Longlisting – a bittersweet experience

After a great push of submissions in the past two or three months, I tried to damp down my expectations. Good move, I thought, because at first it seemed like every response was negative. I was beginning to think that everything I wrote was trite and babyish and not ‘slant’ enough for most editors’ taste. It was more than a bit disheartening.

Then I got a couple of emails saying I had been longlisted, for pamphlet and magazine submissions and suddenly –  I was smiling broadly! Someone had actually seen something they liked in my poems.  

I tweeted about this experience, asking other people what they thought of the longlist. Most agreed that it is a good boost for the poetic psyche, even if you don’t get any farther than the longlist. When prestigious publishers such as Butcher’s Dog put you on a longlist, it does mean something. It means – keep trying, you are writing something that touches an editor’s critical heart. And the Butcher’s Dog emails, when they let you know you didn’t make it past the longlist, are as kind and encouraging as possible.

One poet came back to me on Twitter and said that longlisting was a bad idea because those longlisted still get disappointed in the end, and the majority of applicants are even more despairing because they didn’t get longlisted.  

I have to disagree. In my case, it helps me move on with some improved confidence.

Sometimes the longlist or shortlist is announced with a fanfare, and everyone knows about it. Sometimes, it comes at the bottom of a simple rejection ‘by the way, you made it to the longlist’. Even that, grudging as it sounds, is helpful.

The oddest recent experience was an email from a poetry competition telling me I was on the ‘Almost Made it to Longlist’ list!  Actually, even that was a boost because the judge was a poet I deeply respect and it was good to know he saw something in my work.    

We all know that it’s extremely hard to get published, because editors may want a specific tone and style for their publication, and want the chosen poems to flow from page to page, and even if yours is outstanding, it may not fit into that vision. So you just have to keep on slogging, churning the submissions out.

Recently, I got a lovely surprise when Black Bough Poetry Press nominated me (among other poets) for Best of the Net. That was more than a smile – it was a giant whoop that made my other half come running.  

However the boost comes to you, however strong or diluted, take it and enjoy it. It is fuel to keep chugging on.