And the unavoidable Nos.
We’ve all had one. Very probably more than one. The often blunt response to a carefully curated piece of your creativity can hurt, yes, but it’s also a constructive thing. I thought I should write this in solidarity, for everyone that’s received a No!
If you put yourself out there, they’ll come. Receiving lots of Nos means that you’re out there, trying, engaging with the world. If you only submit your writing to one journal a year and you receive one No it can be crushing. By spreading out your opportunities and reaching out as much as you can you will inevitably receive more Nos but then you’re significantly increasing the chances of actually receiving a hallowed Yes.
Keep receiving those Nos. When Stephen King started submitting he received dozens of them, and he’d pin them on the wall above his writing desk. It was a mark of all the work he’d done and in another it was a visual network of all the places he’d tried to connect to. You don’t know how any of them think really. That No might have been because it really wasn’t the greatest piece of writing but it also might be because the editors did indeed love it but it didn’t fit well alongside the other pieces they’d selected, or that it took their theme into a direction they didn’t want to go in (but it was good writing regardless).
There’s also the possibility that the words you send was simply not to an editor’s taste. Not everyone likes everything, and a lot of these indie publishers have been built upon one person’s idea of what was missing from the world. Social media often brings out the inner badass in someone, but when I see struggling poets or writers criticise the editors of a magazine for not deviating too much or for judging their own poetry competitions I can’t help but guffaw a bit. Those editors completely have the right to choose whatever they like, it’s their magazine, and if what you write isn’t picked up by them then move on, you’ll find one that does appreciate it, truly. It can be frustrating when you particularly love the aesthetic of a particular publication and you yearn to be a part of it, but perhaps part of your appreciation of those journals is to do with the fact that the work you read in it is so different, unusual, and probably quite electrifying in its difference to your own work.
There’s always help out there for writers who feel stuck, or don’t know how to move on from the woeful Nos. Online writing communities and local writing groups can really help to build your confidence (and teach you something new!) but I know from my own experience that they can also be nerve-wracking if you’re not that confident about your ideas in the first place. I’ve been terribly self-conscious about sharing these things out loud, but I can’t remember a single time when I regretted sharing my words. It can be challenging to hear criticism and be questioned on areas you aren’t sure about, but the whole point of the exercise is to make you think in ways you haven’t considered yet.
So roll on the Nos. We want the Yes Yes Yes, but there’s a lot to learn from Nos, and perhaps even more importantly you shouldn’t take them too seriously, as you’re simply trying to please an editor who is a reader (and most probably a writer) just like you. And when you receive some Nos, feel the lovely warmth that comes with being part of a community, as you’ll definitely be in the majority! Mslexia Magazine makes a point of noting all the award winners and household names who received hundreds of rejections before winning that Pulitzer Prize, or who didn’t have a single poem accepted for years before receiving renown.
It’s worth noting that if you receive some words of feedback with your No, this can be a glorious thing. The editor has taken the time to do this for you, and they see you as being a hopeful. They may be interested in seeing more from you.Treat the words they write well.