On Rejection

I tweeted the other day on X/Twitter that I’d had two rejections that morning and that all poets get rejected. I had such a big response to the tweet that I thought I’d write a little more on the topic in the hope that it helps some people and encourages others to carry on submitting poetry, even after rejections.

To reiterate, all poets, no matter how well published, have their poetry, their applications for residencies, their enquiries about commissions, their proposals for workshops etc, turned down, or rejected. It’s probably true to say that the better-known you are as a poet, your success rate improves but you still get rejected. I don’t know of a single poet who doesn’t get a rejection regularly. I certainly do.

The more submissions or proposals for work that you send out, the more rejections you’ll get, obviously. If poets had a job description, being rejected and being used to being rejected and being able to deal with rejection would be high up there.

One way of dealing with rejection is to remind yourself that it’s the poem that’s being rejected, not you. It may be that the editor, for example, had just published a poem on a similar topic as yours and even though they liked it, they wanted to focus on other themes for the magazine.

If an editor has rejected your work but said that they liked a particular poem or made some other positive comment, then you were close to being published. Believe me, editors don’t have time to make comments on all the submissions they receive. It might be an idea to wait say 6 months then try that editor again with new poems, poems that are as good as you can make them. And good luck.

Here’s how I deal with rejection:

  • I read the poems that have been rejected through, with a critical eye. This might be best done a day or two after receiving the no thanks email. I try to find any parts of the submission that could be improved. Could that title be stronger? Is that verb really doing very much? Are the poems really as good as I can make them?
  • I make the edits, then leave it for a day or two.
  • I go for a walk, for a swim or to an art gallery. I do something different.
  • Then I read the poems through again. Do I still think they’re good? If so, great. If not I repeat the above process until I do.
  • I make a list of magazines I would like to send to and check that my kind of poetry fits that kind of magazine. I also check that I’ve got the editors’ names right, all of the submission details and I write a straightforward covering letter. I don’t do a lot of multiple submissions but you might want to send to a couple of magazines at once (assuming those magazines are open to multiple submissions – just keep good records of what you’re sending where).
  • Once I’ve sent the poems off, I feel a little burst of hope.

It’s worth remembering that editors often work for little or no money, and do what is quite a tough job for the love of poetry. Never be rude to an editor.

Keep reading, keep enjoying what you write. And good luck.

Katrina Naomi

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