Last week, I had my 50th acceptance from a literary magazine for one of my poems. 50 seems like a lot, even over the four years it’s taken me to achieve it, and I thought I’d reflect on how I’ve managed to do it in case it’s useful for anyone starting out.
Prepare your poems
Make sure your poems are the best they can possibly be. This helps to make a good impression and it also means you will be better placed to take any rejection. If you know in your heart it’s a good poem, it hurts a lot less. It’s like training marines – it’s a tough old world out there, so make sure your poems are as robust as they can be.
Submit your work
Your poems won’t magically enter the world without your help. It can be scary to send them out, and statistically you’re going to meet with more than a few rejections (I have more than three times as many rejections as I do acceptances) but if you want your poems out in the world, then you have to send them on their way.
Read a range of magazines and think about where your work belongs. Use twitter and resources such as the Mslexia Indie Press Guide to discover new magazines and read a broad range of work, even if it’s not your style.
Organise your submissions
There is great article on Jo Bell’s blog about how to manage your submissions, and it’s also available in the brilliant book How to be a Poet. I don’t follow this method exactly, but I do apply the basic principle behind it. I maintain a spreadsheet to keep track of everything –I know Excel isn’t for everyone, but you can find a system that works for you. It helps you appear professional by avoiding simultaneous submissions or resubmitting to a place that has already rejected certain work and it takes some of the stress out of the whole process.
As I said, you’re likely to meet with some rejections. Don’t take it personally, there are so many reasons why a poem doesn’t get accepted – from thematic concerns to the simple fact that it’s not one editor’s cup of tea… This is why it’s important to work so hard on your poems before you start – if and when you do receive a rejection, you’ll have embedded belief in them as tough little soldiers. So, dust them off and send them somewhere else.
Write your heart
There’s no way to game the system. I’ve had poems accepted after more than ten rejections, and I’ve had poems accepted straight away that I thought were going to be difficult to place. I don’t think about magazines or the wider poetry trends when I write; I don’t see the fun in working that way. I write what I want to write, make each poem the best I can make it, and trust each one will find a place in the world. Your poems are the same.
While you should breeze past any rejections, take the time to celebrate each acceptance that you receive. It could be anything – a glass of wine, a bar of chocolate, or save up to give yourself a bigger treat when you reach a certain number. You’ve written work worthy of publication and you’ve been brave enough to send it out in the world and that’s worth celebrating.