When I lived in Iowa, I was a member of a writing group that had some talented writers. Prose authors and poets. Some have published several books, others were just starting out, but talented nonetheless. The more experienced of us weren’t afraid to read our work to the group, nor to send out submissions of our work to literary reviews and magazines.
I was sometimes surprised that the others, the less experienced, were reluctant to submit their work, even though it often was quite good. Their reason? They were afraid of rejection, afraid someone else might not like what they’d written. They didn’t want to hear “no,” they didn’t want to hear why someone didn’t like the piece.
The veterans often encouraged the new writers: submit it anyway, you can’t get published without sending your work out there. Still, the reluctance persisted.
But that’s my advice today: don’t be afraid of rejection. Not every editor, not every publication, is going to agree to like your work. But if it’s good enough, if you believe in what you’ve written, there will be a place out that that takes the work, and publishes it.
I mean that. There are thousands of us writers. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of reviews and magazines, too. The competition to get published is fierce. One single poetry submission might go up against 300 others.
Two of my writing inspirations, my role models — the late poet Philip Dacey and the current poet Susan McLean — are among the best in the field. They were or have been published by major publications. They’ve been reviewed in the New York Times. Susan has read around the world. Phil co-edited a text book, Strong Measures, that is still a go-to textbook in poetry classes today.
Know what else they had in common? Their poems were rejected a lot. It blew me away the first few times I heard each of them discuss rejections, saying that their poetry submissions were turned down. Phil even wrote a funny poem about it, parodying a form letter sent by editors when they rejected a submission.
But Phil also had some strong advice for me. In a world of so many publications, don’t assume you can just throw your work out there and have it be accepted. Be picky, be choosy. Look over the descriptions of the publications, what kind of work they like to publish. Read their back issues, which are often posted on their websites. Find a publication that matches your work. That will increase your odds of them choosing to publish what you submit.
And even then, yes, you might get rejected. But persevere.
That’s my biggest lesson from my two role models. If poets as gifted, as prolific as Phil Dacey and Susan McLean can get rejected, then there’s no shame if my work gets rejected, too. Just pick yourself up and try again. If you believe in the work, submit the same thing to someone else. If you examine your work and decide it really isn’t worthy, then write some new poems and submit them. But foremost, keep trying to submit your original work. If you believe in it, if it is good enough, there will be a home for it. I know this first-hand. I’ve had work rejected by one publisher that, in just a few weeks, was accepted by another. It’s a good feeling, a feeling of justification — “ah, see that? It was good enough.”
Don’t be afraid of rejection. In fact, let it harden your skin, let it make you take another look at your work, see if you need to revise it, see if you like it how it is and just need to find a publication that’s a better fit. But always, always keep sending your work out there. As we told those good writers in Iowa, you won’t get your work published if you don’t send it out.
Someone may not like it. But someone else may.