The Submission Game

from NYPL Digital Collections

I’ve been getting many rejections lately.  Last week alone I had 8.  This week it’s a “measly” 2.  And 2 of those 10 weren’t even at the journals I sent them to for longer than a day.

Rejections don’t get me down, per se (well, not usually), but they do always make me question if I’m still a good writer, or if I was ever a good writer (were all those other acceptances over the years flukes?).  We shouldn’t estimate our worth based on the capricious nature of the Submission Game—that goes without saying.  And yet. It’s hard not to equate acceptances (either to journals or residencies) with JC = GOOD, and rejections with JC = BAD.  As writers, we all probably think that to some extent some of the time.

I belong to a Facebook (pardon me, Meta) group that advocates trying to get 100 rejections in a year.  On the plus side, if you get 100 rejections, it means you spent the time to send out at least 100 submissions—which is a laudable pursuit, because it demonstrates that you take your writing seriously enough to inflict it share it with 100 journals.

But I wonder if that scattershot goal isn’t a bit misguided. If you just send work to lot of places, that doesn’t mean you’re actually reading the journals you’re sending work to, and so you might be wasting your time.  I know Poetry will never, ever, ever (EVER) accept anything I send them.  So if I send them work again, well, great, I can make a notch on my rejection list, but perhaps my time is better spent researching journals that are more inclined to like the kind of work that I write.

On the other hand, gamifying rejections does remove some of the sting.  After 100 rejections you’ll probably anesthetize yourself almost completely from the disappointment.  And, the rationale goes, statistically there’s no way all of your submissions are going to be rejections.  So, the more you send work out, the more you increase your chances of someone liking and wanting to publish it.  It does make sense, totally.

For me, it’s really hard to send out 100 submissions in a year.  A few years ago, I think I got to 70, and believe me, I was impressed with myself.  So far this year, I’ve sent out 21 subs.  You may say, “Hey, that’s pretty good for it only being February!”  But one always has enthusiasm for a project at the beginning of the year.  I doubt I’ll be sending out 10 a month by the time we hit July.  I mean, it could happen.  I could be a submitting machine this year.  I just know myself a little better than that.


A friend called me on Wednesday, just to check up on me because she thought the number of rejections I’ve received lately was getting me down (based on the fact that every time I get one I announce it on Twitter—it’s like a weird and obsessive confession thing).  She wanted to assure me that my writing is “special” because it’s woman-centered a lot of the time, and many publishers who are men are easily turned off by that.  She has a point—I really don’t write typically lyric work at all and narrative is not many people’s favorite mode.  I do appreciate her support—she has been amazing to me (and in an aside, she’s one of the best letter-writers I know) and her words certainly buoyed my spirits.

But worse than people of any persuasion not understanding (and publishing) my work is just my constant inner critic who secretly can’t help worrying that the reason I’m not getting published is because I’m a lousy poet. Or I don’t “have it” like I used to. (Whatever “it” is.)  What would it be like, if I could bind, gag, and toss that inner critic bitch right over the cliff?  What would it be like not to constantly doubt myself?  For all of us, what would that be like?  What could we do if we didn’t have an inner voice sabotaging us all the damn time?


Do you play the Submission Game, or some version of it with your writing and submission process?  If you (my five dear readers) do, let me know.  I’m curious about your approach.

6 thoughts on “The Submission Game

  1. I stumbled across this interesting read and can relate to many aspects of it! I do not count rejections; I feel them. If I have done my best and it is not good enough for one literary outlet, I can be discouraged. At the same time, writing is my love and I will never give it up, even if I am better at the writing part than the submission game! 🙂

  2. JC, I just read your Amo e Canto in one sitting. It just arrived in the mail a couple hours ago. Very, very enjoyable, mainly because of the clear, transparent language, but also because I go to Venice often. Congratulations on the winning chapbook!
    And oh, I do play a kind of submission game. Every rejection draws a sigh of relief from me because it means I get to make another revision.

    All best wishes, Carmine Di Biase, Jacksonville, AL

    • Carmine, thanks so much for reading my book and for your comments. And what a great way of looking at rejection. I’m going to tell myself the same thing the next time I get a rejection! Wise advice indeed!

  3. I just read Amo e Canto this morning. What a beautiful chapbook. The descriptions are vivid, and your wit made me smile (“Still, I wonder, if love is like a dog on a lead, perhaps you and I are better off as strays” and “Your mother is always art”). Your narrative style really appeals to me. I am 40 and have barely dipped my toe into writing poetry. If you are getting this many rejections, I don’t even know where to start myself.

    • Thank you so much, Teresa, for reading my book and for your comments. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I really applaud you for writing poems, even if you’re new to it. Please don’t let my complaints about rejections get YOU down. I know so much about the writing biz is luck as well as hard work. Amo e Canto was rejected like 50 times–no kidding–before it found a home with SEPR. I think in the end it’s a numbers game–you just gotta keep writing, and keep sending out work. I wish you the absolute best!!!

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