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.