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.

I am my own ragged company: or, Waiting for Responses to Submissions

Aaarrrghghg, this process of trying to get published is slower than glacial time. I swear  there are some submissions so slow they deserve to be named as an epoch. The Doyouwantitornotean Eon, the Shootmenowocene.

As I paw through my list of submissions I see many have been out for 6 months, 8 months. One video submission will have been out for a year soon. I queried them 4 months ago and they asked for — this is a new one — a copy of the text. That was the last I heard from them.

How do we not LOSE OUR SHIT?

There are too many poets! one person cries. There are too many litmags! says another. You should just be content working on your writing, some jerk opines. I’m okay with six-month turnarounds, says no one, ever.

And yes, I know: “labor of love,” “all volunteers,” “volume of submissions,” etcetera.

I know I should keep just rolling them out there. I certainly know I should stop obsessively brooding at the list, counting and recounting how many submissions are out there and how long each of them have been lingering. But man, it’s hard to gumption up for new rounds of submission knowing everything just sits there like toads on a swamp edge on a sunny day.

Oh, wait — just got an email from one of my litmag submissionees.

Rejection.

Be careful what you wish for.

How Do I Know?; or, Learning to Assess Our Own Work

I encounter again the ubiquitous “Send us your best work” bullshit advisement on the submission page of a literary magazine. Listen. I have never looked at a poem and thought, “Okay, well, this is mediocre, I think I’ll send it to x literary magazine.” Have never read through a manuscript and thought, “Oh, well, this is better than some of the crap out there, I think I’ll send it to x publisher.”

You bastards, I AM sending you what I think, at that moment, is my best work.
…I think…

Do I read it a week after I’ve sent it out and think, “Holy crap, what was I thinking?” Sometimes.

Do I get your rejection back and think, “But this is the best work I’ve ever done and you STILL won’t take it?” Sometimes.

Do I get your rejection back and think, “Hm, well, I think you were right about that”? Sometimes.

The big question is how do we know when our work is at its best. How do we develop within ourselves an adept critical eye.

No, really, that’s a question. Please tell me: How do I develop within myself an adept critical eye?

Again, not to pound this point, but, well, to pound this point, time is a wonderful filter.
If only I would listen to myself and not get overexcited by a new piece and start sending it out in the first blush of blind optimism.

I think I’m going to create a new folder called Hold It! (I’m a great creator of folders…) and put in it every new poem I’m excited about, and I’m not allowed to look at them until at least a month after I’ve put it in the folder. AT LEAST a month. Six months is probably better.

In six months I’m a different person than I was six months before — new skin, blood, colon, fingernails, as cells replace themselves throughout the body at varying rates. So surely the new me will have some fresh insight.

But I’ll have the same eyeballs, though, and mostly the same brain, but new neuronal networks. So in order to shove myself along developmentally, as the pink-faced new poems cool their heels in the Hold It! folder, I should work on my eyesight and my memories. Which means to me that I should read more and widely in poetry especially, and when I find a poem that makes me say “wow, that is good work,” spend some time taking a look at how it works at working. But also other kinds of written work, because all kinds of literature can feed perspective. And I should also look at art, listen to music. And probably dance a little, even if it’s just in my kitchen.

All these kinds of inputs have the possibility of opening my brain to new ways of seeing, new ways of communicating, new ways to imagine. So when I open that folder again, I can see with altered vision and new light.

Once I do look at the poem again, I should also question myself harder. What do I mean here? This is all very fine sounding, but is it more than sound and fancy? Have I dug deep enough into the initiating impulse behind this poem? Do I even remember what I thought I was writing toward? If I’ve forgotten, what, then, presents itself to me in this poem, and is it interesting? Does energy spark and fade throughout the poem? Inquire of that movement: why does it shift, how can I make the whole thing spark and arc? Inquire of every stinking word. Does it belong, does it add, does it move, does it shimmer, does it hold water?

Ugh, with such big questions, I fear I may never open up the Hold It! folder again. Wasn’t it easier just to love the poem and ship it out and take the rejections as they came?

 

Don’t Think Twice; or, Shifting My Submission Priorities

I am starting to break up with my crushes. Those literary magazines and presses I have sent my work to over and over for the past ten years to a uniform response of “no.” They’re just not that into me.

I see work in them that is not dissimilar in aesthetic from mine, so it hasn’t been a totally unreasonable reach. But these presses and mags are at least 8s on the hotness scale. So competition is tough. I’m just not catching their eye.

A few of them have occasionally given me a wink and nod, in the form of a “not quite right for us but please think of us again” kind of thing. But nothing ever came of it.

Of course I think it’s me, some days. (You may know the I-suck litany. Perhaps also the they-suck tirade. Perhaps you too have surmised that there’s an autoreply programmed for any and all submissions from people with your exact name.)

But really, as with all of life, submission is a crap shoot, only slightly gamed by carefully targeting your submissions. For all these years, I’ve hung my chances on the old coin-toss fact that with every submission to my dreamboat press/magazine, there’s a 50/50 chance of a yes. But after so many coin tosses, I think I’ll just pocket the coin.

Catch ya later, losers.

 

All I Have Is Empty Pockets Now; or, The Submission Fee Dilemma

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a full length and a chapbook length collection of poetry submitted out hither and yon for rejection — I mean, for publication. (I mean, “publication!” — positive thinking requires exclamation points, don’t you think?) Then just recently while thinking about a recent poem I wrote, I realized it sort of fit with a few other older poems that I still like. And they fit with some other drafts of poems that I’m interested in. And suddenly, I think I have another chapbook!

I greeted this realization with a groan. I can’t afford to have another chapbook!

I’m spending hundreds of dollars on the two I have, each contest, reading fee, sucking at my pocket.

How much is it worth spending on any one manuscript? To torture myself, I totted up how much I’ve spent on the full length manuscript, which started its life as a chapbook, which I also sent out a bit as I was working it outward into full length. A lot of money. At what point do I give it up as good money thrown after bad, a lost cause?

At some point (soon!), I will focus on sending only to publishing companies with free open calls. But I know I can’t do that until about half the poems are published, according to conventional wisdom. But that’s getting expensive too! My list of target lit mags to send to is rapidly diminishing as I refuse to pay reading fees. (Yes, yes, I know the arguments for supporting lit mags with reading fees, and yes, in theory I support the idea, but in reality, it’s budget busting. I buy individual print-based magazines and books at the bookstore.) So I need to do some research and revamp my lit mag list.

If one believes, and I do, that part of the equation of being a writer is having a reader, and if one suspects, and I do, that a more well known publishing company offers the opportunity to have your work read by more readers, or reviewed toward that end, and possibly put you in touch with a wider range of other writers who may inspire or offer collaborative or other kinds of interesting opportunities, then to some degree I have to do this forking forking-out dough to get my work considered.

Or, at least, I think I do.

But for how long? How much? Or do I rethink the whole enterprise?

I’ll pay someone to tell me.

More more more

I have, if not often, at least occasionally received one of those lovely rejection letters that invite me to submit more. One of those little handwritten-by-the-editor honors that thrill the soul of any submitter. Duly invited, I readily respond. Not for me the “oh, no, they didn’t really mean it,” nor the “well, I don’t know that I have anything good enough,” nor the “well, perhaps I should wait a few months…or years.” But I have yet to be successful from these come-hither invitations. In fact, invariably the “more” that was invited gets merely a stock rejection — no little handwritten note at all. A bland “we can’t” or “not the right fit,” or whatever the other stock of trying-to-let-you-down-easy phrases. I don’t know what to conclude from this. What had lured them in the first round that left them cold in the second? What? What? I’m resisting the temptation to feel like the “invite more” response is actually bad luck. I’m resisting the temptation to think my work sucks. I am not saying that I’m bitter about these little turns of fortune. I am, as they say, just sayin’.

DSCN0106

No payin’, no gain?

The good news is that the number of journals I’m interested in sending to is rapidly decreasing, as I — at the moment, anyway — refuse to pay a fee. So my workload is decreased. I know the thinking — no one subscribes, a mag needs income somehow, the Submittables of the world charge for use, etcetera. But I’m not in the position where this passion can COST me more money than it already does. I can live with never making any money from it, but it can’t drain me. Add submission fees to contest fees plus whatever I spend a year on a little creative development — a workshop here, a residency application there — and the books I buy to keep developing on my own, and it all adds up to too much. Yes, a small handful of magazines pay their successful submitters. But my ROI is terrible. The odds of my winning a spot in one of those magazines are far too unfavorable, given my submission-to-acceptance ratios. Yes, as the investors say, “past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.” But still. Trying to hold down my submission outlays while I’m still trying to build my case as a strong poet may sound counterproductive — we all know that a good, strong list of publications in which your poems have appeared is a nice skid-greaser for publication of a book. But I’m not going to be able to carry the literary magazine world on my back. Such work would require…a new pair o’ shoes.

DSCN0106