Reader, I’ve been having laundry anxiety dreams. In one, I find a multi-drum washing machine with three rows across and three rows down for a total of nine drums that can all be filled and run at the same time. In the dream, I think, Genius!, but after I start my nine loads of wash, the machine starts going off-kilter and things get ugly fast — flapping lids, soap and water everywhere, clothes crawling out of the machines. In another, I’m both mother and daughter, both adult and child, and I’m at a neighbors house borrowing her washing machine. She seems nice enough at first, but then starts going evil on me — and I get the sense that I need to get out of there right away or I’ll be held captive forever. Problem is, my laundry’s not done yet and I can’t leave without it because if I do my kids won’t have anything to wear. In this dream, all the laundry goes into one, enormous, see-through washing machine and gets washed together. I keep going in to check on it, but it’s never done. Finally I just start pulling the clothes out wet and running baskets out to the sidewalk so I can make my escape. Then, once I have it all outside and have escaped the evil neighbor, I can’t remember where I live.
What does this have to do with submissions? Nothing. Nothing at all.
For those who really love flow-charts and visual aids, I’m sorry to disappoint you — but for some reason, narrative seemed the best way to describe my submissions method. If you want, you can draw a flowchart with the following elements and arrows going in a circle: submit packet of poems —–> receive rejection ——–> rinse and repeat. 🙂
But seriously, let’s start with two of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had regarding submissions. The first is to make it a little cottage industry / assembly line:
For me, making it a little cottage industry has been difficult. The idea is to, every once in a while, set up a submissions assembly line: mini-manuscripts of poems (more on mini-manuscripts here), cover letters, file/envelopes, stamps/send button — now blanket the earth with your poems. The idea is to take the emotion out of it by having all the components ready to go and slapping them together one by one. The idea is that you can then send one packet of poems out to 15? 20? 25? journals at a time. When you receive your rejection, you have the next packet of poems ready to send.
I’ve never been able to manage the assembly line, although I still aspire to it. I do have packets and lists and sample cover letters (more on this later), but the truth is I usually only manage one or two submissions a week because I’m always doing last minute revisions, mixing up the packets so as to customize a packet for a particular journal according to my sense of their aesthetic, and obsessing over guidelines.
The second really good bit of submissions advice is to keep in mind that even a 10% acceptance rate is really good. This means that at least nine out of ten times, your poems will be rejected. When I send a submission out, I expect that it will probably be rejected. This is not pessimism, it’s just facing reality. Then, when I get an acceptance, it’s a delightful surprise.
Now let’s talk about record-keeping. I use Duotrope to track my submissions. This method replaced my completely unwieldy Excel spreadsheet. There’s a bit of a time investment to get set up on Duotrope, but it’s minor and worth it. You enter your pieces, log submissions, rejections, and acceptances. You can look at each poem to see a list of all the journals it’s been sent to. You can look at each journal to see a list of all the poems you’ve sent there. It’s very slick. You can research markets by aesthetic, theme, etc. You can read interviews with editors. Because I’ve switched over from a “legacy system” (the Excel spreadsheet), I still have to do a bit of back and forth, but I’m looking forward to the day when everything’s on Duotrope. Duotrope is a free service that relies on donations from its users to run; I make sure to donate because I’m grateful for the service.
I use an electronic submissions folder to capture each individual submission sent to a given journal. The file structure is like this: submissions —> folder for each journal —> one document for each submission to that journal named “journal-date.doc.”
I use a paper submissions binder with section tabs to store physical copies of:
- lists and logs: lists of journals such as this one, list of kinship journals (more on this here), list of journals that have asked to see more work, lists of mini-manuscripts, etc. I also stash printed calls for submissions here if I see something online that looks promising — but I don’t keep these long (see unwieldiness, above).
- clean copies*: the current, send-out-able version of each poem. On each, I write down the name of each journal I’ve sent it to on a post-it note. This wouldn’t have to happen because this information is also stored in Duotrope, but I like to do it — it becomes the story of that poem’s journey out into the world.
- placed*: when a poem’s accepted I move it out of clean copies and into placed, and note publication details. Again, this is more preference than necessity — I really like watching the “placed section” of the binder grow.
*these tabs have electronic counterparts: folders on my computer for an electronic copy of each.
For poetry correspondence, I keep a separate folder within my e-mail inbox. In the infrequent case of paper correspondence, I also keep a paper folder in my file cabinet.
As for when submissions fits in on the schedule, I try to set aside a few hours each week for submissions. My goals is 2 to 3 a week; the truth is, I usually only manage one. I’m hoping this will change over time! Other poets I know set aside a week every 2 or 3 months to do nothing but submissions. This strikes me as a smart idea, but so far I haven’t tried it. I’d love to know how the writers in the readership handle submissions; if you’d like to share, leave a comment.
I think the main thing about submissions is to just do it, and to try to take the emotion out of it in whatever way you can. Having a process and a system helps me take the emotion out of it, but it’s not foolproof (case in point). It’s a starting place, and a stable undergirding to fall back on.
Have a wonderful week, and thanks for reading!