On Rejection

No writer or poet, no matter how well known, is free from the blow of having work rejected. No matter how carefully the poems have been selected, the magazine studied and read carefully, all submission rules followed, the rejections will still come. It is just as likely to be rejected from a small publication as a big one.

The old advice – and I’ve been submitting poems for over 40 years – was to have another look at your poem, polish further and send out somewhere else. This still holds good but there might be nothing wrong with the poems at all. Maybe the magazine was full, perhaps your work was long-listed but didn’t make the final cut for all sorts of reasons nothing to do with the poem, such as it didn’t fit in with the other poems chosen, or there was another one on a similar theme. So much of being published is down to luck. So send the poem out again somewhere else. It’s a little like dating – you have to try a few before finding the right one.

I know rejections can be disappointing, but the thing is, they make our acceptances all the better. Back in the 80s, I had a sonnet in London Magazine, under the editorship of the generous and intelligent Alan Ross. It took me three goes to get in, and he kept coming back to me with helpful advice. Few editors have time to do that now, but the very best still do, and several have made suggestions which have helped me reach a final draft of something I was not quite ‘there’ with yet, because they wanted to publish it. The much missed magazine, Iron, edited by the inimitable Peter Mortimer, finally took a poem of mine after correspondance with Peter, in his famously bad typing, in which he told me my faults and what was wrong with each poem he wasn’t taking. My joy when I finally ‘made it’ was enhanced by all the rejections I had had before from Iron, even though I was reviewing for them and had a lengthy correspondance on their letters page over a few issues.

The truth about rejections is they keep us trying, they stop us being complacent, they make up the darkness in which the hard won acceptances can shine brightly. Embrace them, learn from them. And keep sending those poems about regardless, until they find their forever home.


KPA Workshop



Filed under Writing challenges

14 responses to “On Rejection

  1. sarahwatkinson

    That’s a very nice post – thank you

  2. Reblogged this on Trish Hopkinson and commented:
    Really a great feel-good article about rejections and how they can motivate us to write our best work. Big thanks to Angela Topping for this well-timed post to help us gear up for submitting next year!

  3. “Embrace them, learn from them.” Yes!

  4. I hope I can last 40 years of many rejections and still in the same state of mind and courage to keep submitting.

  5. Rejection is part of the territory. I don’t even think about it anymore! It’s always nice to be reminded that it happens to everyone. I see famous writers short-listed for awards they ultimately don’t get. Those of us who stick it out are tough cookies! And good writers! Have a wonderful Holiday break…Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author, Squinting Over Water & The Shadow of A Dog I Can’t Forget

  6. Reblogged this on Dean K Miller and commented:
    No matter what you do, keep on doing it. Adversity be damned!

  7. Reblogged this on sonnybohanan.com and commented:
    Angela Topping makes some excellent points about why you should continue submitting your writing to other publications after it’s been rejected.

    Serving as a fiction contest coordinator this past fall for American Literary Review made this clear to me. We received about 250 entries in the short fiction category, and the other fiction coordinator and I were charged with reading them all and choosing a list of 10 finalists. There were so many wonderfully written stories that didn’t make the top 10 but were good enough to win the contest outright, and with different judges may very well have done just that.

    These choices that must be made every day in the business of publishing fiction are by nature subjective, and they’re affected by other circumstances beyond the writer’s control, as Topping explains here:

  8. I like the dating comparison! I never met Alan Ross but he seemed like a lovely man.

  9. Reblogged this on Carolyn O' Connell and commented:
    Excellent advice a well thought description of how to submit and deal with rejection for poets

  10. Excellent summary and advice, agree with everything you say Angela

  11. Janet Crawford

    Received one yesterday, response : posting two today !