I sent my first haiku submission in 1990, which means I’ve been getting my work rejected for more than 30 years. Of course, I’ve had acceptances. But there is no doubt that even after three decades, certain rejections still sting.
I believe there are two types of rejections: Rip off the bandaid (or plaster) quickly or remove it oh-so-slowly. I prefer my rejections short and sweet. Rip off the bandaid quickly and keep your eyes closed, because at the end of the day a no is a no is a no.
I’d like to share a recent rejection I received from a literary journal which publishes short fiction, short stories, and poetry, including haibun:
Roberta, The language is so resonant here, and I love the way the words flow. I’m so sorry to say no, but it’s not quite right for us. Thanks again for submitting. Good luck with this piece—I hope it finds a perfect home!
What did I do after receiving this email? My first step was to see if there was something the editor thought needed work. I didn’t find it anywhere in the rejection. So I did what I usually do when my work is rejected: send the haibun to another journal that very same day. I also find it helpful to file the email immediately into a “rejection” folder so it doesn’t pop up whenever I look at my inbox. In one sense, I have taken back control of that rejection.
How do other haiku poets deal with the rejection of their work? Here’s a not-so-random online sampling of paraphrased responses to that question from the Twitter haiku universe:
Have an ice-cream.
Take a coffee break or go for a walk.
Send the work someplace else.
Acknowledge it hurts and that the pain will lessen over time.
Get used to it because it means you’re putting your work out there.
Picture it as a step on the path to acceptance.
Smile and think of it not as a rejection but as a renewal.
See it as someone’s opinion and preference.
Share your rejection with a writing partner or group.
Read [Rejection]Wiki’s “Literary Journals and Rejections.”
I’m sure that some people have been tempted at least once when their submission has been rejected to respond to an editor who they feel has treated them or their work rudely. For example, a response which says: “Stop submitting here.”
As haibun editor at Modern Haiku and editor of several haiku anthologies, I can tell you that it is never a good idea. That’s why you will sometimes see journal guidelines which state:
“All decisions of the editors are final.”
Or, “Due to the volume of submissions, we cannot comment on work that was not accepted.”
Or, “Wait six months until resubmitting.”
This last response is designed to keep serial submitters from arguing about why their submissions are so often rejected.
Keep in mind that replying to a rejection letter doesn’t get the submitter to a good place. Neither does complaining about one editor to another editor at the same journal or anthology. Doing so gets the editor’s attention, but not in a good way. You will be remembered. Most journal and/or anthology editors are volunteers who review myriad submissions. There simply isn’t enough time to engage in a back-and-forth with writers whose work isn’t accepted, as opposed to writers whose work is accepted but needs tweaking. As an editor, I remember those who sent angry responses when work is rejected. Such responses do nothing to encourage the acceptance of future submissions.
If you are one of the submitters an editor has chosen to work with, take it as a positive sign. Most submissions are either accepted or rejected. It is the one which falls in-between which takes the most time and effort. Unless I’ve engaged with a submitter in the past, I first ask if they are open to edits. Some people are not, and asking first saves us both time. No editor wants to review a work, then make minor edits, only to find that the submitter withdraws the work, incorporates the suggested edits, and submits the revised work elsewhere.
Sometimes a work is rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with the submission. At Modern Haiku I see many haibun submissions about dreams, about writing, and about spiritual experiences. Haibun about other subjects has a greater chance of acceptance. Also, sometimes a perfectly wonderful haibun is submitted which is very similar to one already accepted for that issue, or to one which appeared in the last issue. Again, the rejection has nothing to do with the quality of work. In these cases, I will often recommend that the writer submit the haibun to a contest. I am happy whenever I see these same haibun win prizes.
Sometimes a work is rejected because the journal’s guidelines were not followed. Besides reading a journal’s guidelines before submitting, I also do a close reading of back issues to get a feel for what type of work is accepted.
Although some submitters may not appreciate an editor’s specific suggestions, please do not cut and paste those private emails and turn them into a haiku sequence or a haibun. Most readers will figure out who the editor is, and most will take sides, likely not with the writer. I believe that if a writer has to resort to private emails to give their work traction, something’s amiss.
This is not to say you can’t write about rejection. Seven years ago, I did exactly that after receiving a rejection from a haiku anthology:
the email rejection starts
with an apology
—appears in bottle rockets (Issue 31)
Notice I name neither the publication which rejected my anthology entry nor the editor. I don’t believe in naming and shaming. Editors are human and have bad days like everyone else. My anthology submission might have caught the editor’s eye on such a day. Sometimes, the basis for a rejection is as simple as that.
Remember too that not all editors send polished responses. Some editors’ emails are clumsy. But clumsy wording does not equal a personal attack. It may help to recall that editors also are sending out their work and getting rejected, sometimes daily. My record is receiving four rejections on the same day, Christmas Eve.
Finally, please continue to submit your work. There is nothing gained by rejecting your own work as unworthy because of an editor’s prior rejection. My haiku that won the International Kusamakura Haiku Competition was rejected 15 times. If I hadn’t tried for a 16th, I would not have been treated to a week’s stay in Kumamoto, Japan, to accept the Grand Prize. The haiku universe is large and has room for everyone’s work. Keep on writing, keep on submitting, and keep on keeping on.
—First presented as “Haiku Etiquette: Dealing With Rejection” at the
BHS (British Haiku Society) Spring Gathering on 6 June 2021, this essay was printed in
the members-only journal of the British Haiku Society, Blithe Spirit (Volume
31, Number 3, August 2021); and appears here with author’s permission.
second collection of short poems, Carousel, is co-winner of the Snapshot Press
2019 book award contest. Her first short-form collection, The Unworn Necklace,
received a finalist book award from the Poetry Society of America. Her collection of
prose poetry, Deflection (Accents Publishing, 2015), was named a National
Poetry Month Best Pick by Washington Independent Review of Books.
Long-time haibun editor of Modern Haiku, Ms. Beary is also co-editor of
Wishbone Moon: An Anthology of Haiku by Women (Jacar Press, 2018), and she
recently judged the Sable Books Haiku Contest for Women Book Award.
Her writing has appeared in Rattle, KYSO Flash, 100 Word Story, Cultural
Weekly, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and The New York Times, and is also
featured in A Companion to Poetic Genre (John Wiley & Sons, 2011) and
Haiku In English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton, 2013).
Ms. Beary lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, Frank Stella,
and tweets her photoku and micro-poetry on Twitter [at] shortpoemz.
Featured Guest: Roberta Beary on Rattlecast 133 hosted by
Tim Green, editor of Rattle poetry journal (YouTube, 28 February 2022)
Roberta Beary, haiku poet and editor, on writing Haibun, interview
on YouTube (8 February 2021) with Mike Rehling, editor of Failed Haiku
Tiny Love Stories in The New York Times (8 January
2019); scroll five stories down the page for Roberta Beary’s “Now
It’s All Fresh Fish” and her photograph of lobster traps in Clew Bay,
art of brevity, an interview by Ciara Moynihan in Mayo News
(22 January 2019)
Lunch Break, a haibun by Beary in Rattle (#56,
Summer 2017), Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness; includes audio (17 July 2017)