I have been sending my full-length poetry manuscript, in a variety of iterations, to contests and publishers since 2002, the year I got my MFA. It has never been a semi-finalist or a finalist, and out of literally hundreds of contest and open-reading period submissions, only seven editors have ever taken the time to respond with anything close to an explanation as to why the book didn’t pass muster. Of course, I never expect to hear anything back–editors are busy folk–so any word at all is always greedily accepted and appreciated.
I’ve kept those notes in a file and added the most recent one (the last one in the list below) today, when I heard back from a press who had liked the first ten pages of the book well enough to ask to read the rest. Disappointing, but I’m trying to focus on the positive energy (not sure I’d call the first one positive, but it is hilarious and bizarre) in these rejections. I read an essay this week by the writer Nichole Bernier, who talks about exactly this: how an agent who passed on her novel, but who called it, in a long letter, a “near miss for her,” helped fuel her revisions and pushed her, ultimately, toward publication. Just knowing it had come close was enough.
So. I will keep them close and try to think of them not as rejections, not as judgments that the work isn’t good enough, but instead as affirmations.
It’s almost there.
It’s your remorseless insistence on free verse that makes this manuscript unsuitable for publication at this time.”
“I think the poems here are fine, but with the titles I found that I wanted more from the poems. I wanted more from these.”
“This manuscript gave us all great debate.”
“While we admired your collection’s risks and artistic bravery, we aren’t able to offer to publish it at this time. ”
“There is a lot to admire in this collection.”
“Your work rocks. We wish we could publish it, but we are a small operation overwhelmed with excellent work.”
“Though we found a great deal to admire about the work. In the end not enough hit us just right to warrant publication at this time.