Let’s Talk Numbers: Poetry Acceptances and Rejections (Plus, Four Ways to Stay Motivated After Your Writing Is Rejected)

When I was preparing my final poetry submission of 2018 during the last week of December, a surprising question popped into my head: “How many submissions did I send out this year?”

You see, I don’t set goals for a certain number of submissions each month or year, especially since poetry is still a part-time endeavor for me. Instead, I continually write and revise my poems, read various journals, and submit to places that I think would be a good fit for my work. And while I track my submissions, it’s mainly to remind myself of the facts, like which publications I’m waiting to hear from and which poems are currently out on submission.

So, for those reasons, I really had NO idea how many submissions I’d sent out in 2018. (*lol*) And not knowing that number made me curious. So I reviewed my tracking sheet, did some math, and decided to blog about what I found, with some relevant tips to boot.

My Submissions, Acceptances, and Rejections: The Statistics

Counting the poetry submissions I sent in late 2017, here’s how my submission, acceptance, and rejection numbers look for the past 18 months:

  • I submitted work to 13 journals and 4 contests, for a total of 17 publications.
  • Between all of these publications, I submitted a total of 59 poems.**
  • Out of the 59 individual submissions, 6 were accepted and 44 were rejected. Nine others are still out on submission as of today.**
  • During this 18-month period, my acceptance rate (the number of acceptances versus the total number of received responses) is approximately 12%.

*Several poems were submitted more than once, so this statistic includes some overlap.

So what’s my first thought now that I see my numbers? Well, they don’t surprise me – except for the total number of poems submitted. That’s more than what I would have guessed! Then again, last year certainly seemed like my busiest submissions year in a while. Plus, I took my chances with simultaneous submissions a few times, so that increased my total. (A simultaneous submission is a submission of the same piece of writing sent to more than one publication.) So I’m proud of that statistic and the five poems that were published during that time.

What’s also interesting is my current acceptance rate. I’m not sure what anyone else thinks, but to me it’s high. Many other writers I know sent out more submissions than I did during that same period. (Some writers aim for 100 submissions, or even 100 rejections, per year.) If I’d sent out more than 59 submissions, that rate would likely be lower.

Four Ways to Stay Motivated After Your Writing Is Rejected

Thinking about these statistics also has me thinking about rejection in general. It’s such a huge part of being a writer, and not just when you submit your work. Letting others read your stories, querying to agents, pitching articles to blogs or magazines – these are only some of the circumstances where your writing could be rejected. And no matter how much you hope for the best or prepare yourself for the worst, every “no” hurts.

So how can you stay motivated after your writing has been rejected? Here are four methods that have worked for me and other writers. Maybe they can help you, too.

#1: Don’t take rejection personally

Easier said than done, of course. There have been times when I submitted work to a publication and felt confident about my chances of having my work accepted there. So when the rejection letter arrived, it felt like a punch in the gut.

Just because a publication’s editor says “no,” though, doesn’t mean she thinks your work is garbage. It’s possible that the editor actually likes your work; and if so, she’ll mention which poem(s) she enjoyed most. It also doesn’t mean your writing stinks, period. A rejection is only one person’s opinion – and that one opinion can’t define you or your career, unless you let it. Some of my poems have been rejected half a dozen times. Yet I keep them in the reviewing-editing-submitting cycle because I believe in them. You never know until you try, again and again and again.

Also, many journals and magazines receive hundreds – even thousands – of submissions during each reading period. And not all of those submissions will be published. So whenever your work is rejected, remember that other writers are in the same boat. Even commiserate with your writing pals and supportive friends. This can help you feel less alone about the setback and more determined to persevere.

#2: Use a motivating mantra

It took five years of writing, revising, and submitting before I got my first poetry acceptance. And boy, did the back-and-forth of waiting, hearing “no,” and wondering when I’d finally get my chance test my confidence. So during that time, I started telling myself this one sentence after reading each rejection letter:

“It’s OK. I’ll find the right home for these poems as long as I keep trying.”

A positive statement (or mantra, as I call it) is a great verbal pick-me-up. It encourages you to stay hopeful and continue working hard on your writing. It also reminds you to keep believing in yourself. This is especially helpful – and necessary – if you tend to focus on your perceived failures with your writing (or with life in general).

Plus, by saying the mantra out loud, you give that mantra power. It becomes louder than the fearful monkey-chatter you hear in your head. And with time and practice, it becomes not just a pick-me-up, but something you firmly believe in. And when you believe unfailingly in something and you persistently work hard on it, magic (a.k.a. success in the form of “yes”) will happen.

#3: View rejection as a stepping stone

I got the most AMAZING rejection a couple months ago. And I don’t mean that sarcastically. The rejection came from a poetry contest for an online journal I admire very much; and though the journal’s staff declined my submission, they also wrote this:

“Our editors did, however, select your particular work for the second round of readings, making it to the top 4% of selections. We receive an overwhelming amount of exceptional work, so this is a high accomplishment in itself.” 

No joke – I wanted to throw a party after reading this. 😀

Why? Because this rejection meant progress. As far as I knew, it was the first time one of my submissions had made it to the second round of a poetry contest. None of my poems were finalists, but they came pretty darn close. That’s something to be proud of.

The point is, rejection doesn’t mean you’re not growing as a writer. Editors won’t witness that growth firsthand, but you will. So will the writing friends and critique partners who will help you along the way. The longer you keep writing, and the more you exercise and experiment with your creativity, the stronger your work will become over time. That way, when you receive a rejection letter like the one above, you’ll interpret it as, “Hey, I’m on the right track.”

#4: Focus on the joy of creating

Writing is an intense process. It requires your full attention and deep concentration. It also can be therapeutic, exhilarating, and immensely satisfying. So when your emotions are thrown off-kilter by a rejection letter or the waiting game with a submission, your focus can fly right out the window.

And all those good feelings that come with writing? Yeah. Out that same window.

The thing to remember here about the submissions process is that once you hit “Send” or “Submit,” the rest is beyond your control. What you can control, however, is what you do while you wait for that response, and also what you do after you receive it.

And what exactly should you do? Keep writing.

After I send each submission, my sights always turn to the future. What publication do I want to send work to next? Which poems need revising or editing? Which recent inspirations can be turned into poems? Even when a rejection letter comes in the middle of this process, I don’t linger in the news for long. Instead, I determine what I can do differently the next time around, then get back to work.

I’m not saying it’s easy to compartmentalize rejection. It does get easier with time and experience, but it’s also imperative for your creative well-being. Be patient and productive as you wait for submission responses. And when a rejection comes, don’t let it become the brick wall that stops you short. Instead, let it be the fuel that drives you to become the best writer you can be. You might be surprised by what happens afterward.

How do you deal with rejection of your writing? What tips do you have for motivating yourself to keep writing after every “no”? Also, how many submissions did you send to publications last year? Do you know your current acceptance rate?

5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Numbers: Poetry Acceptances and Rejections (Plus, Four Ways to Stay Motivated After Your Writing Is Rejected)

  1. Make a doll in the shape of the editor and stick pins in it? Blow up a photo of his/her face, put it on a dartboard and throw darts at it? Kidnap their dog and/or cat and hold it to ransom?

    Okay, that MIGHT be taking it a LITTLE too personally…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s so awesome that you submitted so many poems last year and congrats on how many were accepted! These are great tips. I’ve gotten some really good rejections too, ones that actually led me to getting an agent. Rejections are definitely not always bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much for such a confidence boosting message! I’m afraid my morale gets deflated pretty easily. I got spoiled several years ago by getting three works published right off the bat when I first tried to send my work out there. This puffed up my expectations unrealistically. When I got rejected five times last year I’ve been licking my wounds ever since. After your blog I can see I need to get way tougher!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Awww, thank you, Patricia! And I know how you feel. My first couple responses of 2019 were rejections, so it was a little like a punch in the gut to get two negative responses in a row. But the key is to keep writing, keep revising, keep submitting no matter what. It sounds like that’s what you’re doing, and maybe your mindset is what needs some work. But I believe you can do it. 🙂 Do any of the tips in particular stand out to you as being potentially helpful?

      Liked by 1 person

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