A Personal Rejection from Carve: The 7 Stages of Grief

Editor's note: Our internal submission policy states that anyone who is not actively serving on the reading committee or editorial staff may submit to Carve. Though Janelle serves as a blogger for Carve, she is not on the reading committee.


As writers, we discover early on that rejection comes with the territory. Over time, we learn to brush off form rejections when they arrive in our inboxes, and we relish the times an editor offers feedback or encouragement even though they aren't going to publish our work.

Occasionally though, some rejections are harder to shake, often because we were that close to receiving that cherished acceptance letter — but in the end, we did not. This happened to me a few months ago with a piece I submitted to Carve.

The Stakes:

Carve is the first literary journal I fell in love with. I treasure everything about it from its warm persona and honest fiction, to its Decline/Accept feature and story snapshots that make publication seem attainable. For me, Carve is the holy grail of literary journals.

The Submission:

Back in September 2016, I submitted a piece to Carve I thought might be a good fit. I knew my chances of acceptance were extremely slim, so you can imagine my shock and amazement when three weeks later I received an email that read: Your piece has successfully made its way through several rounds of reads and is now on the editor's desk.

I was overjoyed, excited, and a bit flabbergasted. I jumped up and down and immediately called some members of my writing group to share the good news. Although it wasn’t an acceptance, it sure as heck felt like it was going to become one. A goal I thought I wouldn’t accomplish for at least another 10 years (if ever) was suddenly within my grasp.

The Snuff:

After that first email, several more weeks went by, and I waited anxiously to hear the final decision. Unfortunately, when the follow-up email did come (on Election Day no less), it read: We appreciate the opportunity to read your work, but we will not be publishing your piece.

The 7 Stages of Grief:

1. Shock
The rejection email felt like a bombshell. I had no idea what the odds of publication were for a piece “on the editor’s desk,” but I had assumed they were pretty high. Let’s just say I had already been daydreaming about my author Q&A in the Premium Edition. 

2. Pain/Guilt
After the initial shock wore off, the pain of coming that close kicked in. I felt like a cat chasing a laser pointer — one minute it seemed within my grasp, the next minute it had disappeared. I also started to feel guilty for even thinking I could get published in Carve, which was not a productive mental road to walk down. 

3. Anger
In the rejection email, Carve had generously provided comments from the reading committee. Despite the encouragement and positive feedback, I found myself fixating on one comment in particular. The only truly negative comment in the bunch. I found it dismissive instead of constructive, and I raged silently about it for days. 

4. Depression, Reflection, Loneliness
Once the anger wore off, I moped around a bit. I avoided writing and submitting. I ignored texts from friends and hibernated at home. Some of this had to do with the rejection, and some of it with the election, but in both cases, I was grieving a loss. 

5. Upward Turn
One morning, I finally woke up ready to see the positive. Almost being accepted by Carve was not a failure; if anything, it was reassurance I was doing something right. I also felt gratitude for the staff and readers who had invested their time, effort, and energy into helping me make my work better. Plus, there was always the Decline/Accept feature if my piece was accepted elsewhere. 

6. Reconstructing and Working Through
When I revisited the comments from the reading committee, I was finally ready to apply the feedback. After completing some revisions, I knew the piece was stronger thanks to the comments from Carve. Maybe I hadn’t quite achieved the goal I’d hoped to accomplish, but I knew I was headed to future success.

7. Acceptance and Hope
A few weeks later, I sent out my revised piece to more journals, knowing it was better because of the insightful feedback I received and my revisions. I am hopeful that it will find a home soon. I am also confident that getting published in Carve is within my reach.

I share this experience because I'm sure all of us have that favorite literary magazine — our holy grail — we strive toward being published in, and I think it’s important that we not only share our successes, but also our countless little literary deaths. In that way, we can grieve and then rebound from them together. 

How do you handle rejection letters? Have any in particular really left an impression on you? How did you respond?