Finally, and happily, I have reached my 500th rejection from a literary journal or book publisher. I’ve been waiting and trying for some time in an attempt to get here, and I really am I excited about this. Really.
I started submitting around 1999 and very lightly. Lightly, because I was scared. Who knows why? And because I had so little material. A few years before, I burned everything I ever wrote. Two boxes of writing. Banker boxes. Burned the poems one by one. I read most of those poems before I ignited them, released each flaming one from my fingers, and watched them burn and float through the sky and turn to ash and nothing.
By about Fall 2005, I had about 150-200 rejections. That’s when I started pounding the market and writing a lot, too. Writing well, too. I would always have out at least 50 submissions to journals and another 10-20 to book publishers. I did that for about four years. This can become troublesome if a poem gets accepted, because then you have to write withdrawl letters. I once had to write 44 withdrawl letters for the poem “The Enemy of Pleasure” after it was accepted. I also had a poem, “The First Rain,” rejected 77 times before it was accepted. (Yes, I keep stats, vide infra.) I thought of William Stafford then. At one reading he gave at The Writers Forum at SUNY Brockport, he read a poem. Everyone thought it was a wonderful poem. He then read a list of about 30 to 50 journals. He said, “Those were all the journals that turned down that poem.” He then read the name of some small and obscure journal and said, “This was the one that wise enough to accept it.” I understand.
By fall 2006, I was at about 300 rejections. Fall 2007 about 400. I thought 500 would be easy to get. I was getting excited to get there by the end of 2008. Come fall 2008, I was at about 450. I was slowing down. I was getting poems accepted. At one point, I had a 15-to-1 ratio of rejections to acceptances.
A rejection, by the way, is when the whole submission gets rejected. An acceptance is when at least one poem gets accepted. So if I send five poems to a journal and they all get rejected, that’s one rejection. If one poem from the submission gets accepted, that’s one acceptance and zero rejections. If two poems from the submission get accepted, that’s two acceptances and zero rejections.
In order to accelerate the rejections, I suggested a rejection contest. I challenged fellow poets to see who could get the most rejections. Each rejection contest season started right after National Poetry Month on May 1, of course. Here were the rules for the 2008-09 season:
2008-09 Rejection contest rules
A) 1 point for all poems in one submission to a journal not being accepted.
B) 1 point for poems not winning a contest. If a poem comes in second or third, that counts as winning and equals –1 point.
C) 1 point for a manuscript (chapbook or full-length book) being rejected.
D) -1 point for an accepted poem. If, for instance, three poems are accepted from one submission to a journal, then –3 points.
E) -100 points if chapbook is a finalist in a contest but is published, but many glasses of wine will have to be drunk. Friends can join in, but they must pay their own way.
F) -100 points if chapbook is accepted by a publisher, but many glasses of wine will have to be drunk. Friends can join in, but they must pay their own way.
G) -100 points if chapbook wins a contest, but many glasses of wine will have to be drunk AND you will pay for drinks for your friends as you have just won a chunk of change.
H) -250 points and immediate disqualification if a full-length manuscript (42+ pages) gets accepted for publication or wins a contest. Again, you buy drinks for everyone if you win a cash prize. You may still play but only as a honorary participant because you are not allowed to win on both sides.
I) If a journal accepts submissions, but only accepts 1 poem per email but ultimately will accept 3-5 poems as a submission, and you submit, for example, 5 poems, and all 5 are rejected one at a time, then it is only one rejection and 1 point. If one is accepted and four rejected one at a time, then it counts as one acceptance (-1 point) and zero rejections (0 points).
J) Only submit to a place you would normally submit. No submitting a poor poem to “Poetry,” but you may submit you best poems to “Poetry.” And only submit to legitimate journals, online journals, and publishers.
K) Once a poem is published, it cannot be submitted again elsewhere, at least in regards to this contest.
Whoever got the most points won. Last place paid first place 20 envelopes and 20 stamps. Second-to-last place paid second place 10 envelopers and 10 stamps. Third-to-last place paid third place 5 envelopes and 5 stamps. (I love gambling.) I, however, always came in second [shakes fist at Donna Marbach].
By fall 2009, I was at around 487 rejections. Damn. “Why won’t 500 come,” I thought and said aloud. Good thing is, I was getting poems accepted . . . and books, too. My ratio today is 5-to-1, 500 rejections and 97 accepted poems, one accepted book review, five collections of poems, and one book of poetry writing exercises.
Now mind you, I don’t write to get published. I don’t know how to do that. The poem is always telling me what to do. No one else. I have to be honest with the poem, and it won’t let me do otherwise. I did like the challenge of submitting, though. I like numbers. I like stats. I love football. I’ve always loved football and its stats, and all sports stats. (I like gambling, vide supra.) So this was natural for me.
To make it more challenging, in late 2007 or early 2008, I stated to submit almost exclusively to only those journals with “Review” in their name. I thought, a journal with “Review” in its name just sounds good to me. Plus, it’s a review. It’s more legitmate if it has “Review” in its name. The legitimacy thing isn’t true, but the thinking was something like that.
Anyway. Today I got my 500th rejection, and I am now a member of a club I invented a while ago, which now has a t-shirt. (Thank you Kristy Funderburk for the idea.)
I’m very excited to be here. It’s a significant event, I think. Anyway, it’s certainly fun. So hooray.
So, if you are there or beyond 500 rejections, join The 500 Rejections Club and order a shirt, which reads: The 500 Rejections Club / (500 Rejections from Journals and Publishers) / We wish you luck in placing your work elsewhere.