"Unfortunately, we've decided not to publish your work this time."
"It wasn't for us."
"Your work hasn't been shortlisted."
If you are in the habit of regularly sending your work out to magazines, journals, and competitions, the chances are, you'll regularly receive responses like these. Rejections sting, no matter where in your career you are as a writer. But do they always have to?
I received the above email this week. As it alludes, it followed a standard rejection email - "We regret to inform you..." - but when I received this email, I felt much more hopeful.
I should mention that this is a big, international prize. I wasn't sure I had any hope of placing when I entered, especially given the standard of last year's entries, which are available online. But each rejection still smarts, regardless of your expectations. So to be in the top 250 - the top 1/6 of the entries - feels great!
Just for the avoidance of doubt, 'longlisting' is the stage before 'shortlisting' i.e. the entries are narrowed down once, then narrowed down again into a shortlist. I've been lucky to have been longlisted in a few competitions - The Plough Prize, Mslexia (twice!) - and even during the editing process for anthologies. Does it start to feel little like an 'always a bridesmaid' sitution? Perhaps. But what is an email telling you that you've been longlisted really mean?
"You're nearly there."
"You're doing well!"
"Your work is progressing."
"The judges may not have liked the content or style of your work, but the quality is there."
"You are more than competent."
"Your work can hold it own amongst better and probably professional writers."
And most importantly; "Keep going!"
When I first started sending my work out to competitions, I never received emails like this. It's only in the past, say, 3 years that these have started to appear. Of course, during that time, I've been attending workshops, receiving mentoring, seeking feedback, writing, writing, more writing, and sending work off.
And guess what?
Both of these have happened in the last 12 months. I can only take this as a sign that my work is getting better. And ultimately, isn't that the goal?
So...no, I'm not an award-winning, competition-placing, widely-published poet. But I have built a picture of my writing development through feedback from submissions and competitions. And I am going in the right direction.
I understand that it's quite a lot of work for competition judges and admin, and magazine/journal editors to provide helpful feedback to writers. Some magazines have thousands of submissions per issue.
I have seen it done - some quite eminent editors have helpfully told me they won't use my work but picked out what they did like and asked me to submit again in the future. This is beyond helpful for identifying what editors are looking for.
However, the act of creating a longlist and telling the people who've been included, can be helpful in its own way. I hope that more and more competitions and editors consider starting this encouraging practice.