Friday, June 08, 2007


There are thorns in everyone’s side in the publishing world. If you send an editor something they don’t need, that’s a bit of a thorn. If an editor rejects you repeatedly, that’s a thorn. If an editor prints you, but fouls up your format or creates typographical errors when inputting your poem into print, that’s a thorn in your side. Between (and including) your pen touching a sheet of paper and a reader perusing your lines in a magazine or book, there is a keen harmony of things that can, at any point, go wrong. These are common, to be expected, and in some cases, necessary. There is one particular thorn I want to touch down on, a purposeful one that is generally known as ‘rescinsion’.

A definition is in order:

Verb: Rescind ri’sind

1. Annul by recalling.
2. Take back

Synonyms: annul, countermand, lift, overturn, repeal, revoke

Similar, but not to be confused with:

Noun: Rescission ri’si-shun

1. (Law) the act of rescinding; the cancellation of a contract and the return of the parties to the positions they would have had if the contract had not been made.

This, in publishing with the small press, is the simple act of taking your work back from an editor. Why would this be necessary? There are many reasons, but with this post, we’re going to focus on the three most common: Tardiness, simultaneous submission, and offense.


When you submit a handful of poems to a magazine or other such publication, you are giving notice that your poems are available, and that if the editor so likes, they can be printed with the editor’s publication. Most magazines state in their guidelines that submitting work to them is an act of admission that you own the rights to the work you’re submitting, and that you are the creator of them. Many magazines will also state that the work cannot be previously published, nor simultaneously submitted, though some will allow these properties exist with your works and the rights to print therein.

If you send your work, following guidelines, the remainder of the publishing experience with that submission is a matter of waiting, followed by a brief climax, usually in the form of a letter or email stating they will or will not be published. This wait is a thorn in your side, yes, but necessary. Most publications have systems of print and reading submissions that differ from others, and the manner in which an editor and staff may go through this process can change the timespan in which you can expect a response from them. Clerical errors can come into play, or it’s possible they never received your work.

This calls into question the timeframe in which you can expect your response. Most magazines will state their average reply time in their guidelines, usually with a line similar to “We respond in 2-4 months” or another time allotment. What happens, however, if you don’t hear from them in that time? Do you contact them (and risk annoying them, or possibly severing any good tie you might have developed with the publication), wait longer, give up and move on? It depends. As a basic rule, I give a publication four additional months past their maximum stated response time. I don’t let them know I’m doing this, as patience isn’t the sort of thing you should brag about. You either have it or you don’t. After the four months pass, if I still haven’t received any contact with the publication, I send a letter or email, depending on the type of publication and whether they’ve made their email addresses available. This letter tries to establish contact, but does state how long it’s been, and that I’d like an update. I also states that if they don’t at least acknowledge they have the poems within a few more weeks, to consider the poems rescinded from their publication. This is a clear statement of intent, and is more than generous. If I STILL don’t hear from them in the few further weeks my notice gives them, the poems are rescinded (via that notice, which told them what to expect if irresponse continued). I am now free to send them elsewhere, or retire them, whichever I decide is best. It may sound like a rude practice, but if a publication gives a response time of 2 weeks, and 5 months go by, it should be brought to their attention, along with the fact that you’re now thinking of going elsewhere.

There’s a good possibility (and I know this from many experiences rescinding work from a variety of publications) that the magazine in question will have no record of your submission. This is the most common response (beyond no response at all) that I have received. Blame your email service, or the postman, or chaos theory, or even the staff of the magazine, but things went awry and there’s nothing you or they can do about it. Try again or move on. Before rescinding, it’s a wise idea to try and establish some communication with the publication in question. An email every now and then can go a long way in solving a dilemma, but if it doesn’t, rescinsion is your final act of closure.

An example:

“My review is grand and timeless. Over the years, I have printed some of the greatest names in all of Eternia. Running this magazine, however, isn’t nearly as satisfying as I first thought. I need to take a rest and ignore all these submissions for awhile. I’ll just let them accrue and send one of my henchmen to wade through them later.”

“Man, what is the freakin’ deal with The Grayskull Quarterly? Their guidelines gave a response time of two months, max. It’s been eight long months and I haven’t heard anything. Did they get my work? Did they hate it and use it as toilet paper? Did they accept my poems and never tell me? I’m sending an email to inquire, because this is lame.”

“Henchman! You’ve made a gigantic mess of these submissions. They’re everywhere! And our office is such a pig-sty that I’m not even getting to half the emails coming in. People are beginning to rescind their work because of it. Gah, you're a horrible intern! Let’s just throw everything out and start over. Anything we missed will just go away, or iron itself out. Mwa ha.”

“Remember kids, when you run into an obstinate or clerically challenged publication, it’s best to move on and leave it behind you. A well-worded and apologetic rescinsion is a great way to ditch a magazine until it figures out what’s going on. You can always try again another time.”

That’s why rescinsion is needed for tardy editors and staff. There comes a point where your patience wears out, or you simply realize how ridiculous it is that a year has gone by without so much as a word on your three short poems. Now, on to the second reason for rescinsion that we’re covering in this post: Offense.


I once had an editor at a well-regarded magazine call me on the phone, very long distance, to rewrite a poem I had submitted to the magazine. He didn’t want me to just rewrite it, he wanted to go over the entire poem, word by word with me, offering changes, telling me my work was odd, confusing, and rife with problems. A good portion of the lecture he gave me was based on how the simplest and most obvious words were the best place to start when writing a poem (I probably don’t need to mention that, aside from editing the literary magazine, he was also an english professor). I was quite green when this happened, having only been publishing about a month, and so went along. The sheer oddity of the situation made me let it go on. The conversation rattled on into the realm of downright horror for me. He accused me in the nicest ways of being a dolt and ignoring my readers, of abusing the language and, talent aside, writing in a bizarre fashion. He also stated that he couldn't understand why he liked my poem at all, he just somehow did, and a lot. It was obnoxious. I didn’t know that an editor would do this sort of thing. Did he call every other writer he thought about publishing and lecture them, as well? Shocking, right?

In the end, after two hours (no exaggeration) of telling me he would finally print the poem that I wrote (at that point, he’d written near half of it), we went our separate ways. Since that day, I have always fantasized of going back and telling this man what I would now, which isn’t entirely pleasant.

Rescinding your work from an editor due to offense needs little explanation. If you submit to a publication and the editor or staff decide to rewrite your poem or writing to an extent you won’t tolerate, you rescind the poem. I recently had to rescind from a rather nice publication because of a series of offensive events that began to bog down any trace of respect I had for the publication. They accepted my work, then forgot to print it, then the poetry editor wouldn’t answer my emails, then, when I finally got in touch with the chief editor, I was given an apology and a promise to print in a certain issue. The issue came and went and still, nothing. I contacted again, and was referred to a new poetry editor, who apologized again, and then asked me to make changes to the poem they had accepted two years prior. It was too much. The problem was even worse for me due to my inability to hound people. I’m really not the sort to do it, but had to, and I disliked the scenario much. I rescinded in a cordial way, but will never submit to them again.

Offense is a different beast to various people. Seeing that an editor has rewritten my bio bugs me, but not to the point I need stir up any trouble. However, if you have a carefully constructed work and you’ve placed each word with focus (as you should), having it stepped all over might make you angry enough to rescind. Whether a publication has stepped out of line is wholly up to you, and your level of tolerance. Whether you rescind due to this is also your decision. I advise you tread light. Rescind only when you have to.

Simultaneous Submission

When people use simultaneous submission in their publishing mode, they will often have to contact the editors of various magazines to take back poems that have been accepted elsewhere. My view on simultaneous submission is negative, but if you use it, be prepared to give prospective editors troublesome news with regularity. Taking a poem back, no matter the purpose, is an act of rescinsion.


In closing, rescinsion is a useful and, in certain cases, vital procedure. It can be overused, as well as abused. A good tenet when dealing with a troublesome editor or publication is tolerance, but if the trouble evolves into something you’re not willing to navigate, rescinsion is a final outcome that you can control.

While it is best to use patience and understanding with someone holding your work, there are times when you may need to break-it-off and start over. When in doubt, don’t rescind. I’ve sent rescinsions that turned into acceptances of my work, rescinsions that angered editors, and still others that brought heavy and sincere apologies. All of these made me feel like an ass. With rescinsion, keeping a bridge intact bears more couth than burning it, and if you decide you must rescind, use tact and a little diplomacy. It goes much farther than ranting in a letter to someone that doesn’t know you, and more than likely, didn’t know or believe there was a problem.

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