Diary of a Poet

Rejection Brings Out the Best in Me


Head of Pierre de Wiessant by Rodin

Last Friday, as I spent several hours getting batches of poems ready for submission, I started thinking about the word “submit.” Meanings include “give in,” “yield,” “defer,” “succumb,” and “surrender.” If you’re a writer hoping to publish work in journals and magazines, these words aren’t likely to inspire confidence. Submitting work is an uncertain, often soul-challenging process, and rejection is never pleasant, but like most things in life, there’s an upside.

I know poets who don’t submit their poems, poets who only publish on their own websites, and poets who self-publish printed books at their own expense. These are all perfectly acceptable ways to promote one’s work. But those of us who send our work out to compete with the thousands of “excellent poems we received” need to develop and maintain strong constitutions.

In 2017, I decided to stretch a bit, and submitted to (mostly) journals that I had not sent work to before. The result:

  • 159 individual poems, essays, blog posts, videos, articles and reviews sent
  • 60 total submissions
  • 52 acceptances in 21 journals and 1 contest win
  • of the 21 journals, 16 were new to me
  • 8 journals have not yet responded
  • 7 journals who declined my work invited me to submit again (I will)

Looking over my spreadsheet for 2017, I see that my most-rejected poem received eight “nos,” five poems were accepted on the first submission, and the rest took anywhere from two to seven attempts. I’ve had better years, and worse years.

The numbers above indicate that if I doubled my submission rate, I would double my acceptance rate, but of course, it’s not that simple. I once sent out close to five hundred poems in one year. Only ten were accepted for publication. That was before I understood the importance of researching journals open to my type of writing. Although I still miss a lot of the time, my acceptance rate is much better than it used to be.

Rejection brings out the best in me because it forces me to persist. It teaches me to stop procrastinating. It’s easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed, and discouragement looms at every corner, but as the saying goes, nothing good comes easy.

Here’s another post I wrote about rejection.

6 replies »

    • Even with the research you mention, that is a REALLY high acceptance rate. Which is amazing. I’ve actually gone the other direction with submissions – I used to always have tons of work out, but it was exhausting to always be researching markets and trying to push things out. I have been submitting less and taking more time with the poems, submitting to markets I really love. So my acceptance rate has gone way down, but that’s okay. It leaves to time to write reviews, which I love to do, and read…and create new work, which must be done before anything can be submitted!

      • Donna, I enjoy writing reviews also. It’s great that you’ve made it a part of your creative practice. I’ve had periods where I sent less work out, needing to have the breathing space to discover new things.

  1. I had to laugh at your laudable response to rejection. (And congrats on your acceptance rate!) This very day I got a rejection from one of my often-submitted-to-but-never-accepted-by journals and my response was along the lines of fuckityfuckfuckfuckingfuck. Etcetera. Perhaps I should rethink my approach…

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