What I Learn From Submittable

March 2, 2018 § 19 Comments

zz priddyBy 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.

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§ 19 Responses to What I Learn From Submittable

  • Thank you, Dinty.


    ___________________ Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace like a clock during thunderstorm.—Robert Louis Stevenson

    QUIET MINDS https://janpriddyoregon.wordpress.com


  • I am so happy to read about Submittable, a startup in my own town, Missoula. We are a close community, and they provide great jobs for great people. Now, to get those acceptance letters…

  • I’m someone who has to curb her own obsession with “reading the tea leaves” in the submission process–and there’s an article that took a lot of certainties away from me (I also thought “received” meant it hadn’t been touched yet, until I came across this article). Turns out there is no way to know what is happening on the receiving end: https://blog.submittable.com/2015/02/guest-post-submittable-from-the-editors-point-of-view/

    I had proof of that when I was approached by an editor last year who said they were about to accept my piece (after 9 months!) while the status was still “received” – and it didn’t show “accepted” until after I had received the printed magazine.

    • Thank you for the link. From a 3-year-old post at Submittable: ” ‘In-Progress’ is the next stage of a submission’s lifecycle. As soon as an editor does something—just about anything—with your submission, your work is marked as being “In-Progress.” (It is technically possible for a submission to have been opened without the status updating to ‘In-Progress;’ for example, if an editor does not navigate back to her main Submittable view before closing the screen on which she viewed your submission, the status on the submitter’s end may not update.)” That last must be hat happened to your submission?

  • bethfinke says:

    Love the honesty in this blog post. Fellow writer friends were all agog about submittable, but when I tried to use it I discovered it was not accessible –I am blind and use speech software with my computer. Something I wanted to attend (can’t recall what it was now) required me to use submittable to apply, I had to ask someone sighted to fill the form out for me, and that made me sad. Am going to try duotrope now and see (okay, hear!) if it is more accessible, thanks for the recommendation


    • Duotrope is a more orderly and helpful method for me that the lists I used to keep in my computer. I hope it works for you, Beth.

    • herheadache says:

      What kind of voice software do you use? JAWS?

      I have a Mac laptop and use the built in VoiceOVer. It did take some getting used to, Submittable, and is still not super simple for me, especially the attaching the file/document/piece of writing, but like everything, especially technology and all, it takes getting used to and practice. Of course, maybe it is inaccessible in your case. It sucks having to get help from someone sighted, I agree, and I totally get it.

  • Xdongking says:

    Well spoken
    A good one there

  • lgood67334 says:

    I’ve been using Submittable as a way to review contest entries for years. I take the submissions offline to read and respond, so if you send to Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com, you’ll know when we read it based on our preliminary response letter rather than a category in Submittable.

    Submittable helps me reach people from all over the globe, and I am truly grateful.

    B. Lynn GoodwinManaging Editor of http://www.writeradvice
    Author of Talent and You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers
    Most Recent Book: Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 —available at Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62: B Lynn Goodwin: 9781633936089: Amazon.com: Books, Barnes & Noble and from indie bookstores. Distributed by Ingram.

  • Denise says:

    I’m the editor of a literary magazine. Submittable only marks a submission as “in progress” when it’s been processed in some way — for example, assigned or labeled. It doesn’t move from “received” when it’s been read.

    Submissions to Empty Mirror often move from “received” to “declined” (or “accepted”) without first going to “in progress,” even though each is read thoroughly, and often more than once.

    • Thank you, Denise, for further clarification! I do believe that we are all better off when such systems are as transparent as possible. I have watched two submissions shift near-instantly from one status to another. (It’s clear to me now that someone who actually knows and works on the other side of the system from the inside should have written this post. I worked with what I knew.)

  • technikos4 says:

    6.9%? Wow! That’s high!

    • Thank you . . . I think. I am inclined to worry you are being sarcastic but more inclined to confess my acceptance rate has varied considerably. I just had two pieces accepted, so my average is higher today. I expect it will drop before the end of the year. The reality is that we all want work accepted, and some of us (me) fret about this more than is good for us.

      When I can spare energy from worrying and fussing over my actual writing, I worry and fuss way too much about submissions. My goal this year is 100 rejections. I am a quarter of the way to that goal.

  • Thank you for this honest, practical, and vulnerable essay. This is precisely the information and encouragement I needed. I am deeply grateful.

    • You are very welcome. I will add that I had a piece still showing on Submittable weeks after a contest closed and winners were announced. I finally “withdrew” it just to get it off my list. This was not Submittable’s fault—the volunteers running the contest simply did not get around to dealing with it. One submission was shortlisted months ago (according to a query) but the journal has not made a final decision after a year and a half. My all-time favorite acceptance letter was an actual paper letter apologizing for taking so long (six months after I’d given up). I send them out into the world and I wish I could simply forget I’d done it—just be surprised when (if) it’s accepted.

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