No news is good news

image via Open Europe
Since I began submitting to open reading periods and contests, my attitude while playing the manuscript waiting game has been, "No news is good news." Seems about right, no? At the very least, this mantra has been a way to cope with the anxiety I feel on a daily basis as I watch for the mailman to appear at the end of the driveway. My anxiety does not stem from a fear of rejection. Lord knows I’m used to that by now. It’s just an anxiety at having to face the Big Unknown. Every. Day.

Don’t get me wrong. The waiting is anxiety-filled, but it’s also a pleasure. Just like submitting work to magazines and journals, whenever I get a manuscript rejection I have an opportunity to send the work out again.

Hello, Lemons. Meet Sugar and Water.

via Shirt Woot!
I began submitting Praise Nothing in a couple different versions last September. Of the handful of presses I’ve heard back from, not including the one time I withdrew from a contest, the vast majority of rejections have been in the form of announcements, “announcements” meaning the press/contest updates their website or Facebook page and divulges only the name of the winner. Fine. Good. But the one thing that bugs me about this kind of info dump is there’s no way of knowing how far one’s manuscript made it.

Announcements like this are, I think, the lamest form of rejection, though the worst variety of this form must be the one where an announcement’s been made and all your friends have received their official rejections, except yours has yet to show up in the mailbox. Besides the fact that you’ve spent money on a SASE as a guarantee of receiving said official notification, if you’re like me in this situation, there’s always that little bit of your manuscript soul caught in manuscript limbo and you find yourself in the produce aisle reaching for a lemon but coming up with a handful of elaborate scenarios which always end in first book publication despite the winner already being selected.

I know: neurotic.

I’ve also received a couple of the standard “Dear Poet” rejections. This form of rejection is better than nothing. At least something comes in the mail that day. At least you finally know the full results, and that’s a relief.

And, then, on the good side of things, I’ve been a runner-up, finalist, or semifinalist a few times.

In the recent while, though, poetry manuscript news is beginning to trickle in with greater consistency and it’s done so in a weirdly yin yang fashion. Should make for an interesting summer.

A couple weeks ago, I received a standard "Dear Poet" rejection. All good and fine, but still a rejection. Then, only a day later, I received a really nice email from a person at a major poetry press and contest, one different from the “Dear Poet” rejection. Actually this person was associated with a press that’d made an “announcement” months ago. Out of the blue this person took time out of their day to email me some kind words about Praise Nothing, and said they were looking forward to teaching my book one day. Wowza. The poet judging the contest didn't select my manuscript as the winner, obviously, but this person’s note really added some fuel to the fire. It felt like a win.

In another moment of manuscript yin yang, I received my first manuscript “whiplash” rejection. If you’ve ever received one of this variety for a batch of poems, you’ll know what I mean by “whiplash.” If you haven’t, it basically works like this: you send poems to a journal you respect, and within a day or two, or sometimes hours, you find a rejection sitting in your inbox. Whiplash.

So I get the whiplash rejection, and the next day another email. This one from a person at a contest telling me I’m still in the running. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now. Well, I’ll just add that this email was a jolt. I almost didn’t submit to this contest and here I am still under consideration. Yeah, probably one of a hundred or so, but still under consideration: I’ll take it.

I’m not posting all of this out of narcissism, though this is a blog. There’s been a lot of discussion about the contest process on Facebook and at Huffington Post. Sure, there are a lot of things that could be tweaked in the process, and there are issues with the “po-biz” and “industry” (by the way, when can we stop calling it that?). But whatever problems there are, it looks to me after not quite a year of rejection that the process is getting better all the time, and that’s coming from a repeat loser.

So, a toast to all of you who are right there with me plugging along, hunkering down. To your persistence, your belief in your work, your neuroses, and your manuscripts: Cheers! And fists up!