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On Submitting Work

Beginning writers are often flummoxed by the submission process. Where to send, what to send, when to submit work. Looming behind these concerns is the beginner’s fear of rejection, the confirmation of the lurking suspicion of being a fraud, of not being worthy. There is nothing as gratifying as having your poem or story taken by a journal.  That first time is so validating, and not unlike the first time you got high. For beginners, the rejection letter can often feel personal and a gauge or one’s talent, rather than simply an evaluation of a particular piece of writing.

The process of determining the best place for your work begins with research. There are so many venues out there that you need to take the time to find out which magazines are soliciting submissions and what they are looking for. Online sites such as NewPages.com and Poets & Writers (pw.org) have long alphabetical listings of literary journals, each with a sketch of what to send, reading periods, acceptance rates, whether there is a submission fee or, more rarely, if they pay for work. Take a look at these and weed out the markets that do not apply to you. (“We are looking for work that addresses challenges to the natural world. No more than 500 words.” Probably not the place you want to send that 20-page soft porn.)

It also helps to be familiar with the journals to which you want to send work, another element of the research.  Of course, we can’t afford to subscribe to every magazine out there, but writers new at submitting work should try to read a range of magazines to get an idea of where they might want to try to place work, to get a sense of their aesthetic. Of course, these days, many online journals are free and don’t require a financial commitment.

Of course, always read and pay attention to the guidelines. Some editors can be petty tyrants about these, but it’s simple courtesy to respect the magazine’s standards for simultaneous submissions, say, or previously published work.  If this is an online submission, do they prefer attached documents or text pasted into an email? Are the editors reading blind and therefore request that you remove your name from the document, or do they not mind? As previously noted, pay attention to requests regarding length and number of pieces submitted.

The days of submitting writing with SASEs and standing in line at the post office – not as daunting as renewing your license at the MVA but the wait can be long, forget about the expense – are thankfully in the rearview mirror.  The ritual did have its gratification, true, as if you’d actually accomplished something by the mere act, sort of like buying a lottery ticket, but on balance, kind of a relief. More to the point, many journals no longer accept work submitted by U.S. post, sometimes not even by email, but prefer that work be sent via submission portals, such as Submishmash and Submittable.

Still, there’s the real danger of wearing out your welcome. Submitting online can be just so easy! Frequency of submissions is also often spelled out in a journal’s guidelines. Only once per submission period, or wait a year before you submit again, if your work has been accepted, etc. What’s this? More poetry from X again! As an editor – for ten years I edited The Potomac; these days I field book reviews as Reviews editor for The Adirondack Review – I always read submissions, but sometimes my eyes glazed over if X relentlessly inundated me with poems, and yeah, there are journals to which I submit and am routinely rejected. Almost like a BF Skinner pigeon, the hope that if I just peck enough I’ll be rewarded with suet and sunflower seeds springs eternal.  Physician, heal thyself!

Charles Rammelkamp