The Writer's Complaint - Editors Who Solicit Your Work, Then Reject You (A Prom Sucks Rant)

I'm the one on the right...

I have an interesting pet peeve that has been happening to me and some other writers I know.  Some of these writers are very well-known.  Some are not as known, but you'd recognize their names.  You'd say, I can't believe they rejected him or her. I'm going to leave them anonymous to protect the innocent, but I've been talking with them to make sure this just wasn't a *me* thing, this wasn't just something that felt bad to me... and they said they dislike too, so I'm going to jump into this topic fully, reveal how I've been feeling about editors who solicit your work, then reject you--> I hate this new/old trend.

Here's the deal--  In the last year, numerous editors asked me to submit to their journals.  My thought?  Wonderful! I haven't been submitting and I never know where to submit, so when someone writes me and says, "We like your work and would love for you to submit to our journal," I'm excited because now I have an idea where I can send my poems.

I submit to well-known, well-read journals as well as new journals and teeny-tiny journals.  I don't judge the journal on anything except the editor who asked and if I have work to send. Basically, if I like the editor as a person, I submit...though sometimes I don't have anything available or get busy, etc and don't submit, but mostly, I've submitted to all the folks who asked me to submit to their journals this year.

But this is not the problem.  In fact, this is a problem to have--being asked to submit work.  I agree, it's a blessing. And I love being asked to submit work and I'm thankful I'm in a place where people do ask.  And yes, it is still an honor to be asked.  I love receiving those notes because it makes me feel good and as a head-in-the-oven poet, any sort of nod that someone is reading and liking my work matters to me.

For me, the problem comes after sending work to these editors as requested and then they reject me.  Or when any writer submits to a journal that specifically emails them and asks them to "please submit to our journal" and they are rejected.

Because it totally sucks to be rejected after being asked to submit.  Rejection sucks anyway.  After someone has taken the time to call you beautiful then shrugs you off, it feels worse.

A few facts:

1) I know when I submit to these journals even AFTER being asked, it's not a guarantee I'll have work chosen.  I know this. I know this in my heart of hearts.  Still, when you specifically ask a writer to submit to your journal and you reject him/her-- it stings even more.

Or maybe just for me.

Rejections after being asked to submit make me ache and doubt.  It's as if I was asked to the dance, I show up in my best outfit and my date doesn't want to dance with me at all.  In fact, he sends me home.  He gave me the corsage, but wants nothing to do with me.  You were prettier before you arrived at the dance, he says.

2)  I am an editor myself at Crab Creek Review.  Occasionally an editor at our journal will ask someone to submit (this tends to be rare because we all believe as writers ourselves-- if we ask you to the dance, we're going to dance with you).

Some times those writers/poets have submitted but the work they submitted isn't exactly what we were looking for or what we expected from them.

Do we reject them?  No.  What we do is work with the poet/writer and ask them to send something else.  Why?  Because *we* asked them to submit to us.  And they did.  We asked them to the dance so we plan on dancing with them even though their blue tuxedo doesn't match our fuchsia gown.

3) No matter how nice and personal the rejection letter is written, it's still a rejection.


What do I think should be done about this? Honestly?

Editors-- Do not ask a writer or poet to submit to your journal UNLESS you are going to work with him/her to find something you can use and publish.

Otherwise, it feels sleezy.  How many other people are you asking to submit to your journal?  How many others are you asking to the prom?  How many people are you asking to help you get the writers you want, but in the end, you're stepping on their heads to get to the top of whatever mountain you're trying to climb.

If you want to get better poets and writers to submit to you, then publish a better journal.  Do better advertising.  Expand your readership.  Pay them.  Give them more copies.  Give them publicity.  Support their projects.

Don't write to the writers and ask them to submit because you want "the best of the best" or better writers to choose from.

And this is not to say I'm the "best of the best," this is only to say, I was asked to a few dances this year, showed up, and cow's blood was dumped on me... No wait, that was Carrie.

I was asked, I showed up, and I was rejected.

In the big picture of life, this isn't a huge deal.  In the moment of having a bad week and being rejected after being asked, it hurts a little more.

So editors, as an editor myself and a writer too-- be careful with the artists you play with.

We can be big & tough, well-known, sort-of-known, kind-of-known, not-known, but in so many ways every time we start a new poem or essay or story, we are beginners again.  We may look as if we're made of bricks, but we're made of paper and we crumple easily.

Remember that, dear ones.

~ Kells

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  1. Thanks for your post--I had this happen to me not long ago, and I was really surprised, after the invite, to receive no explanation in the rejection letter (say, "We really prefer your more experimental work, etc.) and no invite for additional or different work. I found it disappointing and disheartening, and I feel a little better after reading your post and knowing I'm not alone in this experience. Thanks again!

  2. Carrie, you're not. The first time I heard this happening was to a very well-known, even what you'd call "famous" poet being asked to submit to the New Yorker. S/he did and was rejected. S/he complained how bad it felt.

    I was a younger poet at the time and I remember just realizing that poets of all levels are rejected, but I could completely see how it would sting more if you were asked personally by an editor to submit.

    I've spent the last month talking to different poets of different levels to see if they've had this happen to them and how it felt. It was amazing to hear their stories and the details they remembered--because it hurts more to be asked and rejected than just to submit someplace on our own and be rejected.

    Anyway, glad this made you feel better. It's why I shared it.

  3. It happens to us prose writers too. In fact, Carrie's experience has happened to me several times, and has left me wondering what I did wrong.

    And I get very tired of editors using the excuse, "We're just too busy to respond to anything."

    Great post, Kelly.

  4. Thanks for writing about this. I don't mind at all if I know I'm entering an anonymous review process, or there's an editorial board, no guarantees, etc. But to be personally asked and rejected is troublesome, indeed.

    I'm glad to hear about how Crab Creek handles it. Wishing you well.

  5. Kelli,
    Having never been invited to the literary prom, I don't entirely relate but I really appreciate your 'ask me to the dance' analogy (and that photo). I cheer you on for writing this direct and passionate post. You're showing some fire, and that's good stuff. Go get 'em!

  6. i don't think its too much to ask for editors to be willing to work with the writer and ask for more work--if they took the time to seek out and ask the writer for work, why not take the time to find the specific piece by that author that would work for their journal? I don't understand that at all.

  7. Here is my story: I sent poems to a very prominent journal. They wrote back and said they were really backed up, but they loved X poem, and would I consider resubmitting X with maybe some other new poems in the new year.

    I did.

    Form rejection. For an actual specific poem they asked for and for some other poems I thought were some of my best work AND highly suitable.

    That was the last time I submitted there.

    The poem in question went on to be published elsewhere, won a couple of awards and was anthologized. Others in packet also well-published. So suck it, prominent editor in question.

    I will say, from editors I've spoken to, that sometimes when you solicit, especially big names, they send their weakest work because you are NOT the New Yorker. I feel like you could, in that instance, ask for different work or reject them. But when I get solicited, I send the best work I have available, no matter what journal it is. If I'm being asked to the prom, I'm gonna dress well and put my game face on.

    That was the only time I was solicited and subsequently rejected. I don't get asked to the dance often, but so far my dates have mostly been lovely.

  8. A thoughtful examination of this. While I've not had the experience of being asked and rejected I've heard of this happening.

    There seems no rational explanation for why an editor would do this; your admonition to editors to be careful with the artists you "play" with leaves me wondering if in fact they treat this simply as play.

  9. While well-meant, this post seems to value the feelings of the writer over the quality of the work, which, if the enterprise is publishing a literary magazine of lasting value, seems to be slippery territory. All poets, beginners and masters, write weaker poems, and often it will take a good editor (i.e., an editor who expects the best of writers they admire, but won't publish a poem they don't believe in) to recognize them. Editing a poetry journal is thankless enough work (as I'm sure you know through your various editing gigs), so to vilify editors for asking to see your poems seems to be focusing on the wrong part of the exchange.

  10. Hi Luke, I completely understand what you're saying and actually agree with you that the poem should be chosen over the writer.

    Many times an editor asks a poet to send them some poems and they send what I can their "B poems." They're good, but they're not terrific.

    I guess my request is if you are an editor and you ask a poet for poems to say, "These didn't work for us, but would you mind sending a few more. Again, we can't guarantee anything, but we'd still love to work with you, but the poems you sent just weren't a good fit this time..." (Or whatever.)

    My beef is with editors goes back to 1) soliciting a poet and not working with that poet to find a poem that works 2) soliciting a large group of poets just to get the more "known" names in the journal.

    As a writer and a current editor, I know when you ask a poet you should say something like "I won't be reading them but our poetry editor will be" or "I love your work and while I can't guarantee anything, we'd love the opportunity to consider you." While it should be implied in the asking (kind of like what you said, "what's the harm in just asking"), it's not always, and in fact, some emails from editors come off with the "we want to publish you" feel, so you submit your work and then wham-o, a rejection.

    As I said, in my heart I *know* being solicited doesn't mean "the work will be published," but to get a rejection after an editor says we love your work and would love to publish painful.

    (Note: Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's life as usual and you go on as you were. But if the writer is in a doubtful place or sorting through something and they get that rejection after being asked, it stings much more than a normal unsolicited rejection).

    I definitely wasn't vilifying editors (esp. since I am one) but offering the reminder to be careful with your poets and writers. They are a journal's lifeforce and should be treated well, in solicitations, rejections, and correspondence.

    At Crab Creek Review, it is our #1 rule-- Writers first.

    We put the writer before anything else. The writing will be fine, the readers will be fine, the printer will be fine, but the writer is what matters and we do everything in our power to make sure that when they deal with us, they leave feeling good about themselves, their artistic life and the connection with CCR more than anything else.

    Anyway, I totally *don't* disagree with you and my rational mind knows that the editor is just *asking,* but creatively it sucks to be rejected after being asked personally by the editor...even knowing all that I know.

    Luke, thanks for your comment!

    (I'm guessing you're editing a journal right now? Yes? Then maybe this post can be something think over before you ask someone to submit or ask in a way that's not over-complimentary that the writer doesn't submit in belief that this lovefest will never end.)

    Just my 2 cents for what it's worth. And being an editor of a nonprofit journal, it's probably worth less than that.

    All best,


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