Seeing as it's already a week into the new year, and I've just received my first rejection of 2018 (from The New Yorker - surprise!) it seems about (past) time for me to make some kind of report about last year's progress. So, here, fine readers, are the stats you've been so anxiously awaiting:
Total Responses: 104
Rejections: 94 (90.4%)
Acceptances: 10 (9.6%)
You will notice, if you are an astute reader of this so seldomly updated blog, that I fell short of reaching my stated goal of 100 rejections for the year. If only a half dozen of those acceptances could have been rejections instead! If only!
But the whole point of striving towards 100 rejections was not just to get those 100 rejections. The point was to engage in an experiment. Following are a few thoughts on the whole thing:
- First, and most importantly, the whole thing is a game. Publication is a competition of numbers that one plays against other writers of mismatched skills with ever-shifting goal posts. It's not a particularly fun or fair game, but it is ever so easy to get drawn into.
- Striving to lose this game is a rather silly trick to attempt to play on oneself. Maybe there's someone out there (quite possibly, but probably not, a writer) who would truly like to have his or her work roundly declined rather than lovingly praised and put forth for public consumption. I am not that person. Though I rather enjoyed seeing my rejection tally climb over the year, each one that came into my inbox still carried a slight sting of disappointment (as it should).
- I could have made my goal, if I'd sent out more submissions and to more places that respond in quicker timeframes. There are a billion and a half journals and magazines out there, all with editors just waiting to reject the majority of what comes in to their slushpiles.
- Similarly, I probably could have had more acceptances if I'd wanted them. As stated, there are about a billion and a half (give or take) journals and magazines that publish poetry out there. Some of them are, being small and relatively unknown, easier to get into than others. I mostly tried to avoid such places. But even with slightly bigger, more known places, it's still a numbers game; more submissions leads to more acceptances.
- It seems like acceptance is the ticket to winning the game, but the more one delves into this world, the more one sees that it's not quite so simple. There are plenty of widely published poets out there whose names nobody knows, whose poems and books nobody ever reads. Even acceptances to big name journals and publishers is no guarantee of prolonged winningness. And so, the game seems rather pointless and unsatisfying.
All that said, the most troubling aspect of the whole thing is the way playing this game over the past year has changed my writing mindset. Instead of producing new work, I've spent time looking for places to send out old work. Any new work I have produced (which is very little) has been rushed out the (metaphorical) door into the submissions pile (also metaphorical, or at least merely virtual), rather than pondered over, revised, thrown in a (metaphorical) drawer to marinate (metaphorically). I suppose one could say I've been focused on product rather than process, which, perhaps paradoxically, leads to an inferior product.
Furthermore, while the submissions game is an unfair and pointless game, it is an easy one. The ubiquity of online submissions make it even easier. Yes, it can take some time to find places and put together packets and whatnot, but it's not actually difficult. I realize that some people get nervous about sending their work out, but I don't quite understand why. The worst that happens is you get a form rejection from some editor you've never heard of and who doesn't know you and will likely never have any interaction with you ever again. That is a billion times easier than sitting down with yourself and a blank piece of paper. A billion times easier than working one line over and over and over in your head until you begin to doubt whether you even understand language or your own thoughts anymore. Certainly a billion and a half times easier than putting multiple such lines together to form some kind of coherent piece of art on that once-blank page.
With all this in mind, I'm turning away from the submission rush this year. I'm not aiming for acceptances or rejections in 2018. Instead, my goal is to return to the real work of writing, to dig into the long, messy process of creation with no immediate goal of product or publication. I plan to let the work sit, and let myself sit with the work. I think we'll both (myself and the work) be better for it.
So, cheers to the new year, to messier, less quantifiable goals.