Rejection IS better than nothing

Was talking to another editor yesterday about Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market–which is my current top priority project at work–when she, a fiction writer, mentioned that she had received two rejections in the past week. Suddenly, I felt envious–she was, at least, receiving rejections. She, at least, was submitting her work. I have not been submitting at all.

There’s no excuse. I can say I’ve been busy with work; I can say I’ve been busy writing; I can say I’ve been blah-blah-blah; but the simple fact is that I’ve just not been submitting. I haven’t been taking care of that part of my creative side. And it’s an important part.

After all, there are more benefits to submitting your work than just receiving an acceptance, publication, and–rarely, though I hear it does happen–payment for your poetry. In fact, I’ve found acceptance is sometimes disappointing, because as my girlfriend likes to say, “I’ve lost that poem and can’t submit it anywhere else.”

Here are the benefits of submitting:

* Acceptance. This is always the goal of submitting: to be accepted and for people to read your work.

* Feedback. A few times, I’ve had poems rejected, but received a little feedback on the poem and/or some words of encouragement, such as, “This one nearly made the cut,” or, “We really liked this one, but it didn’t fit.” While this is not an acceptance, it can definitely fire you up to get that poem (or poems) back in the mail (or email) to another publication.

* Rejection. It sounds silly to think that receiving a form rejection could be a benefit. After all, not only are you being told you didn’t make the cut, but there are no indications that you were even in the running. Total. Complete. Bummer. Right? Not exactly. If you approach rejection from the correct angle, it’s validation that someone read your work. It’s also a testament to your hard work ethic and effort in trying to get published. It’s also a challenge to look over your poem(s) again–should it have been rejected? Are there ways to improve? If yes, then do it. And re-submit. If no, then re-submit and show that you’re the tough (and professional) kind of poet who will persevere through rejection.

The worst is when you receive nothing–especially when the reason you receive nothing is that you haven’t been submitting. That’s akin to saying, “I don’t care.” Which is fine if you just write for yourself, but if you want to reach out to others and give them one more voice to consider, if you want to touch at least one other person and let them know–hey, I’ve been there, too–then please do yourself a favor and submit your work. There’s really no excuse not to.

And now, I’ll get off my soapbox and start practicing what I preach. After all, how am I going to add to my credit list if I don’t have any submissions out making the rounds? Geez!


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8 thoughts on “Rejection IS better than nothing

  1. Amy Barlow Liberatore

    I just received two rejections in a week… my first two! My husband didn’t understand why I was so happy about it – and I said, "They are reading them – and I am off my ass, submitting poetry!"

    Weird, but I’m sure a lot of you get my drift.

    Thx, Robert. You share so many great insights on these matters, in such a way that we can all relate.

    Peace, Amy

  2. S.E. Ingraham

    Oh Robert – what a timely bit of prodding you’ve given us. I knew there was a reason I kept sending things out, aside from wanting to be published, of course. I agree, even rejections indicate that your work is at least being read, and rejections with an encouraging word or two – pure gold indeed.

    I find, too, if I’m in a spate of poetry writing (it happens from time to time)when I’ll write poem after poem, day after day – after a while, I start to doubt my own judgement and wonder if I can tell which of my poems is really any good at all. Then, I either bog down and stop writing, or, I bite the bullet and try to find my critical eye and above all, keep submitting some of them somewhere.

    I very much agree with Bruce, and try not to aim too high. I think it’s important to cut one’s poetic teeth on the smaller literary magazines before trying the more daunting markets like The New Yorker or the Atlantic Monthly.

    Thanks again Robert, for this site, and for your insight and advice. It’s always helpful and encouraging.


  3. Margaret

    Yup, I remember how excited I was when I started getting a better class of rejection:
    ".. really liked stanza three but one and two were a little trite …" kind of thing {grin}.

    That said, I, too, have been neglecting submissions — I have submitted stuff in the last couple of months, but I’m definitely falling behind.

    How do y’all allocate your time? Any of you have schedules — always submit on Thursdays, say? Organizing tips? Participating in NPM seems to have unstopped the dam for me — I’ve got over 50 poems written since the beginning of April .. I probably had 5 in the six weeks before that ..
    I’m getting buried, in a good way, but I’m rapidly approaching the point where I don’t know what to do first…

  4. Stephanie

    I love your perspective on this topic. It reminds me of that famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “For better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

    Sometimes it’s best to just take action, risk a little bit (or a lot), and then see what happens. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Bruce Niedt

    I hadn’t been submitting much in the last six months or so, and then the other day I sent five poems to an online journal called Thick with Conviction – they accepted three of them in two days! That was encouraging.

    I think the secrets of success in getting published include knowing the market [insert plug for Poet’s Market here], being familiar with the online and print journals (get copies, read samples on the website, etc.), objectively evaluating the quality of your work and aiming for those publications that would be the best fit for your work. Aiming too high is a common mistake of novice poets – most of us will never get into Poetry or The New Yorker. Starting out modestly with the little or newer journals that are more open to unpublished poets is the best way to break in. Getting those publication credits is also a good way to earn "respectability" with some of the more literary journals, too. But no matter how savvy you get with the market, you will still get rejections. Like Robert said, even that can be an instructive process.

  6. Linda

    How provident! I received my FIRST poetry rejection today from a PRINT journal. Woo-hoo! I actually sent three poems I’d written last year out to a well-regarded literary journal on January 1st (my NY’s resolution). I found NOTHING useful in the response, and it took them almost half a year to get to it. But I’ll resubmit, soon… on the other hand, I recently received an encouraging and constructive rejection from an e-journal on a nother poem.

    On the novel side of things… absolutely rejections can be good. Although I’ve been unfortunate in receiving a handful of rejections on partials, I’ve been fortunate in receiving little nuggets of suggestions and criticism that help improve my manuscript. I praise the agents and editors who take time to individually respond to writers – they keep us plugging along.

    Sorry so lengthy… foremost on my mind. Peace, Linda

  7. Patti Williams

    I had taken a break from submitting – those rejection letters were bringing me down – but thank you for lighting the fire! I will send something out today. You are right on …


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