This weekend I received two emails from literary journals, one was a rejection and the other was an acceptance for publication. The two emails sent back to back got me thinking about my submission process and the way it’s changed over the year I’ve been consistently querying. When I started out my submitting process was random and sporadic, I was sending work off anywhere that caught my attention. But, as one might expect, that strategy didn’t really pay off.
Many writers like to hold onto their rejection letters as motivation, but if I did this I would be able to wallpaper my room. So instead I delete those emails, recycle those letters, and hang onto my acceptances because the truth is submitting sucks. The vast majority of mail that I get are rejection letters. This isn’t a unique experience, any writer out there with a blog could say the same thing, so rather than harp on that point I’d like to take a moment and say that while I’ve had to receive a lot of disappointing emails and letters, the pieces that are accepted make me feel accomplished. And while the cynic in me believes that most publications are about as meaningful as a gold star, I still find it worth wading through all the losses for that one win.
While I’m sure my process will continue to change as I develop more as a poet and writer I thought I’d share my process here in the hopes that it might provide some help to people beginning to submit their work and be open for critique from any wily veterans out there:
You’re going to get rejected-
Don’t take it too hard and don’t take it personally. This is easier said then done of course. When I spend so much time and effort with a poem and then have it turned away, it definitely feels disheartening. But I know I’m going to get rejected. I’m going to get rejected politely, with edits, with an automated response, any number of ways that all same the say thing: No. And that’s alright, in fact it’s better than alright, it’s necessary. It’s a part of the process and it allows me to test myself, and my work, when challenged.
Submit what you read and read before you submit-
When I was in Emerson I asked Peter Jay Shippy, a poet and professor I admire, for advice on submitting and he told me, “Submit where you read” which, as obvious as it seems, is an invaluable tip. If I read a journal I know what they look for stylistically which is a huge part of it. The fate of so many submissions are ultimately left up to the personal taste of the editors, so getting accustomed to what they look for helps my odds. A lot of journals and sites will also have a list of other journals they like, so if a journal I read has that I’ll check it out and see if their friends have a similar aesthetic. If they don’t have that kind of list, I’ll check out a place’s social media presence, as a lot of journals have started making accounts on Twitter and Facebook, to see who they follow. Also, when I come across a piece I really enjoy, I check out that writer’s bio or give their name a Google search to see where they’ve been published and if those magazines would fit my style as well.
I’ve heard and read it a thousand times, but it remains true that submitting is a number’s game. The more I submit the better my odds. I wouldn’t say this means blindly submitting to a bunch of different places or pulling names out of hat; I take the time to read some pieces, do the research and send as many quality submissions as possible. When I started out I was timid about simultaneously submitting certain pieces, feeling I should reserve them, but this resulted in those pieces not getting published until recently because of the waiting periods in between. So now I make an effort to submit with confidence to any journal I feel will be a good fit. Also, when I began I wouldn’t resubmit to magazines that had rejected me, but now I realize that was a petty feeling. A rejection once isn’t a permanent denial and an important trait of this craft is humility, and once I grow enough to have better or more fitting poems I’ll send my work to those places again!
Submit online and to local print-
It’s important to me that my friends and family can read my work. While obviously I want to grow a readership, I don’t want to do so at their expense. For that reason I only submit to journals that publish their issues online or print magazines in areas where I have friends or family. Another benefit of this is that it narrows the search, with so many publications existing today it can be hard to pick and choose and this self-imposed standard helps me thin the list down.
You will get published-
There are so many literary journals, magazines, zines, and small presses out there, from fancy publications funded by universities to one-person managed wordpress sites, that someone, somewhere is going to like your style. It’s inevitable. It might take a while, and it might not be the most renowned or critically acclaimed journals in the beginning, but there are definitely enough places publishing in the country and in the world for everyone’s work to find a home.
This is the piece of advice my brother gave to me and I consider it paramount to all others. Have fun with it, have fun doing it, if you’re not then stop. I don’t mean stop permanently, but take a break. Between a full time job and long list of rejection letters it’s easy for me to get burnt out on submitting unless I keep it enjoyable. Even though it’s a number’s game, I find it an engaging numbers game, like walking into a casino every time I log onto Submittable. I’ve also found alternating between writing intensive and submission intensive months is incredibly helpful. Putting unwarranted pressure on myself to write and publish along with keeping up with my other projects and commitments can be a lot, so I like to give myself working vacations.