In mid-2008 I decided to get organized around what had until then been sporadic literary submissions. A color-coded Excel spreadsheet was born (of course). Over the years it grew to multiple tabs, and the 2008 tab tells me my first submission tracked there was June 26th, 2008. Since today is June 28, 2016, cursory mathematics indicates that I have been at this for eight years!
I aim for a submission a week. I’ve hit something like 70% of that target, racking up 297 total submissions. My stats (so far) are:
Besides getting published, and having lots of fun with Excel along the way, I’ve learned some things. Here, for your perusal, are eight lessons I’ve learned in eight years of doing literary submission:
- There’s a lot of research involved. Not all journals are created equal- Some publish only a fraction of a percent of what they receive, and may not be worth your time, especially if you’re just starting out. Some have a reputation for being dynamic, others conservative and stodgy. Some have particular preferences for style & genre, or focus on a particular gender, geography, ethnicity, or subject. I needed to learn to pay attention to all of this in order to increase my odds.
- The process has its own rewards. There are many ways to go about this research. Duotrope can help. So can New Pages. Pay attention to where your writer friends are submitting. (If you don’t have writer friends, get some! Writing is a solo activity, which makes community even more invaluable.) When you see a bio of a newer writer you like, look at where they’re publishing. Flip through journals to see what you like. Subscribe to some, or read their online selections. After I’d done this kind of research a while, I started to see connections between my writing, others’, and the publishing world. Ideas about where to submit, and even what to write, bloomed.
- A rejection with content is worth its weight in gold. I’ve written about this before, but rejection is not the enemy. Form rejection, with absolutely no clue a human being actually read it, is. The vast majority of rejections I’ve received have been via form letters/e-mails. The rejections that mention something they liked or didn’t like, and maybe even have a suggestion or two, are totally welcome to me now. Both for their rarity, and the fact that they give me something I can use to improve.
- You may never hear back from some places. If you look at my stats above, you’ll see that around 25% of my submissions are still pending. Some have been pending for years. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, for example, the 25 submissions I still have pending from 2008-2010 probably aren’t going to get published. Some journals will tell you up front that they do not promise a response. Some don’t, and you won’t hear anything except the eerie whistling wind echoing through the dusty, abandoned caverns of the Internet…
- Being asked to send something else doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get published. This one was a surprise to me. But, in fact, when I submitted something new to places that had passed on something earlier but said they liked it and wanted to see more, they more often than not didn’t publish my new submission. After editing at Mud Season Review, I have some sympathy for this. Whatever the intangible “it” was about the almost accepted piece, the next thing they send often doesn’t have it. Maybe the lesson for publishers is to take the first thing?
- Having something accepted doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get published.
This was even more surprising to me. But, things happen. Editors leave. Editorial schedules and directions change. Journals run out of funding for the planned issue. Or journals run out of funding, period. Which brings us to..
- If you keep at it, you’ll outlast some of them. More than once, I’ve had the experience of getting an e-mail (or even, in prior years, a letter) that turned out not to be an acceptance or a rejection. Instead, it was a journal announcing, regretfully, that they were hanging it up for one reason or another. It turns out it’s a tough gig for everyone, publishers and writers!
- It’s totally worth it. Somewhere in the midst of the vale of research, rejection, missing communications, vanished journals, etc., a real live publication happens. Then another. Eventually, you have an actual body of Published. Work. It’s not only gratifying to see yourself in print, it leads to connections with readers and writers that can be inspiring and rewarding. You have to submit to get there. It’s worth it!
So there are eight things I’ve learned in eight years. How about you? I’d love to hear from you about what you’ve learned from the submission process!