You don’t know me; or, The Art of Submissions

I got a testy rejection letter the other day, advising me essentially to “read the damn journal.” Oops. I thought I had, but indeed when I went back and reviewed the contents, the submission instructions, the “about” page, I discovered that the mix of poems I sent was pretty much exactly wrong for this journal.

They specifically state they’re not into political nor spiritual poems, and three of the five poems in the group I sent could definitely fit into those categories. I would argue they are not entirely or exclusively “political” or “spiritual,” but still, I can see why a harried first reader would shove the whole packet of them aside as “not quite right for us.” Also many of the poems in the magazine are in what I think of as the stop-making-sense tradition, and the editor also writes in that mode. Although I have poems that are less logically sound than others, the poems I sent to that magazine are definitely more organized and logical than the editors might be attracted to.

My bad, as they say. I feel quite ashamed, in truth, as I’m usually pretty careful to try to align what I perceive as the sensibility of a magazine or publisher to what I send. Although I do sometimes get in the devil-may-care mode of just sending stuff out because a deadline is here and hey, who knows.

It takes time and patience to become familiar with a target market’s sensibilities, which anyway are often fairly broad. It can be confusing. Usually if I see one poem that looks like something I could have written, I feel assured. But really it’s better to see three or four such poems to be confident that someone on the editorial staff might look kindly on my submission. Or three or four books from a particular publisher that might be in the mode of what I write. Also, editorial staff change and tastes change, so I also have to be on top of that, updating my library of lit mags and new publications from my favorite publishers.

And I need to be aware of the range of my own work, and have at least in my head a general categorization of the poems, from clear logic to looseygoosey, from easily categorizable as, e.g., “political” or “spiritual,” although in general I try to write stuff that can’t be quite so pigeonholed, so safely uncategorizable.

Sometimes I weary of the research, which means I either do what I did, that is, send inappropriately, or, often, I put off the submission work to another day when I might have the time and patience to sift through the target mags.

Anyway, dear editorial staff, I am genuinely sorry to have wasted your time. I know it’s a big pain. The good news is it’s going to be a while until you hear from me again, so I can make sure my name has faded off the list of authors who clearly didn’t read the damn journal.

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