2013 Goals


Last year, I made a set of writing goals for myself. Out of the five, I met two respectively and three if I’m fudging a bit. I got one of my fiction stories published. I got published in three of the journals my heart leaps for joy over ([PANK], CutBankand Third Coast), and I sort of kept up my writing ritual (this is the one I’d have to fudge on).

Here are my goals for 2013:

#1. Get my poetry manuscript, Swallow Tongue, accepted for publication. (Completing it in 2012 and having just done a major revision on it, this is a fantasy goal and may be on my goal list for years to come. Regardless, I want to put it out to the universe that it’s something I want and see what the universe has to say about it.)

#2. Get one of my creative nonfiction essays accepted for publication. (I was super surprised last year when in November, after working my butt off for a year editing and excising and submitting, I finally got notice that PANK had accepted one of my fiction stories for publication. A month and a day shy of 2013, but I still met that goal! Getting a fiction story published seemed like a nearly impossible goal, something I could only dream might happen. This year, I’m going to try the same with creative nonfiction. I wrote three essays in 2012 and with this goal in mind, I can definitely work on them and see what happens!)

#3. Write 30 50 poems. (Last year, I wrote 25 poems. This year I want to try for more. I also like that this goal has a specific number.)

#4. Submit high. (My submitting process is holding pretty steady, and I just want to continue to submit to journals that daunt me with how cool they are. Maybe one day I’ll grace their pages.)

#5. Do something special just for my writing. (While last year I set a goal to get into Bread Loaf, I probably won’t be applying this year. I need to reserve my vacation for spending time with my two best friends who happen to live in two different states. Maybe I’ll be able to attend a conference or a retreat, but I want to leave myself open to exploring other writing things, like doing a poem-a-day for some length of time, which I’ve never been brave enough to do before.)

While I didn’t meet all of my goals last year, I made some big strides, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this next year pans out.

What are your literary goals for 2013?

The Numbers

I did this same post last year, and I’d like to continue it as a tradition. It helps me look at what, in terms of writing and submitting, I’ve been doing well, what I’ve been doing poorly, and what I can do to change for the better.

Here are the numbers (in descending order):

117 submissions sent ~ 82 for poetry, 26 for fiction, 6 for my manuscript Swallow Tongue, and 3 for creative nonfiction. 104 electronic. 13 postal.

65 rejections ~ 43 for poetry, 19 for fiction, 2 for creative nonfiction, and 1 for my manuscript, Swallow Tongue.

28 new pieces ~ 25 poems, 3 nonfiction essays, 0 short stories. This should also include a heavily revised manuscript! Last year, I wrote 36 new pieces (33 poems, 3 short stories, 0 nonfiction essays), but I did have a lot going on this year: getting sick, having surgery, postponing my graduation with my MFA from May to August, spending a month in Spain, finally graduating, returning to work full-time, buying a house. I’m thankful I wrote anyway. I also finished cleaning up my writing room (which, since early November, has been the area where I’ve painted furniture), so I can start using that soon enough!

13 acceptances ~ a total of 15 poems and 1 short story.

5-7 hours per week ~ my average time drafting, revising, submitting, reading, and blogging. Down from 15+ last year.

Conclusion: Statistically (based on dividing the number of acceptances by the number of rejections received), my poetry odds are at 28% (12/43) and fiction at 5% (1/19).  Creative nonfiction and my manuscript are at 0%. 😦

Improvements over last year:

1. I kept a more accurate log of my submissions. Before, I kept no log of my hard copy submissions and only e-mail exchanges for the electronic ones. Really bad process. Duotrope was and is a life-saver. 

2. I submitted more hard copy submissions. That’s a feat in and of itself. I submitted to some dream journals which only accept hard copy subs.

Things I can do in 2013:

1. Keep up the accurate log.

2. Write.

3. Submit.

4. Repeat.

Hope you all do your own numbers game and see where you stand. Let’s all be kinder to ourselves and others this year!

The Importance of Cover Letters

This should be an Arnold Schwarzenegger moment. Everyone is dying and desperate, but then I arrive, and hope comes into their eyes. If I had arisen out of the chaos of my house and been able to at least clear my dining room table, maybe it would feel like that.  Instead, I moved four piles of clean clothes over, slapped my computer on top of a stack of papers, and reclined against some assemblage of my bathrobe, two shirts, and my husband’s pants from yesterday. (Way after I wrote this, I realized Arnold said, “I’ll be back,” not “I’m back.” I think I’ve only heard “I’m back” by some serial killer who’s about to hack someone to pieces.)

My life is chaos at the moment. Every room is filled with boxes in some stage of unpacking. A couple I just need to take out to the curb, but with the two day haul this past weekend and then not getting off work until 7 last night, my energy is in the skivvies.

Our new house is absolutely wonderful. My husband and I are both getting separate rooms: his for his sports collectibles, mine for writing. My husband is also kindly painting my writing room for me tomorrow while he’s off work. It currently is a rather obnoxious shade of pink-purple. While I wanted to pick “Dorian Gray” (it’s a real color, I promise!), I chose “Repose Gray” from Sherwin-Williams, which is a nice light gray. The house already has rooms painted green, blue, red, and khaki, so I wanted something a little different for my SPECIAL WRITING ROOM(!).


After being out of touch with the writing life for a little bit, I decided to get back in the swing of things by reading for Fjords. I was reminded again of the importance of cover letters, and the importance of succinct and concise ones at that.

I follow a rather simple template:

“Dear Editors/Readers: (if I can find the name of the genre editor, I’ll list their name as “Mr./Ms ______” followed by “and Readers”)

Here are some new poems for your consideration. I really enjoyed _________’s and ________’s poems in your last issue. Keep up the good work!

All the best,

Tara Mae

Bio: Tara Mae Mulroy is a former Managing Editor of The Pinch and a graduate of the MFA program in Poetry at the University of Memphis. Her work is forthcoming in Third Coast and others. Her blog can be found at taramaemulroy.wordpress.com.

Included: Poem title 1; Poem title 2; Poem title 3Poem title 4; Poem title 5

These are simultaneous submissions.”

I actually started using this template after reading this post up on Gulf Coast‘s blog. What I like about it is that it’s short, shows I’ve read the journal before, and includes a short third-person bio, the names of the poems, and the fact that they are simultaneous submissions (if I’m submitting to a SS journal. If I’m submitting to a non-SS journal, it should not say this and that packet should also not be submitted anywhere else).

Things I’ve seen as an editor that you should never ever do:

-Cover letters with no bios. Even if you don’t have any publications or any experience in academia, state something as simple as, “John Doe currently pushes paper at a high-profile corporation. In his free time, he writes poetry. If accepted, this will be his first publication.” Some editors love publishing the work of new writers, so don’t be nervous about stating that.

-Cover letters with long explanations of how the author came up with the idea for/edited/bled over the poem(s)/story/essay. Writers love talking about their process, but unfortunately, an editor who has just read forty other submissions is probably not going to want to read yours. Don’t include it; save it for your writing group.

-Cover letters that include someone’s entire CV. Unless you’re applying for a job in academia, don’t include your CV. No literary journal editor or reader wants to wade through your 3-4 page CV. Just list your most relevant work/academic experiences and recent/forthcoming publications in a less-than-150-words bio. Endgame.

-Cover letters with half-page bios. Again, editors (or at least this one) value brevity. Shoot for 150 words or less.

-Cover letters that are addressed to the Managing Editor. Unless you personally know the Managing Editor for a specific journal, don’t address a submission to him/her. Address it to the genre editor.

-Cover letters that include profanity, such as saying, “John Doe is a M*****F****** poet from the Bronx.” I know sometimes that’s cool and all that, but you have no idea what sort of editors you are submitting your work too. They might be all prim and prude, and you never want to offend them from the get-go. I also discourage profanity when talking with an editor at ANY point in the writing process, and never, ever, EVER direct profanity at an editor. There is a special level of hell for people who do that; you don’t want to end up there.

Special cover letters:

When you receive an encouraging/personalized rejection letter from a specific or unidentified editor, SEND WORK BACK TO THEM ASAP, but also make sure to state that you received one in your cover letter. If they gave their name, address your submission to them. If no one was mentioned, address it to the genre editor and then state, “Thank you for the encouraging rejection letter I received for my last packet submitted on _______. Here are some new poems for your consideration…”

If you were solicited to submit work by a specific editor, say something like, “I was solicited to submit work by_________. Here are some poems…”

If you met/know someone who works on the journal, address your cover letter to the genre editor, but mention, “I had the pleasure of meeting so-and-so at_____. Here are some new poems…” As an editor, I like to know when someone I’ve met or know has submitted something to the journal, and I usually take the time to read it. I don’t know how other editors feel about this, but I think it’s cool to think, “Wow, I met this person and talked to them about the journal and here they are submitting!” On the other hand, me taking the time to read it won’t mean its chance of getting published is any higher than any other piece, but it could help start/build a relationship.

All of this is to say is that the business of writing is a professional one. In your cover letter and in your writerly interactions (e-mail, etc.), be kind, polite, and proper. Save your ferocity for your writing.

Some reasons why that fancy literary journal has yet to respond to your submission in a timely manner

  1. they’re super busy and haven’t gotten around to it yet
  2. they like it a lot and are really considering publishing it, but these sort of decisions require bureaucratic red tape, unused colostomy bags, and a plethora of deodorant. Finding these things in bulk always causes problems.
  3. they got to it, but are holding onto it because they like to pass it between each other and laugh. You may not ever receive a response.
  4. they have mailed it to the president to have a national holiday named in your honor, but with all of the election hubbub going on, they are waiting until after November to see who will be the one declaring it. If it’s Romney, no holiday in your honor will be declared; in actuality, one called the “13% day” will be declared instead, in which all people are encouraged to donate 13% of their income to those upper-class individuals struggling to make ends meet on less than $350,000 a year. If it’s Obama, he’ll declare a holiday for you, but make a speech suggesting we all celebrate “in as mediocre a way as possible.”
  5. their office, staff, and submissions (and/or submissions manager) burst into flame last weekend, and since the general public doesn’t care about the state of literary journals, no one was notified. If this is the case, we’re sorry to say your submission will be published never.
  6. they ran out of toilet tissue.
  7. all journals are terrified of the number 7.

My Submission Process

I can’t tell you how happy I am it’s October. It’s cooling down. My husband and I will possess our NEW and FIRST house on October 18th. In the meantime, I’m thinking of revising and sending my manuscript to The Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize (mostly because the winner has the option of an all-expenses-paid residency in a fifteenth-century castle in Italy) and maybe two or three others if I can scrounge together the money.

But, in the present time, I want to talk about submissions. I love reading how other poets/writers tackle the whole business of submitting, and anytime I read theirs, it makes me want to evaluate my own and decide whether it’s still working.

Here’s mine:

Frequency: I submit electronically maybe one or more times a week. I try, regularly, to send out work as soon as I get a rejection. This keeps me proactive and varies up my submitting enough that I’m usually not getting a slew of rejections all around the same time. I submit hard copy packets maybe once a year (I know, it’s awful.).

For the month of September, I sent out 7 submissions. Since I write poetry mostly, but also occasionally write fiction and creative nonfiction, I also try to vary what I’m submitting and to what journals. In September, I submitted poetry to four different journals, fiction to three, and creative nonfiction to one. Sometimes, I submit poems to a journal and then, once I get a rejection, send fiction to that same journal a month or two later.

Who I submit to: I have a running list of journals in my head that I’m in love with that I add to as I discover new ones. A lot of times, I might submit work to two or three journals I think my work is on par with and then one or two “star” journals just for the heck of it. Here’s my current running list: Gulf CoastHayden’s Ferry Review, Diagram, Crazyhorse, Painted Bride Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Agni, Linebreak, Prairie Schooner, Kenyon Review, West Branch, and Camera Obscura. 

I know some writers that only submit to journals that accept simultaneous submissions. I know others that only submit to journals that do NOT accept simultaneous submissions. I’ve been a die-hard simultaneous submitter for years now, but now I am trying to actively include non-SS journals on my list. Some of those journals are topper-tier, which means they usually have a super long response time (except for Beloit Poetry Journal, which is usually gloriously prompt in their responses), but it does mean less prep work since you’re only sending off to one journal. It’s hard for me to practice patience with non-SS journals. More often than not, I’ll withdraw my submission from them and send it to several SS journals instead. I’m trying to restrain myself from doing that today.

On Duotrope, you have the option to “Favorite a Listing” which means that you could keep a running list of journals you adore (you can even add notes to each one). Keeping your list up on there would also make it really easy to research the journal.

My process: To keep myself organized, I use Duotrope. Once I submit a piece (or packet of poems), I immediately log it. Once I get a rejection, I log it. For electronic submissions, I also keep copies of the e-mail acknowledging that they received my submission in a special inbox folder titled “Submissions”. All submissions I have yet to receive rejections for I keep as “unread” in that folder, so I know they’re still active. Once I receive a rejection, I go and “read” that e-mail to show that it’s now now not active.

What I do a lot to help with my submitting is put reminders to myself on my calendar. Let’s say a journal sent me a personalized rejection, but its submission period was closed at the time. I might put a reminder on my calendar to alert me on the day the journal’s submission period re-opens, so I know to go ahead and put work into them. If I know I want to submit to a journal but it’s submission period is a ways off, I’ll also put a reminder.

What my process looks like in bullet points:

  • Receive reminder on my calendar/feel like submitting/shamed into submitting by friend/acquaintance/person I Facebook-stalk getting an awesome publication or talking about how awesome submitting is/receive a rejection/receive a personalized rejection (I always want to submit work to a journal immediately after getting a personalized rejection from them since litmag staffs change so frequently and the person who may have liked my work may not be on staff a few months from now)
  • Look through my running list and see which ones I haven’t submitted to more than twice during a reading period (Duotrope also keeps record of this for you.).
  • Look at journal’s guidelines (5 or 6 poems allowed? need to include contact information only on the first page?). Journals hate you (or at least seriously think you have a reading comprehension problem) if you don’t follow their guidelines. For real.
  • Look at the last poems/story/essay I sent out. Maybe I want to take out some poems and add new ones based on my knowledge of the aesthetic of that journal. Maybe I want to tweak some lines to make sure the work is in top-top shape. Maybe I want to send a story instead of an essay.
  • Submit. Repeat.

What I need to change: Submitting more hard copy packets. Blah gag ack.

In the past, I’ve held “submission parties”: a bunch of us getting together and slogging through the printing and the stuffing and the licking and the adhering. Sounds like another one of those soon might be helpful…


What do the rest of you do to stay on top of submitting hard copy packets? Give me your wisdom!

The Myth of the Normal Week

Molly Spencer wrote just yesterday about “the myth of the normal week“. My “normal” week would be working Monday-Thursday, a little on Friday, with Friday morning dedicated to writing/reading. I start every week thinking that’s exactly how it’s going to work out. Work. Write. Blog. Read. Submit. Repeat. Every week, I get to Friday and realize something didn’t go quite right.

This week, not the normal week. I did work Monday-Thursday, but struggled through it because a sinus infection/mucous avalanche hit me early Tuesday. I continued to work and complete all responsibilities against my bed’s siren call.

I did, though, submit a few times this week. Even when the writing isn’t coming, I do make a point of submitting, especially in the face of a rejection. This week, I got two form rejections and one personalized one, and even though I was more disappointed over the personalized one, I did take some positive action and submit more work into the universe. Woo hoo.

Yesterday morning, I took our dog and cat to the vet for their annual check-up. Our dog, Rose, is a great vet-goer. She jumps right into the back seat of the car, lies down, and doesn’t make a peep for the whole car ride. Agate (ˈagit), our cat, a 12 year old ornery blue point Siamese, hates many things, including our 6 month old Maine Coon kitten (who now outweighs her), her pet carrier, cars, dogs, the vet, and bath water. When she encounters someone or something she doesn’t like, she screams, without break (imagine this noise, but constant and even higher-pitched). Taking her to the vet means grabbing her in a headlock, forcing her into her pet carrier, and then having to hear her loud protestations in the small confined space of my vehicle. Talking to my friend on the phone one day while I was taking her to vet, she said, “I don’t know how you put up with hearing that. I think I’d kill myself if I had to hear that even once a year!”

At the vet, she is upset by everything. She tries to get away. She claws. She screams. I apologize for her, but to no avail. She gets (nicely) man-handled by the vet and his assistant to try to get her to comply, which adds to her list of complaints, which adds to the amount of times she’ll scream next to my head in the middle of night to torture me.

On this visit, our vet found a mast cell tumor on the back of her neck, a sign that she might have many more on her spleen, which means she’d need the one on the back of her neck removed (because these can keep growing) and, if she has any on it, possibly her spleen too.

Agate is the type of animal that my husband and I joke about being totally annoyed with, but really, secretly, deeply love. I’ve had her for 4 and a half years. My husband met her on our first date (which was about 4 years ago), and he felt like he needed to get her to like him, so while we watched a movie, he pet and talked to her the whole time. When he told me that that was what he was doing, I thought it was adorable, and Agate has loved him for it. She is an amazingly sweet and affectionate cat. Her talking is obnoxious. She is demanding and exacting, but she’s our special, obnoxious, demanding, exacting pet.

This news is very depressing, not only because it reminds us of her mortality and how her time with us is limited, but also because it’s a rather expensive surgery at a time when we don’t know if we’ll be able to afford it. The cost of surgery for just removing the spot on the back of her neck is at least $800. She may need her spleen removed as well, which is more money, and we close on our new home in less than a month. Knowing us, I imagine we will find to way to pay for the surgery. The tricky part will be in figuring out when and what we’ll need to cut to allow for it.

Oh life. You never stop showing up.

Busy Days

Another week has slipped by, and it’s Friday Saturday, no, Tuesday! I’ve been working on this entry for far too long now. University of Memphis started back last week, and it’s been strange to watch my fellow MFA-ers return to their studies and stresses without me. Some are teaching, some are working on The Pinch, some are just taking classes (and that’s quite enough).

I thought this time of year would hit me, and I’d go through another run of grief of, “oh no! My MFA is OVER!” Instead, I’ve felt so much relief. During my MFA, I was working/teaching at U of M, taking a full course load, writing, reading, and teaching at another school. Now, I can focus on just teaching and writing. No classes have to take. No homework. No teaching at more than one school. It’s comforting to know that I can write when I want to, and that I can set up a workshop group if I want to. I’m so grateful for my MFA experience, but I’m also so grateful for this break. Now, I can’t imagine putting myself through that high-intensity stress again. Maybe someday in the future, but definitely not soon.

Last week was a week of submitting. While I’d like to try to condense all of my submitting/reading/writing, etc. time into a two hour block on Friday mornings, I don’t think that’s possible. After my high of getting an acceptance from one of my dream journals, I was quickly brought down back to earth with two form rejections. So, I submitted one of my fiction stories to several journals last Monday (as I talked about here), and even sent out another 5 poetry submissions. Right now, I have 41 submissions out in the world. Many of them are more than 100 days old (the oldest being over 300 days old!), and many of them are personalized for the journal I was submitting to, so a lot of my work is currently out in the world.

No draft last week. Dealt with headaches galore as well as a whole mess of “this is what we have to do before we officially buy this house” kind of stuff. Hopefully, I can nail one down this week, but I also have this pile of poems I need to go back through and revise in the hopes of having new work to send out. On the upside, I received contributor interview questions from PANK Magazine and sent off my answers today. My first ever interview!

Hope you all had a no-labor kind of labor day. Those are certainly the best kind.