Sending your writing out into the world can be scary whether you write poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. But, at some point, if you are a serious writer, you will do it. Getting a rejection letter back can be more devastating than asking a girl out as a teenager and being turned down or sitting at a dance with no partner—all night. It can make you doubt yourself, but it shouldn’t.
I’ve been on both sides of the publishing fence. I’ve written poetry and sent it out hoping some editor would like my poems and decide to publish them. I have submitted work which was accepted on the first submission. I have submitted work which was rejected by one journal and accepted by another, and I’ve sent out work to have it turned down by journal after journal. I’ve also been the poetry editor for a literary journal and made the decision about whose poem to publish from the thousands received. Along with that responsibility came the job of sending out those dreaded rejection letters. At times, I rejected poems that I loved because the journal just didn’t have the space for one more poem.
Based on my experience as a poet, fiction writer, nonfiction writer, and as a poetry editor and writing teacher, I sometimes give advice to friends, associates, and students who become discouraged when they send out their work only to have it rejected.
Don’t feel bad when you receive your first, second, third or even tenth rejection. I know that is easy to say, but I’ve had my share of rejection letters. At first, it hurts, but then I remember that submissions I’ve had rejected by one journal were grabbed by another. Rejection doesn’t mean the poem, story or essay you wrote is no good. It doesn’t mean you are not a good writer. It means that you are a writer putting your neck out there. Rejection is part of the game. We’ve all heard the jokes by fellow and sister writers about papering walls with rejection letters. At some point, if you keep writing and you keep sending out, your work will reach the right editor at the right journal or e-zine at the right time.
Once your manuscript gets rejected by a few editors, you need to decide whether to keep sending that same manuscript out to different journals or whether to set it aside for a while and send out a different manuscript. But DON’T stop sending your work out.
If a piece gets rejected, again and again, you may have to put it away and take another look at it later. Or you can decide: “No, I like this the way it is,” and keep sending it out.
Remember, you are beginning a process that will continue all of your writing life. Think of it that way and not as a once-in-a-lifetime event. This is the most important piece of advice that I can give.
Keep as much of your work as possible out at all times; that decreases the impact of a single rejection. Remember that a rejection does not mean that your work has no merit. It means that one particular editor did not choose it for one particular issue of a periodical. That may indicate the journal is temporarily overloaded with submissions or is not reading right now, or it already accepted a similar piece. It can also mean that the editor had a headache or was in a bad mood when he/she read your offering. Those things happen.
Editors are just like you and me. Believe me. I’ve been there. Another thing to remember is that most small literary journals are staffed by volunteers, including the editors and readers, many of whom know little more about poetry and fiction than you do.
The most damaging thing you can do to yourself is to allow rejection to be a judgment on the merit of your work. You need to believe in yourself. Sending your work out can be like playing a reverse form of Russian roulette: your work has to meet the right editor at the right journal at the right moment.
If you believe in yourself, if you keep writing and keep studying the craft, and keep sending out your best work, eventually, you will be published. What then? Celebrate. Tell all your friends. Then put together another manuscript and send it out.
Author Bio: I am fortunate to have been able to earn my living writing. As a journalist, I’ve covered everything from presidential elections and national conventions to courtroom trials. I’ve completed a citizen’s police academy, written restaurant and book reviews, a political column, investigative pieces and travel articles. ’I've taught journalism at the University of Massachusetts and creative writing in the public schools. I believe in giving back for the opportunities I’ve had and led writing workshops for inner-city teens and women. I’ve also edited three publications of writings by teenagers. I was poetry editor of Peregrine literary journal, president of the Pioneer Valley Press Club and participated in several Irish American Writers Exchange Programs in Ireland and in the United States