2021: A Rejection Round-Up

Now that January has got its feet under the table, I want to talk once again about that all-important aspect of being a writer: sending off your work.

I started logging my submissions way back in 2017, when I decided to take the advice in Kim Liao’s article, and aim for 100 rejections over the course of the year. I didn’t manage 100 (I only managed 41), but then, that wasn’t really the point – the point was to encourage myself to submit to more opportunities, without worrying too much about it. And in this, it was successful.

In 2018, I changed it up a bit – instead of aiming for 100 rejections, I aimed for 100 overall submissions. Once again, I didn’t quite manage it, but once again, the number wasn’t really the point. It was to encourage me not to be too precious about submitting my work.

NB: That doesn’t mean I was submitting work before I was happy with it, or that I was editing my work any less rigorously. Only that I wasn’t letting myself be put off making the submission in the first place.

I did the same thing in 2019, and then again in 2020 – partly to keep track of my own progress, but also because it’s so easy to only talk about the good stuff. And because when you only see other people talking about the good stuff, it can be easy to get disheartened about your own writing.

So the blog post that follows is a mix. There is some good stuff (I’m lucky – it’s been a pretty good year for me in lots of ways), but there have also been a lot of rejections to trudge through. Personally, I always find these things easier when they’re made visual – so here are my rejections (and acceptances, and in-betweens) for 2021, broken down into a series of graphs:

Over the course of 2021, I submitted to 128 opportunities – more than double my submissions for 2020. Not only that, but this is the biggest number of submissions I’ve ever managed in a single year – which is perhaps surprising, given that one of my resolutions for 2021 was to apply for fewer commissions and for less project work.

So why such a hike in submission numbers? Well, looking at the breakdown of what I submitted might be an answer to that. Because of course, not all submissions are created equal.

In 2021, I submitted / applied to:

  • 60 competitions
  • 3 funding opportunities
  • 2 jobs
  • 10 residencies
  • 53 submissions (e.g. to magazines / journals / anthologies)

Or, because you all know I’m a big fan of the graph to make things visual:

As you can see, job applications are particularly low – only 2% of my year’s applications. So this, at least, is in keeping with my 2021 new year’s resolution, to not apply for much in the way of project work and commissions. These applications, I reasoned, are usually the ones that take the most time – not to mention often having to design and tailor a very specific project, which is work that’s often wasted if the application is unsuccessful.

Funding is similarly low – though this was more to do with there being fewer funding opportunities I was eligible to apply for in the first place. The three I applied for this year were the Arts Council DYCP grant (unsuccessful), the Society of Authors Authors’ Foundation grant (successful!), and the Speculative Literature Fund Gulliver Travel Grant, for which I’m still on the shortlist and waiting to hear (so fingers crossed).

My residency applications are higher this year than they were in 2020, as more residencies have started to open up for applications again after being closed down for much of last year – though I’ve still been limiting my applications to residency opportunities within the UK, or with long lead-in dates which make me feel a bit more hopeful about the possibility of actually travelling to get to them.

As you can see from the graph, the bulk of my applications this year were competitions, and submissions (within which I include submissions to journals, magazines, anthologies etc).

I’ve always submitted to a lot of competitions. They can be expensive, but they’re also possible to submit to even if you only have a single available poem (unlike magazines, who often like you to submit a group of three or more at a time). The odds aren’t always good, but if you do get lucky, they can also have a pretty pay-off!

The big rise in submissions this year comes from a shift in my submitting habits. As well as poems, I’ve also started sending out short stories more frequently, as I look for a home for some of the stories from my collection. Not only that, but, while I’m still submitting to all the sorts of places I used to submit before, I’ve also started submitting to US journals, the majority of which allow simultaneous submissions – meaning, you can submit the same poem or story to more than one place at once, so you’re not waiting on an answer for 6 months before you can try somewhere else. As you can imagine, this hugely increases the scope for submissions.

Which is all very well and good, but how successful was I?

In the graph above, I’ve only included things that I’ve received a definite response for. I’m still waiting on a decision from 41 of my submissions and applications from 2021.

Out of the 87 submissions that have been answered,

  • 9 were an outright sucess (e.g. a competition win, or a publication, or a funding grant)
  • 63 were an outright no
  • 10 were a no, but with some sort of longlisting – a kind of close but no cigar
  • 5 were a partial success – a kind of close and yes some sort of cigar, but not the Cubans

Personally, I’m pretty happy with that. That no number might look pretty big, but if you add together the yes, longlist and partial sections, to get submissions which received some kind of positive response, you come out with 28% – or just over a quarter. As far as I’m concerned, a 1 in 4 success rate (or even partial success rate) isn’t bad at all.

What were my 9 outright successes?

  • The Desperate Literature Prize: I was shortlisted for this with a short story, but I’m counting it as a full success rather than a partial, because I also won the Georgia Writers’ House Prize within it, which will result (when Covid allows) in a week’s residency in Tbilisi.
  • The Prole Laureate Competition: judged by Carrie Etter. You can read my winning poem here.
  • Northern Writers Awards: Debut Poet Award: I’ve been applying for the Northern Writers’ Awards for years, so it was such a thrill to be successful this year! The Award is a package of funding, mentoring and support, and has already proved invaluable.
  • Society of Authors: Authors’ Foundation: funding for work in progress.
  • Palette Poetry Prize: You know I said I’d started submitting more to US journals and prizes? The Palette Poetry Prize is a big US competition, judged this year by Jericho Brown. You can read my winning poem here.
  • Joyland: Another US journal, with international reach. This one for short fiction, to be published in 2022.
  • Broken Sleep: Footprints: an anthology of new ecopoetry: due in 2022, and featuring one of my poems.
  • The Arctic Circle Residency: I said I wasn’t applying for international residencies unless they were a way away in the future, and this one isn’t till April 2023 – but still, I’m incredibly excited about it! More about this residency and everything it involves in a future blog post…
  • [plus a secret one, which I’m not allowed to announce just yet!]

So what are my submission and application plans for 2022?

For the most part, I’m planning to operate the same strategy as I did in 2021: focus on submissions & competitions that benefit me in some way (either through prize money or publication); don’t apply for too many commissions or too much project work, especially if they have labour-intensive applications, and if they won’t benefit my own writing; apply for opportunities (funding / residencies etc.) that give me more time for my own writing.

After so much success in 2021, I’m starting to run short on things that I can actually submit. So my main strategy is to keep writing!


Happy New Year, and I hope it’s a successful one for all of us! x

5 Comments

  1. This is such an awesome insight, I love your transparency – really refreshing and reassuring! Congratulations on your many successes, and for having got so much work out there in the first place!

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