organdization: submissions

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:

if only rejections tasted as sweet as chocolates

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!

12 thoughts on “organdization: submissions

  1. I both do and don’t want to hear more about the laundry dreams. ha ha.

    My files are similar, (both printed and electronic), but I’m not as detailed. I use Duotrope as my main organizer for submissions though and donate as well– I would hate to see it go.

    My submissions process– not so organized. I just wait until I get a group of three or four, and figure out where to send them from there. Lately this only happens about once a month– but I do end up with at least two packets of three or four, since I like to kind of group what I think goes together. It’s been really frustrating these past few months, since every journal I submitted to over the summer has a wait time of 3-6 months just to find out if you’ve been rejected or accepted. I don’t mind being rejected, but it kind of stinks to wait that long just to be rejected! It’s time to send out a query to a couple of them though– it’s well past the regular wait time– how rude! LOL. Fortunately, there are a gazillion other mags, unfortunately that means lots of research– which I would say is my biggest submissions obstacle. Okay, yeah, that kind of translates to laziness. :-/

    Thanks for sharing your process!

    • Laundry dreams…… so sad…… 🙂

      I find the sheer number of journals overwhelming, too, which is why I resort to lists. Any method to shrink the size of the universe.

      Thanks for sharing your process!

  2. oh wow i am woefully behind on submissions–i’d say i put maybe an hour into it every other month? maybe it would help me to set aside a month to submit. hmm..

    • I was thinking September would be a good time to set aside for subs. But, poof, it’s gone. October’s a close second, but I have a hard time committing to devoting even one whole week to submissions — there are so many other things I want to do, like read and write :).

  3. Really good to read your submission process. Makes me evaluate mine. I use duotrope as well, and also keep copies of the electronic replies acknowledging that they received the work in a separate inbox in my e-mail, so I can keep them as “unread” until I actually get a response. Once I get a response, I update it in duotrope and then, if it was an electronic submission, I “read” it in my e-mail, so it no longer comes up as “unread.” It reads like you create a different submission for each poem? I don’t do that. For a packet of 5 poems, I just abbreviate each name so I can fit all of the poem titles into the submission title name box. I should definitely do it your way instead, because I think it would help visually (seeing the whole name of each poem) instead of a bunch of poem titles jammed into one place. I’ve also /forgotten/ some shortenings before, which made for a hassle. Do you find it extra time-consuming to create and submit all to one entry? Is there an option to click multiple poems when you’re reporting a submission, or do you have to report each submission separately? (I could probably look this all up, but I figured I’d just ask while I’m here. :))

    • Yes, I enter each poem as a separate piece on Duotrope, and yes, there is a way to select multiple pieces per submission on Duotrope (and also to update status on multiple poems at one time). I typically enter a piece/poem when I know I’m getting close to sending it out. There was a bit of a front-end investment of time when I first started on duotrope — entering all the poem titles — but it was so worth it!

      • Awesome. I just did that for a submission, and it sort of clutters up my submission tracker, but does make it a lot easier when I’m trying to see what poems I sent to a particular place. Woo hoo! Learning new things everyday!

  4. My submission method is rather haphazard. I maintain a file card system which I’ve used since the dark ages, and have just recently started using Duotrope. Mostly I just let poems accumulate, and when it seems there are enough to send out (maybe 20 or so), I’ll determine where they go and let loose. And yes, I’d be pleased with a 10% acceptance rate!

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