Another year gone by, which means another load of writing rejections stacked up in all our inboxes. So, in the interest of transparency (and of cheering everyone up with the reminder that rejections are just a natural part of the writing life), I wanted to share mine – and of course to give you my annual analysis of them, complete with the graphs & pie charts that long-term followers have come to know and love. (And if you don’t love them, I’m sorry for you, because there’s something so joyfully satisfying about a colour-coded graph, so at least just humour me, ok?)
Whenever you read or listen to writers giving advice about submitting work – whether to competitions or journals or any other form of opportunity – they’ll usually talk about having a system. A way of keeping track of what you’ve sent out, and where to.
I started keeping track of my submissions properly (in a way that wasn’t just on post-it notes and the backs of old drafts of poems) in 2017, when I read an article by Kim Liao, suggesting writers aim for 100 rejections over the course of the year. The point of this goal was never really about reaching it, but about pushing myself to submit to things I wouldn’t ordinarily go for, because I had to get as close as possible to my target of 100 rejections. (It also meant I was less disappointed when the inevitable rejections did come in, because at least it was another to tick off my list.)
Flash forward several years, and I no longer aim for 100 rejections. This is partly because I think that initial exercise has done its work, and I’m already in the habit of being less precious and/or nervous about sending my work out. But also because I’m further on in my career, and (as with the work I take on) I can afford to be more choosy about what I submit to.
So how did I do?
Over the course of 2022, I submitted to 72 opportunities.
This is significantly down on my 2021 total of 128, but part of that is because of this choosiness.
For example, when we break down my submissions by category, it looks a little bit more like this:
- 38 competitions
- 1 funding opportunity
- 5 job applications
- 7 residencies
- 21 submissions
But hey – I promised colour-coded graphs, so here’s a nice handy visualisation of that breakdown:
As you can see, submissions (within which I include submissions to journals, magazines, anthologies etc.) and competitions make up the bulk of my applications, with a combined total of 82%. This is usually the case, as they generally don’t require anything beyond the work being submitted, and maybe a brief cover letter. So once the work is finished & edited & I’m happy with it, it’s fairly easy to then just send it out. And as soon as I get a rejection from one place, then I can just send the poem / story straight back out somewhere else.
(In last year’s round-up post, I talked a bit about simultaneous submissions – which are another reason the competition & submission categories are pushing higher than the others.)
So what about residencies? In 2021, I applied to 10 residencies. In 2020, I applied to 8 (though that was with lockdowns in force and international travel bans and most residencies closed for business). In 2019, I applied to 10.
This past year, I’ve started to limit the residencies I apply for. There are a few reasons for this:
- I’ve still been a little bit cautious with my travel (especially in the early parts of 2022). After all, we are still in a pandemic.
- I’ve had a couple of residencies hanging over from previous years, so I haven’t needed to apply for residencies as much, because my time has been filled up with these. For instance, in May I went to the Writers’ House of Georgia in Tbilisi (carried over from 2021), and in November, I took up residence at KSP Writers’ Centre in Australia (carried over from 2022).
- More and more, I get work that I don’t need to actually apply for – and this includes residencies & retreats. For instance, in April, I spent a retreat week at Moniack Mhor, courtesy of an invitation which arose from an unsuccessful application to the Jessie Kesson Fellowship the year before.
- I’m increasingly choosy about where I go. Previously, I tended to apply for residencies whatever they offered, and wherever they were, simply for the opportunity to travel. Lately, I’ve been more selective – partly because of the pandemic, and partly because, fortunately, I can now afford to travel off my own bat if it’s a place I really want to go to. So I’ve limited my residency applications to places I really want to vist, and/or residencies that I desperately want to do.
- Plus, residency applications tend to take a long time. Much longer than, say, submitting a story to a magazine, or entering a poem into a competition.
As for job applications and funding opportunities, these are always pretty low numbers, because jobs are big things to apply for, and because funding opportunities are relatively scarce.
With all that in mind, how did I get on?
Of the 72 opportunities I’ve submitted to, I withdrew one (because the same piece had been successful elsewhere), and I’m still waiting on answers from 23. Of the 48 submissions for which I have received responses:
- 5 were an outright success (e.g. a competition win, or a publication, or a funding grant)
- 37 were an outright no
- 3 were longlists (e.g. a no, but with some kind of mention – a kind of close but no cigar)
- 3 were partial successes (a kind of close and yes some sort of cigar, but not quite the Cubans)
That big orange ‘no’ segment might look like a lot – and yes, 77% is a high percentage of rejections when looked at objectively – but actually I’m pretty happy with that. It’s only slightly up on last year’s rejections (72%), and it’s all part and parcel of being a writer.
Plus, my successes are all things I’m incredibly proud of, and are really big achievements. I’d probably rather have one incredibly successful funding bid than a rejected funding bid but two poems appearing in a magazine. Call me mercenary, but it’s the way of the job.
What were my five successes?
- The Northern Writers’ Award for Fiction: following several years of applying for the Northern Writers’ Awards with no luck, I couldn’t believe it when I was successful for the second year in a row. The Award is a package of funding and other support, and has been a huge reason why I’ve been able to be a bit more relaxed about money over the past year (though more on that when I do my annual financial round-up at the end of the tax year).
- Getting a job as a Core Team member of the Writing Squad: Again, I’ve been following the work of the Writing Squad for almost a decade, and have wanted to work with them for just about as long.
- Fly on the Wall: This year, I found a home for a long-ish folk-ish short story set in Carlisle, called ‘You Can Let Yourself Be Swept Away or Else Become the Flood’. The anthology, The Ones Who Flew the Nest, comes out from Fly on the Wall in May 2023.
- Aesthetica Creative Writing Award for Short Fiction: Another competition I’ve been entering for a while, so it was wonderful to win this towards the end of 2022. (Plus a lovely sized prize, so that’s not to be sniffed at, either!)
- DYCP: And, right at the end of 2022, I learned I’d been successful in my application to Arts Council England for a Developing Your Creative Practice grant. So, in 2023, I’m combining a residency in Mull, with exploring ways of taking poetry off the page.
[I’ve also had a 6th big success this year, but it wasn’t something I had to apply for exactly, and I’m not allowed to talk about it just yet – so you’ll have to watch this space!]
What are my submission & application plans for 2023?
Mostly, I’m planning to just carry on as I have been doing. My poetry collection, White Ghosts, is coming out from Nine Arches in March, so I probably won’t be submitting as many poems to competitions, journals & magazines, as I’ll need to take time out to write some more first. I doubt I’ll be applying to many jobs this year, either – if any – because of time already taken up by the Writing Squad work, and by my ongoing regular workshops with Dove Cottage Young Poets and the Wordsworth Trust. Not to mention the extra financial freedom provided by the DYCP grant and the Northern Writers’ Award!
Other than that, I’m just planning to wait and see where the year takes me, and to keep on writing in the meantime.
Happy New Year, and as always, happy writing! x