This piece was previously published at Voices of Youth, a UNICEF-based platform!
I was excited, fifteen, and naïve. I had just been introduced to the world of literary magazines, and was amazed to know that there were so many platforms on which writers could publish and share their work. To a tenth grader whose poetry had previously been limited to her personal blog and the school yearbook, this realization opened up a myriad of avenues in my hopes and imagination.
Reality #1: Not everyone will love your work
Until the point I started submitting to literary magazines (which was around January 2015) and receiving rejection letters, I believed that everyone loved my poetry. But then again, ‘everyone’ for me consisted of relatives, family friends, and a few close friends of mine.
That’s why the first rejection I opened in my inbox came as such a shock: because I realized that there’s an unfriendly side to writing which poets and authors have to face on a daily basis. In fact, as written by LitRejections, “An ego that had seemed imperious upon submission is promptly shattered by the bullets of no”. Some editors will love your words, while others will dismiss them: but that’s just a part of venturing into a field where supply outstrips demand.
Reality #2: You won’t understand why your work was rejected
Given the vast number of submissions most literary magazines receive, even reading through all of them can be a gargantuan task – let alone responding to each one with personalized feedback. Most of the time, a rejection letter will contain a single line of impersonal information, politely letting you know that your work does not satisfy their needs for the time being. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially for writers who are eager to know where they went wrong and how they can improve their craft. For this reason, submitting to literary magazines can be compared to groping about in the dark, trying to find a clue that will lead you into the light.
As a rule, I try to find a few magazines which offer some feedback, regardless of how sparse that feedback is. This can be very helpful, especially for young writers who are still developing their aesthetic and voice.
Reality #3: Rejection can take away the beauty of writing
Understandably, rejection has the ability to discourage you from writing the poetry you were so enthusiastic to display. And the more vulnerable the writer is, the harder he/she will take it. At first, I used to take rejection as a personal insult to my writing. But now, I know that each magazine has its own mission and style, in addition to its individualistic aversions.
Nevertheless, rejection can still take away the beauty one associates with writing. Hence, I make it a point to write for the sake of writing, as opposed to writing for the sake of possible publication. I write poetry as a means of making sense of the people or phenomena surrounding me, or of understanding the complex thoughts that sometimes make an appearance in my mind. Submitting to magazines is secondary and occasional – and is most certainly not the motive behind the pages of poetry saved on my laptop.
Reality #4: Rejections make the acceptances more special
This is perhaps the best aspect of rejection: each rejection letter piled up in my inbox makes that single acceptance so much more special. It shows you the competition you overcame, and that your work actually resonated with a person you don’t know. Rejection is not glamorous – but it definitely gives your acceptances much more value and merit. And, to be honest, it is comforting to know that your work was indeed read and evaluated by other editors – whether they liked it or not. It shows you that you’re taking risks, and that you’re no longer so protective of your work or vulnerable to criticism.
In all honesty, I think literary rejection benefitted me much more than my acceptances have.