My new husband came down with the sniffles and since he’s my new husband, I made sure to kiss him several times and pick off his food because we’re supposed to “share everything together.” Being a newlywed makes you stupid. While he was getting a little bit better, I wasn’t feeling so great. I still got up and sat in front of my computer during my scheduled writing time, but writing wasn’t really coming to me. I decided to do what every writer should do when inspiration isn’t happening: Submit, submit, submit.
We all hate submitting. It’s a pain. Personalized cover letters. Getting squared away with the guidelines (because this is important. Don’t be stupid and think it’s a good idea to send 10 poems and no cover letter to every journal, because you will become the writer I talk about in this post). Making sure your work fits along with the journal’s aesthetic (my God is this a hard thing to do. Sometimes, it’s easier to send off a submission into the bleak unknown of a journal you know nothing about, but expect a rejection. At The Pinch, we get so many submissions from people who have obviously never read our journal, who think “gritty” means lots of sex (specifically really, really weird sex) or lots of violence (or really, really weird violent sex). We don’t publish lots of sex or lots of violence just for the sake of either. We have published pieces with sex and violence in them, definitely, but only ones that really push out beyond that, that have some greater meaning. There’s a piece in our Fall 2011 issue that has sex and blood, but the last paragraph really pushes beyond that and it’s gorgeous. Buy the issue here and figure out if you can tell me what piece I’m talking about!). Making sure you haven’t submitted too much to a particular journal already (try to submit only once a submission period UNLESS an editor so kindly asks you to submit more work, then go right ahead! (but also make sure to be clear on your cover letter that so-and-so requested more work from you) Then, stuffing envelopes or submitting online, then waiting.
In my MFA program, people do not submit enough. They use a lot of excuses: “I’m too busy.” “I’ve got too much grading to do.” “I haven’t had time to edit anything.” “Every time I submit something, I get rejected.” These are all valid excuses.
First off, it doesn’t take that much time to submit something if you do everything a little at a time:
-Choose 3 journals to send to, get a sense of them (or maybe you already have a sense of them).
-Put packets together of work you can live with if it’s published (even try throwing a poem in there you’re not totally comfortable with, you may get surprised) (I had a poem I turned in for workshop that no one even wanted to make comments on because I had included a pretty gross line in it. I sent it out just as a fluke. It got accepted within a week. I’m still sort of embarrassed that it got published and I’d never include it in a poetry collection (at least today, I may get over that in the future), but hey! It got published!)
-Send them off at your leisure, but make sure to keep records of when you did and what you sent to whom, etc.
-Pick some non-simultaneous submissions journals (like the Beloit Poetry Journal or North American Review) to submit to. Pick work that you are NOT SUBMITTING ANYWHERE ELSE. While these journals may seem daunting , they have an AMAZING turnaround period. My poor friend got a rejection in 6 hours. Many other times, I’ve gotten rejections WITH some comments about my work within a couple of weeks, so it’s not like you’re waiting around for months to hear about one group of poems or a story, and comments about your work are gems whenever you get them. Don’t be afraid of these journals. Be choosy about what you send them. They get less submissions (I’m assuming) because they don’t accept simultaneous ones, thus they can go through submissions more quickly.
Getting published now and often is important to building up whatever writerly reputation you may want to have in the long run. In my MFA program, we write. I have to write 11 poems per semester for one workshop class and that means I have 11 opportunities to come up with something decent enough to send out. I may not be able to give it the time to percolate into the masterpiece it might become, but publishing IS important, especially when it comes to getting books published later. Start small, then build up to sending off those masterpieces (some of my masterpieces still have yet to get published).
Once you get published, personally thank the genre editor for that issue for publishing your work. Stop by the journal’s booth at AWP and say hi. Ask for the genre editor by name and see when they’ll be at the booth so you can come back and see them personally. Relationships are so important. My first year at AWP, I personally went over and thanked Tanya Chernov of The Los Angeles Review for working with me on revising a poem and was really glad I did. It’s so good to put a face and voice to the nebulous person behind e-mails and editor titles. Also, being an editor, it’s wonderful when contributors come over and say “Thank you.” Our job is a hard one, and it doesn’t feel so hard when we can see what good we’ve done for someone else by choosing their work to be published in our journal. I’ve fought for pieces before, felt so passionately that we must publish a piece that I went against other editors to make it happen. When I met the person whose work I fought for, it was all worth it. I had helped make one of their dreams come true.
Instead of: “We must, we must, we must increase our busts!” It should read, “We must, we must, we must increase our submissions!”
Go out and get published! Don’t be stupid about it!