What I Learn From Submittable
March 2, 2018 § 17 Comments
By Jan Priddy
The old process of literary submission by printing cover letters and essays, addressing large envelopes and SASEs, driving to the Post Office, and paying postage, is going, going, gone.
Most journals now accept submissions through an online portal such as Submittable. It is an efficient system for both writer and journal. Online, I enter my name, address, and email, paste a brief cover letter into the space provided, attach my text as a doc or pdf, pay a small fee, and click SUBMIT.
My essay shows up on my record at Submittable as “Received” in my “Active” folder. When someone at the literary journal opens my attachment, the listing indicates it is “In Progress” until a decision is made. I cannot tell if anyone is actively reading it, but finally, without me doing another thing, my submission moves either to my “Accepted” folder or the “Declined” folder. A few days or a few months from click, I receive an email announcing acceptance or rejection.
Alaska Quarterly, a late holdout for paper submission, experimented with Submittable last year. It recently posted on its website: “The volume of submissions was 3 times more than we expected, however. In response we are now in the process of building additional editorial capacity to review on-line submissions beginning in the fall of 2019.”
This morning when I checked Submittable, a submission from five months ago was still merely Received. A few minutes later, the form rejection email arrived, and Submittable had moved it from the Active to the Declined folder. My document was opened, read, and rejected in minutes. Okay. Fair enough.
Editors are mostly unpaid, and readers are never paid. They are entitled to make snap judgements, just as general readers do.
One acceptance arrived six months after I’d given up, another suggested where else I might send that particular manuscript. That is rare. Nearly all responses are rejections, and nearly all rejections are mere form.
The convenience of online submissions allows limited insight to editorial process. Another website that I use to track all my submissions in one place, Duotrope, reveals more. Duotrope tracks statistics of submissions, rejections, and acceptances for my essays, as well as overall statistics for each of thousands of journals based on hundreds of thousands of submissions.
A few journals respond in days, but most routinely need months. Some journals are clear about their process, others are more secretive. Submissions to Calyx, for example, pass through a series of readers in a vetting process that is made fairly transparent on their website. When Howard Junker was editor of ZYZZYVA, responses used to arrive by return mail, but now Duotrope lists the journal as “among the slowest” to respond with no online submissions accepted. Editors change and policies and tastes with them.
According to my Submittable record, Hippocampus opened my essay within days of submission, but Duotrope’s statistics suggest I will not have a decision for another a month. Perhaps longer. Editors receive more submissions than they anticipate, student readers are between terms, or someone needs more time to decide.
I have doubts about all this helping me negotiate the aspect of writing that is least comfortable to me: submission.
I should be years past hanging on every query. Except I am not.
I hang on every one. Most days I check Submittable and Duotrope more than once. My personal records on Duotrope list 610 submissions since August 2006, and an acceptance rate of 6.9%. A note on my stats page assures me this is “higher than the average for members who have submitted to the same markets.”
I want to do better. Of course I do. And I know this is all a waste of time, this checking and rechecking, but I cannot help myself.
Just now one of my stories is short-listed by such a journal with a .25% acceptance rate on Duotrope—one story accepted of the four hundred submitted in the past year. A couple of weeks ago there were over a hundred stories pending, this week my story is one of twelve still under consideration. I dread seeing their email in my in-box. Acceptance or rejection? I write this while there is hope.
I said to my husband over breakfast this morning: The day is bright.
Jan Priddy’s work has earned fellowships, awards, and publication. Aside from nonfiction, her last project is a novel about recovery from grief, and her current work is science fiction short stories. An MFA graduate from Pacific University, She lives and teaches writing in the NW corner of her home state of Oregon. Her new blog is https://janpriddyoregon.wordpress.com.