Seven Stages of Submittable

January 6, 2020 § 14 Comments

AlisonPhotoBy Alison Lowenstein


After meticulously crafting a brief cover letter and biographical statement, you upload your work of creative genius, along with a twelve-dollar submission fee. You press submit and enter a period of limbo when you see the essay, along with your many other submissions–ranging from haikus to flash fiction, logged as Received.


Every evening you visit the web page for the literary journal you submitted to and imagine yourself on their homepage. Fantasizing that within minutes of the essay being on the journal’s website you get a book deal or at least an inquiry from a literary agent.

Rebuilding Your Confidence:

You reread your essay to remind yourself that you truly are talented and any editor tasked with navigating a content management system to review a virtual slush pile will be delighted to read the layered work rife with metaphors and allusions to religion, literature and a variety of high and low brow works of art.

Judging Those Who Don’t Publish:

To pass the time, you silently judge your friends who aren’t vulnerable enough to submit their creative work to literary publications like you do. You think about your old college roommate who was lauded in the alumni newsletter for discovering a procedure to cure blindness, who as far as you know has never published in JAMA, while you have had three poems and an essay featured in literary journals with a circulation of over 2,000.

In Progress:

Your heart skips a beat when you see your status finally changes from Received to In-Progress. You imagine your essay being discussed at an editorial meeting where the words “brilliant” and “we made a serious discovery here” will be uttered several times by an enthusiastic staff comprised of unpaid grad students and a lecherous aging professor. After two months, when your status hasn’t changed to Accepted you start reading the masthead of the journal and craft impassioned letters to the editorial board about how they better make a decision or you will be forced to Withdraw the submission. You wisely never send these letters.

Perusing Social Media:

You follow many notable writers and other literary icons on various social media platforms and cringe when you see them mention work they’ve recently published in the literary journal you submitted to and haven’t heard back from in four months. In addition, you follow the editors from the publication you submitted your essay to and wonder how they could tweet several times a day, while it takes them months to make a decision to Accept or Decline on Submittable.


It’s been six months and you still religiously check your Submissions page, but there has been no change in status. You regret not sending your essay out as a multiple submission and blame your monogamous nature as a reason for this mistake. Late one night in a fit of rage, you make your way over to the Discover page and search for other journals accepting creative nonfiction. You submit to a contest that has two hours left before its submission window closes, and a series of online and print journals, spending a total of one hundred and four dollars on submission fees. The following morning you receive an email congratulating you and you log onto Submittable and see your status has changed to Accepted.

Alison Lowenstein is a freelance writer and author of children’s books, guidebooks and plays. She’s written for The Washington Post, Huffington Post, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Modern Loss, Gothamist, New York Daily News, National Geographic Traveler, Travel and, and many other publications and websites. You can find her at Follow her on twitter @cityweekendsnyc.


§ 14 Responses to Seven Stages of Submittable

  • lisa_kusel says:

    Hilarious and oh so relatable. “you follow the editors from the publication you submitted your essay to and wonder how they could tweet several times a day, while it takes them months to make a decision to Accept or Decline on Submittable.” YES!!!! Thanks for the early morning smile, AL. Now, I’ll go follow you. 🙂

  • Thanks for the morning laugh. (And so much of it is TRUE!)

  • swirlygirl* says:

    Ouuuuch, painful to read! But hilarious nonetheless 🙂

  • ninagaby says:

    Am I a bad person? I have left something as “Received” on a well-known-site for over a year and a half now and have not “Withdrawn” even though it’s going to be published elsewhere. Well-known-site obviously doesn’t want it (I marked it as “Timely” back during Kavanaugh and have reached out to no avail) and I now have this morbid level of curiosity about it. Every time I go to hit “Withdraw” a little voice tells me to just ride it out. Will I be banished from Submittable now that I’ve admitted this pathetic revenge behavior? Has anyone else ever done this? Great piece this morning, BTW.

    • Dear Nina, I have never done that, but I do still have a story listed as “In-Progress” on Submittable (since July of 2018) that I changed to “Never Responded” last fall on Duotrope when the editor did not respond to my query after 400 days. Another contest submission was still “Received” when I emailed and discovered winners had been chosen. I fear it would still show up on Submittable as “Received” had I not “Withdrawn” it simply the clear up my page on Submittable.

      In recent years I have aimed for a consistent and ambitious level of submissions throughout the year (10 submissions/month) and for 100 rejections. This year I might try not submitting at all despite an encouraging personal rejection from One Story. (When has an encouraging rejection actually ever led to later publication? Ha!)

  • rauldukeblog says:

    Reminds me of joseph Roth’s comment about publishing:

    “I wouldn’t mind publishers being businessmen, if they weren’t so bad at it.”

    How about some vigorous public debate about how the literary sausage really gets made?

    Consider the average writing contest where magazines or a small press brags about how its staff of around 4-6 “readers” slogged through thousands of submissions in some cases requiring each “reader” to “read” the equivalent of War & Peace three times in three months.

    And no one calls bull shit!

    How about a discussion of how the system is eating itself when magazines that publish about a dozen short stories a year, receive 15,000 submissions, and are understaffed, underfunded, and how that all contributes to corruption and a writer eat writer environment?

    How about a discussion of how the writing industry, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the entertainment empires, is corrupt top to bottom and side to saide?

    Here’s William Gass on the making of the sausage:

    Here’s another piece on the machine:

    You’re not going to win the “Eleanor Snootbat” Award, ever, because you don’t know the (w)right people.

    Does anyone think the College Admissions Scandal was an isolated event?

    “Our industry” is a cesspool with moments of random success (portrayed in the corrupt clickbait media as artisanal organic examples of talent rising to the surface) and a consistent systemic spaffing of corruption and nepotism.

    Which is why I often think of something Camus is supposed to have said:

    “Should I shoot myself or have another cup of coffee?”

    To which I might add: and keep writing and submitting…to small magazines…and not bother to check Submittable because they send email notifications…and if a magazine says it takes more than 3 months AND does not accept simultainious submissions…fuck’m. I send the piece(s) to as many mags as I think might accept them.

    Have a nice day.

  • Shirley J Harshenin says:

    Fabulous! Had a good laugh, and can relate! 🙂

  • Sandra says:

    This kept me reading, and I loved the unexpected ending. Well done.

  • JeanMarie says:

    Thanks for the laugh, and oddly, the encouragement to keep going.

  • […] guess is that at least one of Alison Lowenstein’s “Seven Stages of Submittable” will resonate with anyone who has used the platform to try to place their […]

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