Workshop by Zoë Brigley | Social media compiled and article written by Frances Turpin
Welcome to Overcoming Rejection, a series focused on dealing with the worst but most inescapable part of being a writer. In June 2022, we asked our friends on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram what the best advice they could give to someone who’s work had been rejected would be. This series is a collection of that advice, as well as some insights and thoughts from the Poetry Wales team.
Poetry Wales editor Zoë Brigley has written an ‘Overcoming Rejection’ workshop to accompany this series, which you can download here:
In previous instalments of Overcoming Rejection, we have talked about releasing rejection, reworking and rewriting rejected work, finding feedback and thinking about editors – and now, we’re going to move on to strategizing for future submissions. In her workshop, Zoë Brigley says:
Making a clear plan for magazine or journal submissions is one of the best things you can do. There are many different methods for doing this – some people keep up a complex spreadsheet for example with records of acceptances and rejections. Using Submittable for many magazines tracks submissions automatically, though some disabled writers, for example in the AWP Disability Caucus have rightly complained about its accessibility problems.
Regardless of what system you use, however, it is worth approaching magazine submissions systematically. This might mean taking some time to research magazines and find out which ones might be sympathetic to your work.
Taking stock from time to time is well worth doing, so take a moment and write down the following:
- Make a list of all the magazines you read and list them in order of the value you put on them and how much you enjoy or respect them.
- Looking at the list you have made, decide on five magazines that you intend to submit your best work to in the next three months.
- Looking again at the list, write down two magazines that you will try to build relationships with through reviewing in the next three months.
- Note down any magazines that you haven’t read but are curious about. Commit to buying single issues of these magazines so you can research them. (If you are low income, bear in mind that many magazines offer lower subscription rates for particular groups as Poetry Wales does, so be sure to check that out.)
Zoë Brigley, ‘Overcoming Rejection’ workshop
- Once you have made your audit, try to stick to the plan, and see where it takes you. The important thing is to persevere and to be active.
Do Your Research
When we asked our online community for advice, a lot of people came back with suggestions on how to strategize going forwards. As editor of the Fenland Poetry Journal, Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, said:
“I don’t believe in the saying ‘fling it at the wall enough times and see if something sticks’ – subs should be a carefully thought-through process… If you are serious about your work appearing in a particular publication, source back copies of it or subscribe to see if your work could be a good fit.”Elisabeth Sennitt Clough via Facebook
As Zoë mentions in her workshop, Poetry Wales offers low-income subscription options, as do many other magazines and journals – but there are also free ways for you to source back issues of the publications you’re interested in getting to know if subscribing and purchasing back issues is not financially viable.
Jane Burn suggests:
“You can try and read things for free in libraries or online, or you can get hold of back issues – I bet there would be many people out there (maybe try Facebook, Twitter etc.,) who would like to swap back issues with you. They are often given away too. That’s a good start if you can’t afford (like me) to subscribe. There are loads of fab online magazines to try for and you can check out poems that they have accepted and published.”Jane Burn via Facebook
You can request magazines (and books) at your local library, or if you are a student at your institution’s library – they may already subscribe to journals that you’re interested in! It’s also worth looking at different forms of issues and subscriptions available; digital issues are usually cheaper than print ones (as is the case for Poetry Wales), and digital subscriptions will often include access to whatever archive the publication has uploaded to their provider. For example, with the PW digital subscription you can read issues from the past ten years for as little as just under £5 every three months, or just under £19 for a year. You can also subscribe to the Poetry Wales newsletter, which is entirely free, and receive a poem from our archive every Monday morning, and read our How I Write A Poem interviews here on the website, both of which are costless ways to get an idea of the sort of poems we are drawn to – again, other publications will have similar things on their websites, so it is possible to research them without spending too much money.
Another theme that came up a few times was different ways of keeping track of your submissions – especially important when many magazines, including Poetry Wales, do not accept simultaneous submissions! Nina Parmenter has another good reason not to simultaneously submit:
“My weird advice is to not simultaneously submit, and have a plan for where you want to send the work next. That way, you’re delighted to have it back, because it means you can submit it to a shiny new thing!”Nina Parmenter | @ninaparmenter
While finding a way to keep on top of what you’ve sent where is useful admin, looking back over your records can also help you to make potentially more successful submissions in the future. Katie Hale said:
“For me [I use] spreadsheets & pie charts. This also helps me see where I’m being most / least successful, and so helps me come up with a strategy for submissions going forward.”Katie Hale | @halekatie
You can read more about the way that Katie keeps track of her submissions and rejections here, including how she chooses what kind of submissions to prioritise, and how she strategizes for the year ahead.
Robert Hamberger told us that:
“[I’ve] recently told myself if 10% of what I send out gets published that’s a good hit rate. That reframing of acceptance/rejection in my head has helped my response, so that anything above 10% feels like a bonus.”Robert Hamberger via Facebook
Katie Hale talks about a similar strategy in her blog of aiming for one hundred rejections a year – something which might seem counterintuitive, but she is not the only one of our readers to suggest this. Hannah Linden said the same:
“I set myself targets: last year it was to collect 100 rejections a year. Then it’s still a success if you don’t have poems accepted! It does actually help, strangely. And having lots of submissions out means there’s always other submissions to be hopeful about.”Hannah Linden via Facebook
Hannah also uses her recording her submissions as a way to regulate negative emotions about rejection:
“I have a very elaborate record system which includes a sheet of colour-coded squares. I have my favourite colour as the ‘declined’ colour so that as the chart fills up, I am soothed by that. I have several pages to fill so that I keep track of where each poem has been, which poems I’ve sent to each magazine etc. By the time I’ve filled it in each time, my heart-rate has slowed down again and I can remind myself that it is someone else’s turn.”Hannah Linden via Facebook
Additional Resources and Recommendations
Some links from around the web that were recommended by our community:
- Marnanel Thurman on Facebook recommended Duotrope to track and strategize submissions
- Russell Jones, poetry editor at Shoreline of Infinity, has written How to get your poetry published: 10 tips from a poetry editor
- Angela Topping, poet, has written How to deal with rejections
- Natalie Ann Holborow, poet, has written Can We Talk Frankly About Anxiety and Rejection in Writing?
- You can find the original posts that these comments came from on our Twitter here, and our Instagram here. Unfortunately due to technical errors the Facebook one has been lost to the sands of time. Please feel free to continue contributing!