Poetry – Feedback, Submissions and the #100Rejections Challenge

notebooksHow do you decide which poems to submit to which magazines, and when? How do you cope when your poems get rejected? And how do you respond to critical and constructive feedback? These three questions are ones which I’m sure every poet grapples with, and I’ve certainly had my fair share of grappling this year. It’s helpful to pause and look back every now and then, so here are my reflections on taking part in the #100rejections challenge…

At the beginning of 2019 I was ill, and unable to do very much at all. Occasionally I felt well enough to read or type for a bit, and that’s when I decided that I would use this time to attempt the #100rejections poetry challenge. I was also more than half way through my MA in Creative Writing, and had just been awarded a place on the 2019 Literature Wales Mentoring Scheme, so I was getting feedback on my poems from all directions, and becoming more decisive about whether or not to accept or reject constrictive criticism.

Looking back at those first few months I can honestly say that two things really helped me – the first was having more time to focus on writing, and the second was a sudden surge of confidence in my own work. I think the confidence came partly because I was literally doing nothing else – I couldn’t work, I couldn’t socialise very much, but poetry was the one thing I could do, so I was doing it with a vengeance. But it also came from four years’ worth of reviewing other people’s poetry collections, and a gradual realisation that if they could do it, then so could I. And that, along with plenty of constructive feedback, helped spur me on.

I soon realised, however, that the #100rejections challenge only works if you either submit to magazines which are happy to take simultaneous submissions (there are some of these in the US, but this is very rare in the UK) or if you happen to have literally hundreds of poems all polished and ready to send off. The submission process in the UK is such a long, unwieldy affair, with normal waiting periods of three or four months (at a minimum) so, rather than actually aiming for 100 rejections, I’m aiming simply to submit as many batches of poems (usually 4 to 6 in each batch) as I possibly can.

The pros:

  • Submitting so many poems at once has led me to change my perspective, so that I’m always hoping for that message in my inbox, and I’ll be happy even if it’s a rejection, because it means that I can cross it off the list, and send it somewhere else to keep the cycle going. Sometimes I’m also keen to edit it further, after three or four months of suspense, and this is also helpful, as the poems get better and better.
  • The more you submit, the more you get published – it’s true! If I don’t submit, my chances of publication are zero. I’ve had more success over the last few months than in the previous four years put together.
  • It helps you to deal with the pain of rejection, which becomes less terrible over time, and the torture of waiting for a response, which is less nerve-wracking if you’re constantly sending out more poems while you wait.

The cons:

  • There is a certain amount of pressure that you inevitably put on yourself, and it can be easy to become despondent when you hear nothing (not even a rejection) for what feels like weeks on end.
  • I’ve ended up sending out a few poems that I’ve then realised weren’t quite ready, and I’m actually relieved when they come back rejected. It can be tempting to submit new poems quickly, just to keep the numbers up, so you need to find a balance, a way of working out when a poem might be ready, and remember that the passage of time always brings perspective. I try to give it at least a week, at the absolute minimum, after writing a new poem, before considering sending it off.
  • It takes a lot of time, and now I’m a lot busier than I was a few months ago so I have to set aside an afternoon or an evening every now and then, but it is worth it in the end.

The stats so far… (January to August 2019)

  • 45 batches of poems submitted
  • 7 acceptances
  • 1 maybe (which I am hoping will turn into an acceptance soon…)
  • 19 rejections
  • 18 journals / competitions I’m still waiting to hear back from

So I thoroughly recommend the #100rejections challenge – it has given me a boost of confidence and has yielded results, and although I know that it’s impossible for me to get 100 rejections in a year whilst submitting to Uk based magazines, I’m hoping that I’ll get close to 100 submissions, which would be a real achievement.

*UPDATE* December 2019 – I’ve now submitted 70 batches of poems in one year, more than ever before!