Writers deal with a lot of rejection. Years, sometimes decades of rejection. And when they discouraged, their fellow rejectees bolster them up with the same refrain: It only takes one yes.
Sadly, the inverse is also true. It only takes one stinging rejection for all the impostor syndrome to creep back in. I’m lucky in that while I’ve had my fair share of manuscript rejections in the past year, I’ve also had a lot of yeses. This year, I’ve had 3 essays published, a poem, a flash fiction piece, and my third novel is crawling along to its June 2022 publication date.
I recently entered a contest for both fiction and poetry for an all-writer voted publication. Everyone who submits also votes on the submissions, the best from each round move on to the next one, and the top 30 submissions make it into the final issue.
I entered round 1 with 3 of my best poems and a short story I haven’t touched in years, thinking that as a serious, multiply-published author, surely I could crack the top 30 with both my submissions.
Well, I didn’t. My short story finished 131 out of 221, and my poems finished 147 out of 239. I didn’t even make it past the first round, and I read some very weak submissions in the first round. I felt immediately dejected. How could I possibly expect to publish and have any level of commercial success with my novel if I couldn’t even have a short story in the top half of a contest? It wasn’t too late to call my publisher and stop the train and go back to the drawing board. It’s not like I deserved that yes!
But that’s the thing about pity parties. They never last long. And I read the nice feedback I got from the writers who read and ranked my submissions in round 1, and all the criticism was totally fair. And prose and poetry are both incredibly subjective, as they should be. In round 1, one writer ranked my poems the best… another, the worst.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself and listening to those negative thoughts about not being good enough, instead I’m going to be happy for the winners because (the ones I read and voted on anyway) their work was really good. I’m going to look forward to reading the final issue with the top 30 stories and poems because I bet it will be amazing. And I’ll keep grinding away at my work and submit something even better next time.