Rejections are one of the hardest parts of writing. We tuck our fragile writer egos into manuscript envelopes and send them out to be dismissed by the cruel, cruel world. Or that’s how we used to do it – now we just load our files and dreams up into Submittable and hold our breath for 6-8-12+ months.
My friend Frances Boyle received over 100 rejections of her writing this year.
On purpose. (I know, right??)
Frances is an award-winning poet and fiction author, living in Ottawa, Canada. Her most recent book is a novella, Tower. We are in the same short story group together and when I heard about this project I was a bit stunned that she’d go asking for that much rejection. I asked her to share how it all happened and what she learned along the way.
Spoiler alert: it turned out pretty well.
Q: Frances, how did you come across the #100rejections idea?
A: It was some time in 2016, when I read Kim Liao’s article on Literary Hub about aiming for 100 rejections a year. https://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year/ . What she said made a great deal of sense, and I decided to try it. I also became a bit of a proselytizer, pushing my writing group friends to do the same, or at least to submit more regularly, which has worked well for several of them.
Q: How were you feeling about rejection as a writer at the time you decided to take this on?
A: It was around the same time as I was finishing up the Graduate Certificate Programme in Creative Writing at Humber College. I felt the need to make better use of my newly-free time, so thought this would be a good way to focus my attention. Rejection is part of being a writer, as I knew intellectually, but I also hoped that some of the sting would be taken out of it if I learned to see rejections as a good thing.
Q: In the year prior to starting the project, how many submissions had you made?
A: I wasn’t keeping close track then – I guesstimate around 50 to 60. But that number was bulked up because I started submitting more once I’d read the article. So, it was not too great a leap to aim for 100 rejections the next year.
Q: How many submissions did you make this past year during the project?
A: Between grant applications, and submissions of poetry and fiction to magazines and presses, the total for this year (so far) is around 150.
Q: And did you meet your goal of 100 rejections?
A: YES! As I write this (December 7, 2018), I’m sitting at 117 rejections
Q: Okay, but what about acceptances? How did those work out and do you think you had things published you otherwise might not have as a result of the project?
A: Again, YES. I had around 23 acceptances. The biggest were having two manuscripts accepted, and receiving some very welcome grants. I had poetry and fiction in established magazines (notably The New Quarterly, which is always a fave of mine, and The Fiddlehead). But I am equally thrilled with acceptances by several new or newish projects – The /tƐmz/ Review, Juniper, untethered, Coven Editions, talking about strawberries all of the time, Barren Magazine, post ghost press, Augur Magazine. I probably wouldn’t have sought out these publications, many of which are web-based, were it not for the 100-rejections objective. Yet the enthusiasm and support that they provide to their contributors is remarkable. The folks at The /tƐmz/ Review in particular follow up, and celebrate every subsequent success of the people they publish.
Q: And so how are you feeling about rejection now?
A: I had hoped that some of the sting would be taken out of receiving those “unfortunately, it’s not quite right…” emails. Nope. Well, maybe a little. But, with volume, it really does become part of the process. And I am cheered as much (well, almost as much) by a ‘tiered rejection’ as by an acceptance. In the past, when I was encouraged to submit again, I’d wait for what I thought was a respectable amount of time to pass. Now, I recognize it as an opportunity and sometimes even an invitation to engage in a dialogue with an editor by sending them new work. I sent to places where I was sure I didn’t stand a chance: a special Canadian issue of Granta. I figured they wanted the likes of Margaret Atwood, Dionne Brand and Karen Solie, not me. And I was right, but I did get a rejection from Madeleine Thien so lovely that I wanted to frame it. And I screwed up the temerity to submit a story to The New Yorker, and was asked to submit again – (almost) as good as an acceptance.
Q: Do you intend to try for 100 rejections again in 2019? And do you think it has changed your submission practice in any long-lasting way?
A: I think I will do it again next year, but perhaps less intensively. I haven’t yet had any success placing work with U.S. print publications (though my most recent two acceptances were from U.S.-based online magazines). But I will continue to seek out interesting calls, or follow serendipity. If it looks interesting, I’ll try to go for it.
Q: Do you think the project has had an impact on your writing practice?
A: There have been both positive and negative effects on my writing practice. On the down side, the time spent on submitting is considerable (finding out who’s accepting submissions and what they’re looking for, deciding what to submit, formatting according to the specifications of the individual journal, etc. etc.), and it is time taken away from my writing. On the plus side, if there’s a call for work that matches something I have in draft, it can be a spur for me to get around to revisions or tackling a problem I’d been avoiding, and to polish it up to submit.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m mainly working on revisions for my short story collection, Seeking Shade, which will be coming out in 2020. But, as always, I also have some new poems in the mix, along with a couple of reviews and other non-fiction pieces. One or two ideas and scribbled scraps towards new stories remain percolating.
Do you have it in you to aim for #100rejections in 2019?
I’m so impressed by Frances. (In lots of ways, but this specifically: hurray for hutzpah!)
By my count, she’s achieved about a 15% acceptance rate, with more possibly to come since all responses aren’t yet in – seems impressive considering the typical acceptance rate at many literary magazines is in the 2-5% range. And certainly impressive compared to keeping drafts hidden in boxes and not sending them out at all. My guess is that the project is helped along considerably if you do multiple submissions.
What do you think? Is the #100rejections project something you’d try? You’d be in good company over on Twitter! I’m still trying to decide if it’s a goal I’ll take on for 2019. Come on over to my FaceBook page and let’s talk about it some more. I'm still on the fence and could use a good push.