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A Good Rejection

Memoir Incubator writer Eileen Toomey reviews the rejections she received from literary magazines, and resolves to keep submitting.

By Eileen Toomey

May 11, 2023

I had drinks with a friend who is a widely published poet. She told me that she was almost finished with a complete draft of her sixth (or seventh) book.

“Wow, that’s amazing.” I fingered the stem of my glass, thinking about how much she’s able to accomplish even with a full-time job, kids, and an ailing father. “I just got a really nice rejection.”

“Ha!” she laughed. “Spoken like a true writer!”

“They said that they were ‘very moved’ and that my work was ‘especially compelling.’”

My friend patted my back. “Just remember, it’s a numbers game. Give yourself a day, see if you need to change anything, and send it right back out there again!”

That lovely rejection had been my fifth in the last two weeks. Sending out work to more than one magazine at a time, my rejections came back in bunches like miracles—or deaths. 

“You’re a good writer,” my friend reassured me as we parted ways. 

The next morning I woke up with a sense of resolve. I reread the first line of this latest rejection. “Thank you…Unfortunately…” Once again I felt my disappointment landing in my throat, but the next line lifted my spirits: “However, our readers noted your work was especially compelling … ”

I was disappointed, but I was also encouraged. According to data from Duotrope, a website that tracks submissions to literary magazines, the average acceptance rate is 1-2%. For every 100 submissions received, only one or two are accepted for publication. The personalized response meant that my submission at least made it past the first few rounds of readers.

The following week, another rejection came in: “Our editorial staff carefully considered and discussed your work; but unfortunately, the team could not come to a consensus … Please feel free to submit again during our next reading cycle.”

That one made me feel even better. I looked up the next submission period and made a note on my calendar. When I do send it in, I will make a point to reference the note and maybe they’ll remember me. 

All of my submissions were poems. Writing poetry helps me distill meaning into specific memories that enhance the memoir I’m working on in the Memoir Incubator. After carefully reviewing my recent rejections, I made a list of the almost-accepted poems. Over the course of the last month, I played with breaking the form of one that I had submitted, adding another element to make a braid. I felt that I had experienced a breakthrough that might make the next editorial team come to a consensus. 

Why not aim high? After some tweaking, I submitted my rejected poems directly to the top-tier literary magazine, Rattle, even though they have an acceptance rate of just 0.11% (compared with 0.14% at The New Yorker). I have not yet received a response, but I will continue to write and rewrite.

I won’t give up. Knock me down, and I’ll resubmit! Perhaps this quality is what my friend recognized when she called me a true writer.

Eileen Toomey

Eileen Toomey’s works have appeared in Cleaver Magazine, The Rumpus, Oyster River Pages, and more. Her poem "Immunotherapy" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Red Bank, NJ with her husband, Michael.

Eileen Toomey’s works have appeared in Cleaver Magazine, The Rumpus, Oyster River Pages, and more. Her poem "Immunotherapy" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Red Bank, NJ with her husband, Michael.