucked. That various verses went gently into that good night.

So it goes.

Don’t be discouraged. Keep writing. Keep submitting your work. Because the notification that something of yours has been selected for publication, however minor the journal, makes it all worth it.

I’m sure Pirsig would agree.


David-ColdneyAfter realizing from an early age that he had no athletic ability whatsoever, David Colodney turned his attention to writing about sports instead, and has written for The Miami Herald and The Tampa Tribune. He currently studies poetry in the MFA program at Converse College, and serves as  Poetry Co-Editor of the South85 Journal. His poetry has appeared in Shot Glass Journal and Egg. David lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.