For me, some silver linings of this terrible year have been that I‘ve had quite a few poems published in magazines and anthologies. One of my flash fictions was placed on a long list for the first time and my debut chapbook, Keep On Spinning, was published with small Scottish publisher Dreich Publishing. It came 3rd in their chapbook competition, and this was the first time I placed on a writing competition. This short burst of success has come from just submitting my work more.
A year or so ago, I saw another writer talk about something they called the 100 Rejections Challenge on a Facebook group (Sadly I don’t remember their name). It is probably rooted in Rejection Therapy; a series of blogs by writer Jia Jang. The other version I saw on Facebook is more specific to
Now, here I confess that my ego is a bit fragile. When I was younger, I used to take constructive criticism as a personal failure, though this is something I’m much better at dealing with now. On my off days, I still do. When I’m burned out and need to take a break, I get jealous of writers who I perceive are doing better than me. Although I’m happy for them, I’ll feel silently resentful that I’m not doing as well as they are. It’s from a place of low self-esteem, rather than anything to do with the writers themselves, as they are usually nice people.
So you can imagine with my state of mind, rejection can really sting. I’ll take it personally, doubt that I’m any good at all or get really salty that my work didn’t make it. There were few things that knocked my spirits than receiving the standard rejection letter from a submission call, especially one where you felt your work was best suited.
This was exactly why I decided to take on the challenge. I have come to find that as a writer who aspires to write professionally, rejections are inevitable. Whether it’s a magazine rejecting your short story or poem, an agent or publisher rejecting your novel, a film production company rejecting your script, or an audience not understanding or enjoying your work, you will face some kind of rejection at some point in your career, and I’d argue at pretty much every turn. My experience is based on short fiction and poetry, but I’m sure that a lot of what I’ll say will apply to most writing fields.
So I thought that I might as well incentivise it. If I get a point for each time I’m rejected, it’ll help me get used to the idea. It won’t seem so bad because the point of this challenge is accepting that you are likely not to get published, but submitting your work anyway. Getting your work published is a nice bonus, but in this challenge it’s not the end goal.
In March, I decided that I would give this challenge a shot. I had a list and then another list of magazines and other places I wanted to submit my work to. I wrote a template covering letter, which was tweaked to suit each submission call and edited over time. These past few months doing this challenge has taught me a lot. For one thing, it has taught me that getting feedback from places that reject you is very rare. In all the time I have been doing this challenge, I have only received feedback once or twice, and one time it was feedback for everyone who submitted. This again isn’t a personal thing. These editors haven’t got the time to give feedback to every single person they reject. Hence why you’re more than likely to receive a standard letter of some kind when your work isn’t accepted.
I’ve also been surprised at my publication ratio. I went into the challenge with low expectations, but I kept track of where I submitted to and when, how often I was submitting and, more importantly, my numbers. Here is my ratio so far:
Submissions: 59 (+ 1 job application, 11 review queries for my chapbook)
Rejections: 25 (+ 1 job application and 2 review rejections)
Total publications: 9 (includes an upcoming anthology, review and magazine issue) (+2 reviews for my chapbook)
I’d say that this is a great ratio, considering how frequent rejections are. These are my numbers since March, and having 9 publications in the span of six months is amazing. Different writers will have different ratios, so do not assume you are a sub-par writer if you have received more rejections than me or anyone else for that matter.
It’s worthwhile remembering that your rejections are not necessarily because your work needs editing or is of low quality. If you have that instinct, then act on it, but bear in mind that your work may be rejected because it just doesn’t fit with the overall vibe of the magazine or the theme of the issue or anthology. It may not be the right genre, or has been submitted in the incorrect format. Some places prefer a certain submission method and format, whether it’s the layout of the document, title of the file, spacing, font, etc. They’ll usually specify on their website, and they will be more likely to publish your work if you have read and followed their submission guidelines.
As much as you’re counting rejections, you will get more out of this challenge if you submit your work in earnest, and improve your portfolio. Statistically speaking, you are likely to be published at least once from doing this challenge.
Sadly I won’t be able to continue with the challenge until my degree is finished in April or May 2021, aside from waiting for the other 27 rejections to come through. I haven’t reached the 100 submission mark yet, so my ratio is likely to change drastically over time. I’ll keep you updated when I’ve met 100 submissions and/or 100 rejections in due course.
If you’re interested in doing the challenge too, let me know! Get in touch with me or tag me in your posts through my social media: @Jen Hughes Writing (FB) or Instagram (@jenhugheswriting).
Keep On Spinning is available to buy from my website, It explores mental health issues and the human condition through the motif of space and the solar system. The collection was formed after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder as a young adult.