#ShareYourRejections

I’m not going to share mine. Rejections are boring. I don’t think it’s helpful to hear that a published poet got so many rejections for her first book but kept going because:

  • Success isn’t just about persistence and tenacity
  • The try again and keep going message can give false hope
  • It implies rejections stop when you reach a certain level of success

Persistence and Tenacity

  • Some editors simply don’t like your poems. It’s possible to appreciate the craft and technical skills in a poem but not actually like it. Don’t give up at the first rejection, but if a magazine invariably rejects your work, move on and find an editor that likes your work.
  • Sometimes poets send out their poems too early which is why it’s worth finding a beta reader, workshop or writers’ group so you can get feedback on your work before you send it out to editors.
  • Editors don’t have time to give feedback on poems. It’s frustrating not knowing why you’ve been rejected but it’s more likely to be that your poems weren’t the right fit or too similar to work already accepted or the editor gets more poems in a week than she can publish in a year.
  • Do your research: find magazines that you like reading and that publish poems by poets you like and try them first. Check you’re not sending your traditional sonnets to a magazine that prefers prose poems. Continually sending prose poems to a magazine that only publishes villanelles wastes your time and irritates the magazine editor.
  • Don’t compare your failures with others’ successes. You don’t know how many times that poem was rejected before it was accepted. You don’t know how many rejections they got that week they posted about an acceptance on social media.
  • There are more poets than places to get published.

The False Hope of Try Again and Keep Going

  • It’s worth trying again if you’ve only had one rejection from a magazine and if you’ve done your research and think your poems are a good fit for the magazine.
  • It’s not worth trying again if there’s a mismatch between your poetry style and the magazine’s poetry style. Don’t get trapped into thinking you’re not a poet if you’ve not been published by The New Yorker or Poetry Review.
  • When you get a rejection, always re-read the poems that have been rejected. A fresh look might help you notice the awkward phrase in the second stanza or that the last line isn’t necessary. Edit and submit to another magazine.
  • If an editor doesn’t like your poems, they aren’t going to change their mind on the twentieth submission. Try another magazine.
  • If you’re getting good feedback when you perform your work but get rejected by magazines, chances are your performance is bringing something to your poems that’s absent on the page. Consider how to represent the missing element or consider recording your performances instead.
  • One rejection of a poem doesn’t imply there’s anything wrong with the poem. Multiple rejections of the same poem imply that it might be unfinished. Consider an edit or seek feedback before trying again.
  • Are you really a prose writer who wants to be a poet? Someone with amusia will never be a successful singer no matter how much they want to be, how many times they try, how frequently they change vocal style in the hope that their failure at opera will turn to success in pop, their failure at pop will turn to success in punk, how many hours of practice they do, how adept they get at using auto tune on their vocals or if they stalk the record label owner. However, there’s nothing to stop them becoming a successful drummer. You don’t have to stop writing poems just because your stories are more successful, but, when it comes to getting published, focus on where your talent actually lies.

Rejections Don’t Stop

Most of the magazines that accepted my poems in my first years of trying to get published no longer exist. The publishing landscape is forever changing: existing magazines change editors or fold and new magazines start. Being a published writer means being alert and open to new opportunities and that means potential rejection. Rejection can be minimised by doing your research, only submitting to markets where you know your work’s a good fit and knowing that you’re sending off the best versions of your poems, but it can’t be entirely eliminated.

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Should Writers get Reasons with Rejections?

Every writer will say, “Yes!”  Editors, publishers and literary agents will say, “Sometimes.” 

For a writer, a bland pre-printed standard rejection slip usually saying something along the lines of “thanks for thinking of us but we can’t accept your work at this time” is frustrating.  It offers no clues as to whether we were close to being accepted and should try again another time or whether we were so far out that we should not bother again, ever.

For editors, publishers and literary agents, some submissions are such obvious candidates for rejection, there’s no point in saying why.  Most are snowed under with submissions so don’t have time to translate a gut instinct or experienced reaction into a neat, tactful two sentence rejection.  Most common reasons for rejection are:

  • Manuscript littered with grammar and/or spelling errors.  One or two errors will slip through but a manuscript full of errors suggests the writer couldn’t be bothered so the writer will be hard work and time consuming.  Spellcheckers won’t catch everything so if you’re not good at proof-reading your own work, find someone who can proof it for you or pay for a professional proof-reader.
  • The manuscript is the wrong genre.  No poetry magazine will accept a novel, even in verse.  No science-fiction magazine will accept your recipes, even if for alien cupcakes.  No non fiction publisher will accept your space opera magnum opus, even if you’ve set it on a real planet and elaborately described the terrain.  All writers need to do their research and check that the editor, publisher or agent will accept the writing being submitted.
  • The submission is too long or too short.  Most poetry magazines will not accept poems over 40 lines because a 40 line poem fits on one side of page (an exception may be made for a poetry sequence where each part of the sequence is 40 lines or less).  Most magazines accepting short stories have strict word counts because they need a short story to fit around advertising and illustrations.  Similarly articles will have strict word counts.  Book publishers have limits too.  A novel is generally around 70,000 to 120,000 words and a saga may be up to 250,000 words.  Check with the publisher and double-check your word count before submitting.
  • The timing was wrong.  Summer fiction specials are often planned early in the year and Christmas issues are often decided in July.  Generally themed issues are planned at least six months in advance and if you want to publish a book to time with an anniversary, you could have to submit three or more years in advance.
  • The writer had clearly not read any contemporary literature.  You want to be a published writer, you have to read what is being published now.  If you don’t read, you won’t know what’s being published and you’ll waste editor’s, publisher’s and agent’s time by submitting writing that would have been accepted last century but is not acceptable now.

However, if a writer has done their research, written to a publishable standard, got feedback from trusted, contemporary readers (possibly other writers) and edited and polished their work, but still gets a rejection, it would be a courtesy to know why.  Even a scrawled “too many submissions, can’t accept all”, “sorry, this doesn’t fit us”, “liked but already accepted something similar” would help. 

The worst rejection of all is from the editor, publisher or agent who wanted to let the writer down gently, the one that suggests the rejecter liked the writing but couldn’t use it.  This only encourages future submissions, which may not have been the intention, and eventual discouragement and even rage after the writer realises, several submissions and rejections down the line, that the rejecter had absolutely no intention of ever accepting the work.

Naturally some editors are wary of giving reasons because they fear a backlash from the writer.  There are some writers who think they have to the right to be published just because they’ve written something, even if that something doesn’t fit, is the wrong length, is badly written or is simply so riddled with errors it’s not worth editing.  No writer has the right to be published, even long-standing, much-published ones, that’s a right that has to be earnt.  It’s earnt by reading, practicing, writing, editing, further editing, research, checking guidelines, further research, more reading, more writing, more editing and sending writing to the right editor.

If you want your writing to be published, accept rejections

 

Thanks to Meg Gardiner for posting on this topic.  She’s right: rejections don’t stop just because you’re published.  There’s no magic “yes, I’ve got my novel or poetry collection accepted so I won’t have to deal with rejections ever again” moment.  Rejections don’t stop. 

Rejections will only stop if you stop sending submissions to editors and when you stop doing that, you stop being a writer.

Acceptances are so dependent on a combination of factors: the right manuscript landing on the right editor’s desk when the editor’s looking for a manuscript just like that, is in the mood to read submissions thoroughly and recognises that the manuscript they are reading is the perfect fit, ie such a narrow window of opportunity, it’s a wonder acceptances happen at all.  But even an acceptance doesn’t guarantee publication.  Editors move on, their replacement may decide not to go ahead with publication, a new priority is set turning acceptance to rejection or magazines and publishers go under meaning publication won’t happen.  There’s more to getting published than an acceptance letter, contract and waiting for publication.

Writers at any and all stages of their career have to accept rejections.  Whilst acceptances that do turn into publication are always very welcome, rejections aren’t always bad news:

·        Rejections aren’t personal: you aren’t being rejected, just that particular piece by that particular editor.

·        Rejections aren’t always a reflection on the standard of your writing, often they’re down to lack of space, prior acceptance of a similar piece or an incoming editor clearing an outgoing editor’s in-tray.

·        Rejections stop writers becoming lazy.  Doesn’t matter where you are in your writing career, every submission should be to a professional standard.

 

Doesn’t make rejections easier to take, although they can be reduced.  Research your markets: only submit work to editors who are likely to be interested in your work, check submission guidelines and submit your work in the right format and during the reading period (where applicable).  A magazine that focuses on experimental poetry is never going to take your traditional sonnet no matter how good a sonnet it is.  If a magazine only takes postal submissions, don’t submit via email.  If an editor asks for names not to appear on submitted work, take your name off and submit a covering letter or sheet with a list of titles and your contact details.  If a magazine states it has a reading period of May to September, don’t submit in April – you won’t be first in the reading queue, you’ll be automatically rejected.  If the guidelines state that you have to wait a year after an acceptance before submitting again, wait a year – it may be tempting to re-try an editor who has already accepted a poem, but you’ll be automatically rejected for not following guidelines if you don’t wait.  If an editor asks for email submissions as an attachment, don’t paste your poems into the body of the email and note what format the attachment should be in (if in doubt use .rtf). 

 

For a writer, a submission is like a job application and should be treated as such.  Just like job applications, where the recruiter often reads them looking for reasons to reject such as miss-spelt words, bad grammar, coffee stains, crumpled paper and a general unprofessional approach because they have one vacancy and over 50 applicants; so editors overwhelmed with submissions will look for a reason to reject you.  Don’t give them one.

Whilst you need to keep a record or what you’ve sent where (to avoid simultaneous submissions and prevent sending a published piece to an editor who will only consider unpublished work), you don’t need to keep rejection slips.  If an editor’s taken the trouble to scrawl a comment, note the comment and put it aside to read later.  Recycle all rejection slips (they make useful cat litter tray lining).  If there’s no comment, assume your work was simply not on the right editor’s desk at the right time and send it elsewhere. 

Do keep all you acceptance letters, positive comments and feedback in a handy place and refer to them frequently, especially when rejections pile up.

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