Rejections hurt. But they are inevitable if you want to get your writing published and read beyond your immediate circle of friends and family. No matter how carefully you research your market, select the poems that you think are a best fit for a publisher/magazine, you will still get rejections. Mostly they are not a reflection of your work but simply that the editor couldn’t fit your work in their next publishing window: they’d already had 14 cat poems and yours was the 15th or they had 3 slots for collections, two of which went to poets they’d already published and yours was only just edged out by a brilliant debut or the editor’s best friend (if you’re into conspiracy theories).
It’s also demotivating and demoralising to learn that getting one poem/book/collection published does not make you immune to rejections. It’s a foot in the door and reassurance that your work is publishable, but one success doesn’t guarantee the next.
The best way of coping with them is to see writing and publishing as two separate activities. Writing is what makes you a writer, not publication. It’s hard to hear, but writers are not entitled to be published. You’ve written something, edited it, polished it, put it aside and read it again, but you are not entitled to get it published. Publication is not the end stop of writing. Not all writing journeys can end in publication. Sometimes the journey is about the lessons learnt, skills gained, characters created and developed and craft practised and all these need to be and should be celebrated. They are still achievements, even if the poem or collection was not published.
Publishers are in the business of making money. Even independent publishers who publish 2-3 books a year need to make money, even if just enough to publish the first of next year’s books. Poetry magazines may not make money, but they still have to attract and keep a readership. Therefore, publishers are not just looking for good writing, but writing they know how to market to their readership or that fits in with their ethos.
If your writing doesn’t fit, it won’t be accepted. You may have to repurpose your work to fit the market, wait for the right publisher to come along or self-publish. That doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is bad, just that the publisher you’ve approached can’t see how to make it fit their list or how to market it to the sector they serve.
It can feel even harder if you’re writing around a day job, family commitments and/or disability and don’t have any connections in publishing. The research into finding submission opportunities, networking and discovering where your work might fit starts eating into the limited time you had to write. Joining a writers’ group (or a couple) and developing a support network can help. It feels even harder when rejections start coming in – they invariably come in batches even if you’ve deliberately staggered your submissions – leaving you demotivated.
That demotivation can feel worse if you start seeing posts of acceptances by other writers. Remind yourself that people tend to only post good news on social media and you don’t know how many rejections there were before that acceptance. Don’t rain on someone else’s parade. If you submitted to the same magazine, they didn’t steal your slot. If they hadn’t submitted, it doesn’t mean your poem would have been accepted. It doesn’t mean your writing is bad or you should give up.
This is why it’s so important to celebrate your writing successes independently of publications and separate the two activities. If you rely on the external validation of publication, you are setting yourself up to fail. Unless you self-publish, you have no control over what gets selected for publication and will feel like a failure. Similarly targets to achieve x number of rejections in a year are not good for writers because your target relies on someone else making the ‘right’ decision. Your focus needs to be on the part you control: writing and submitting to the markets that are right for your work. If you focus solely on publication as a goal, you’ll miss celebrating what you’ve learnt and achieved so far.