Today's guest post from Brett Elizabeth Jenkins aims at a different type of goal than many writers might aim for: 100 rejections in one year! She says, "I guess it boils down to one simple rule: send out your work like you believe in it. Don't act like you're aiming for rejections, even though you totally are."
Brett Elizabeth Jenkins is a Minneapolis-based writer and teacher. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Over the Moon (Pockets Press 2017). Look for her work in The Sun, AGNI, PANK, Smartish Pace, Vinyl, THRUSH, and elsewhere.
Learn more at brettelizabeth.com.
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Six years ago my friend T.J. Jarrett and I set out on a pretty special (read: crazy) mission. In 2011, we each wanted to earn one hundred rejections. As a poet, sending out work can be daunting, and six years ago I was just a year out of my MFA program, 24 years old, and a wide-eyed baby deer in the headlights of the whole literary community/submitting/publishing thing. Sending out poems was still a mysterious process to me, and I feel like the "One Year, One Hundred Rejections" project took some of the mystery out of it and gave me a bunch of tools to work with along the way. This year, I've decided to tackle this project again!
I feel like at this point, you might be asking, "why not aim for one hundred acceptances?" I think Plath wrote that if you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed. The goal here is just getting your work out there, to be honest. Submitting can feel like playing the lottery sometimes, so aiming to get one hundred rejections gives it the spin of a game. It takes the edge off when a new rejection comes rolling in. If the goal is to get rejected by your favorite magazines, then getting a few poems accepted here and there will just be a sweet little bonus!
A few caveats: I only send out work that I feel is completed or, in my eyes, "good."
Nothing I would be embarrassed to have editors choose to publish if, for instance, they were going through their Submittable queue after a few Vodka McGoverns. It also feels like cheating to send out work that I know is unfinished or downright terrible just to rack up another "no" for my pile of rejections. I absolutely do not send my work to magazines that I don't admire or read at least occasionally. If I wouldn't be proud to send an issue to my mom, I don't send there. I guess it boils down to one simple rule: send out your work like you believe in it. Don't act like you're aiming for rejections, even though you totally are.
The year that I spent sending out my work tirelessly (and yes, it is somewhat of a time commitment), I learned a lot. Once you've written nigh-200 cover letters, you learn what works and what doesn't. Most times, I've found, less is more. Plus if you're sending out ten or twenty submissions per month, writing a little less will save you some typing! Maybe have a short third-person bio typed up to copy-and- paste.
A lot of journals will ask for that. I learned that a personal note on a rejection usually means that your work will be a good fit in the future, so send again. I made connections with editors and other writers, and I even found some new journals to read that I really loved. Mostly, I thickened my poet-skin and learned to take rejection like a friggin' champ. In 2011, I garnered 127 rejections, and I got a decent amount of acceptances along the way.
On the 1st of January, I decided I'd undertake this project again. I'm making lists of open reading periods, trying to front-end some of the submitting so that I can be sure they all come rolling in by the 31st of December. Some journals, like Tin House, have an average response time of almost a year! I also use a few tools to help me on my way. It's useful if you have a Duotrope account, though it's not necessary. I also occasionally throw "submitting parties" at my apartment so that my writer friends and I can get together and drink coffee (or wine) and complain about how tedious it is to send out work. I hope that you'll join me this year as catapult myself into rejection!
If you’d like to share your voice on any poetry-related topic at Poetic Asides, please send an e-mail to email@example.com with the subject line "Poetic Asides Guest Post" with a brief idea of what you’d like to cover or send along a 300-500 word post on spec. And be sure to include your preferred bio (50-100 words) and head shot. If I like what you send, I’ll include it as a future guest post on the blog.