Don’t Let Your Resolve Dissolve

January 31, 2019

By Flower Conroy
Key West Poet Laureate

Ah, the New Year! How it promises to usher in the, well, new. We make reservations (or we most certainly do not!) in hopes of finally fulfilling our dreams lives. If you’re a writer and part of your dream life is to be published, you need to submit your work—and I don’t mean once or twice, I mean a lot—like, a lot a lot. You may or may not have heard of the “100 Rejection Challenge;” basically, it’s a motivational technique suggesting a writer strive for at least one hundred rejections a year. The belief is if you are working that hard actively submitting and vetting your work, much good will also come from the (almost manic) sending off of your work. (There are 365 days a year; that’s sending out work almost every 3 ½ days—if you’re only striving for rejections!! Add in acceptances and you’ll need to submit work every other day!!). I’ve never actually tried to reach the 100th rejection mark—I mean I do really decent getting close without trying that hard as it is! I’m a little bit of a spaghetti against the wall personality when it comes to sending submissions; however, I do my research about the journal, read the work they’re publishing, and try subtly to cater to their aesthetic. Meaning, if a journal is known for its attention to form and meter, I’m not going to send them free-verse all willy-nilly. I send to journals and publishers I respect, admire, and aspire to be in. And sometimes I send to journals I’m just getting to know. This is a list of my submissions rejected in 2018 (not including journals/publishers that use submission portals other than Submittable):

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“Medusa with the Head of Perseus (2008, Luciano Garbati)” and other poems The Adroit Journal – Poetry10/15/2018
“Memory Slips” and other poems Arkana – Poetry10/11/2018
You Can’t Keep Killing Yourself & Not Expect to Die Conduit – Marystina Santiestevan First Book Poetry Prize09/26/2018
“And Now the Ampersand of the Vine” and other poems Colorado Review – POETRY09/06/2018
“Rare & Endangered Species” and other poems Copper Nickel – Submit POETRY to Copper Nickel09/06/2018
“Uncontained Piano” and other poems Crazyhorse – Poetry Submission09/06/2018
“You Can’t Keep Killing Yourself & Not Expect to Die” WICW Fellowships // Brittingham & Pollak Poetry Prizes – The Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes in Poetry09/05/2018
“Funny You Don’t Look Pansexual” and other poems LitMag – Poetry – PRINT09/05/2018
“The Messenger” and other poems The Greensboro Review – Poetry – Robert Watson Literary Awards09/01/2018
You Can’t Keep Killing Yoursef & Not Expect to Die BatCat Press – BatCat Press Open Submissions 201808/30/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder Black Lawrence Press – The St. Lawrence Book Award – Poetry08/01/2018
Don’t Eat the Hair Black Lawrence Press – The St. Lawrence Book Award – Poetry07/31/2018
Don’t Eat the Hair Tupelo Press – July Open Reading Period 201807/31/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder Tupelo Press – July Open Reading Period 201807/29/2018
“Skin Gets Its Loneliness From a Pigment Called Memory” and other poems Black Warrior Review – Poetry General Submission07/24/2018
“Lantern-Jawed” and other poems Epiphany Magazine – Fall 2018 Submission: POETRY07/05/2018
You Can’t Keep Killing Yourself & Not Expect to Die Black Lawrence Press – Poetry Collection – Full Length06/01/2018
“Some General Instructions” and other poems Poet Lore – Poetry Submissions05/30/2018
Things Growing Out Of Your Head Black Lawrence Press – POETRY – Black River Chapbook Competition05/21/2018
“The Dead Sheep” and other poems Slice Literary – Poetry05/21/2018
“Lesser Known Facts About the Moon” and other poems Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts – Poetry05/16/2018
Better Ghost Lynx House Press – Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry 201805/16/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder The University of Akron Press – 2018 Akron Poetry Prize submissions05/16/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder Milkweed Editions – Max Ritvo Poetry Prize05/16/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder Anhinga Press – 2018 Anhinga-Robert Dana Prize for Poetry05/16/2018
Things Growing Out of Your Head Emrys Foundation – Emrys Press 2018 Chapbook Prize05/15/2018
“Aesthetically speaking, it’s not what you take away it’s what you leave behind” and other poems POETRY – Poetry05/08/2018
“Untitled: Study of Light Sample (#6584)” and other poems Chicago Review – Poetry05/08/2018
“Skin Gets Its Loneliness From a Pigment Called Memory” and other poems Tahoma Literary Review – Poetry (Up to 6 Poems)05/08/2018
“The Dead Sheep” and other poems New England Review – Poetry04/30/2018
“How to Be a Better Ghost” and other poems Boulevard – Poetry–General Submission04/30/2018
‘Striped’ and ‘Formula’ Best New Poets – Best New Poets Open Competition04/28/2018
‘Who’ and ‘Transcription’ Best New Poets – Best New Poets Open Competition04/28/2018
‘Water Speaks’ and ‘Vast” Best New Poets – Best New Poets Open Competition04/28/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder Tupelo Press – The Berkshire Prize for a First or Second Book of Poetry 201804/27/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder BOAAT PRESS – 2018 BOAAT Book Prize – Judged by Nick Flynn04/16/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder University of Pittsburgh Press – Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize – Open March 1 – April 3004/16/2018
“Because to Dress Also Means to Eviscerate” and other poems Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts – Online Exclusive Poetry04/09/2018
“How to Be a Better Ghost” and other poems The Gettysburg Review – Poetry04/09/2018
“Birth” and other poems Crazyhorse – Poetry Submission04/09/2018
“The Water Speaks to Narcissus,” “Transcription of Static,” “Uncontained Piano,” “Cutting Out My Own Heart I Am Sincere When I Say,” and “Law of Attraction Visualization vs. Being Delusional” The Georgia Review – Poetry (Non-subscriber)04/09/2018
Flower Conroy, 6The New Yorker – Poetry – Poetry04/09/2018
“Skin Gets Its Loneliness from a Pigment Called Memory” and other poems American Literary Review – Poetry04/09/2018
“The Dead Sheep” and other poems American Poetry Review – APR: Poetry Submission04/09/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder Black Lawrence Press – The Hudson Prize – POETRY03/30/2018
Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder Elixir Press – Antivenom Poetry Award03/30/2018
Better Ghost Orison Books – 2018 Orison Poetry Prize03/26/2018
Girl with a Head Full of Snake Switchback Books – 2017 Gatewood Prize (Fee Includes a Book from Switchback Catalog)02/27/2018
In Love w/ a Dead Girl Augury Books – Augury Books Open Submissions01/31/2018
Better Ghost Elixir Press – Antivenom Poetry Award01/25/2018
Panic Attack Vegetable Elixir Press – Antivenom Poetry Award01/24/2018

In case you didn’t count—there’re 51 rejections on this list. When I was compiling it this morning, I wasn’t sure if I was inspired by how active it appeared I was or depressed because—well, let’s face it, they’re soul-crushing REJECTIONS—but now, revisiting this list and actually tallying the numbers, I’m I little disappointed in myself that I wasn’t more productive; I mean I barely passed the halfway mark of 100 (though 51% is a much higher percentage of accomplishment than my reading goal on Goodreads…insert blushing emoji). (For the record, I’ve set my reading goal even higher this year—and I’m going to hit that 180!! Check back with me next January! Insert panicked emoji.). [Since beginning this essay a few days ago, I’ve already accumulated three new!! rejections.] 24 submissions on this list are full length collections; the remaining represent smatterings of poems sent to journals. And I think it’s important to mention—not all rejections are the same.

Just as there are tiers of hierarchy in which certain journals are considered among the “Best” (one may think of The New Yorker, Poetry, The Paris Review), there are gradations in rejections. If an editor says they can’t take this submission but personally says they want to see more work from you in the future—this is incredible; editors do not—I repeat, they DO NOT—encourage writers personally unless they were moved by the work. If the editors mention specific details about the work submitted—take that as a good sign. Even if they write, “This is the crappiest piece of crap ever writ.” A personal acknowledgement can go a long way; if I received a rejection saying, “This is the crappiest piece of crap ever writ,” I’d incorporate it into my subsequent cover letter: “Dear [insert Editor’s name], while you called my last submission the “crappiest piece of crap ever writ,” I feel you will find these poems better suited to your aesthetic. I look forward to hearing from you.”

By now you may be wondering if I submit the same material to different journals/contests. Yes and no. Sometimes pieces are sent simultaneously to different journals. Sometimes only a few of the pieces may overlap; maybe I’ll shuffle the submission. When I submitted “‘The Dead Sheep’ and other poems” to the American Poetry Review, I sent them: ‘The Dead Sheep,’ ‘Lesser Known Facts About the Moon,’ ‘Reading the Mind of God,’ ‘Hell Bound,’ and ‘Scraps of Cloth Knotted into Rugs.’ But when I sent “ ‘The Dead Sheep’ and other poems” to New England Review, I sent: “The Dead Sheep,” “You Think You Know What Kept Means Until You Are,” “Formula for Quantum Entanglement,” “Nonverbal Thinking,” “Hell Bound,” and “Coma as Cocoon.” And although the manuscript, “Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder” appears numerous times on this list, it is a malleable collection, ever being tinkered with, revised, reordered, revamped. So how do I keep track? I don’t know that I do, exactly. I revisit earlier versions of the manuscript (especially when it has placed as a finalist or semi-finalist) to see if I’ve over-revised the collection, or removed something that should find its way back in. I can have 13 versions of one poem; imagine what that does to organizing a manuscript.

So…how many acceptances did I have? 9. In the calendar year of 2018, I had nine poems accepted into the following journals: Menacing Hedge, Punch Drunk Press, ZYZZYVA, Columbia Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Penny Dreadful, The Penn Review, Sugar House Review, and Blue Earth Review.
The imbalanced ratio of acceptances to rejections can be crippling for a writer—the math and the soul-crushing take-a-hike-s!! However, all of those journals were ones I aspired to be in—and The Penn Review nominated my poem for a Pushcart Prize! Nominated for A PUSHCART PRIZE!! Insert star-eyed emoji. At this moment, I have 30 submissions in slush piles (through Submittable) pending acceptance or rejection (at a quick count, it looks like 25 full-length submissions, and 5 journal submissions). [Now we are down three…remember those rejections I mentioned earlier, yeah, rejections are starting to flood in like holiday credit card bills!!] Can you tell I’m trying to win a book award with how many times I’ve submitted the various incarnations of “Snake Breaking Medusa Disorder” ??? At a panel at AWP, a presenter revealed that Jake Adam York submitted his manuscript “Murder Ballads” over 200 (237?) times before it won the 2005 Elixir Prize. We must press through the rejections. As the adage goes something like the only difference between a successful writer and an unsuccessful writer is not giving up. Don’t let your resolve dissolve; stick with it (like the holiday cheese cake is sticking to my gut!), and may you literally prosper!