January 6, 2020 § 14 Comments
By 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.
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 Leisure.com, and many other publications and websites. You can find her at www.brooklynbaby.com. Follow her on twitter @cityweekendsnyc.
March 20, 2018 § 31 Comments
- Marked the rejection on my list and reassured myself that it was only one
- Thought: two isn’t bad. Imagined the soaring joy of acceptance that would come with the next notification.
- Reread essay and decided I still liked it.
- Repeated to self: “Rejection is just another step on the way to success.”
- Read too much into the “In Progress” notification on Submittable.
- Ate chocolate.
- Reread the essay. Found words, phrases and whole sentences that could be cut. Clawed in anguish at the proverbial bosom. Cut the damn words.
- Sent the essay to another batch of journals. Checked Submittable in a non-obsessive way.
- Was able to quote from memory all of the variations: “We’re sorry, read with interest but, not for us, not the right fit, pass this time, good luck.”
- Ate more chocolate.
- Made another list of journals and sent the essay to a dozen of them. Nothing grim about it. Nothing at all.
- Castigated myself for ever imagining the soaring joy of acceptance.
- Watched Netflix during designated writing time.
- Reread the essay and decided it was awful. Got a friend to read it. Didn’t know if they were just being nice by saying they loved it.
- Sent out another batch.
- Considered whether “Received” or “In Progress” held more possibility. Decided both were inscrutable and, possibly, sinister.
- Went to Costco to stock up on chocolate.
- Marked off the rejection on my list and wondered if it would have been better if I had chosen another color besides red for my color-coding system.
- Determined that two Costco-sized bags of chocolate-covered blueberries were, in fact, inadequate for my needs.
- Resorted to sports analogies: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
- Made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t check Submittable any more.
- Checked Submittable.
- Reread the essay, decided it really wasn’t so bad.
- Got a pair of trusted eyes on the essay. Sank into the depths of frustration and despair when told, “It needs something.”
- Repeated to myself my first writing teacher’s encouraging words: “We’ll throw a party for the first person to get 50 rejections!” Half-way there!
- Realized that my only success might be in failure.
- Sent the essay out again because I was like those zombies I watched but shouldn’t have. Nothing could stop me but a blow to the head.
- Read articles claiming that sugar is the cause of all ills. Read articles stating that chocolate has 4 grams of protein per half cup.
- Decided that I couldn’t please everyone else and maybe couldn’t please anyone else but myself. Pretended that this made me powerful instead of lonely.
- Gave myself a stern lecture about doing the work for the work’s sake. Very nearly believed it.
- Decided that the essay did need something. It needed me to not give up on it.
- Checked Submittable.
A knitter, gardener and avid dog-snuggler, Lea Page lives in Montana with her husband. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Rumpus, The Pinch and Hippocampus, and she is the author of Parenting in the Here and Now: Realizing the Strengths You Already Have (Floris Books, 2015). Find her at www.LeaPageAuthor.com.
March 2, 2018 § 19 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.
February 27, 2018 § 16 Comments
Who aims for rejections? It’s a crazy notion. Not for the fainthearted. And definitely not for those prone to negativity. But since the beginning of 2017, I’ve been aiming for rejections. This intention spurred writing, encouraged finishing, and helped me put more pieces out into the world than previous years. An original idea? Nope. In late 2016, I read a piece on LitHub, Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections A Year. Sold.
Years ago, such a risk would have stopped my writing. I’d spent dollars on therapy to deal with my writing demons. I wrote pieces about quitting writing. I swore that I didn’t stand a chance in the world wide of publication. Fear. Yes.
But after years of writing workshops, sending out random pieces here and there, and on rare occasions getting an acceptance, I felt ready to commit. Ready to say I have work worthy of reading. Ready to risk rejection.
I created a writing intentions calendar, noting pieces that needed revision, listing pieces I wanted to create, placing deadlines for submissions of particular pieces complete with lists of potential homes. Each month, I crossed through what was done, and when things weren’t touched, I re-evaluated, deciding whether to move them to another month or simply remove that intention.
I began submitting. Aiming for rejections. And I received them.
Eighty-two times in one year.
In the past, I’d received rejections without much grace. Often, I’d utter nastiness at the publication, holding a fuck-you finger to the computer screen. Other times, I’d run to my faithful partner and ask her if I was wasting my time (I still occasionally do this after too many rejections in a row). But starting last year, I handled it like a business. I persevered, refusing to let external readers determine my writing life. I’d note the rejection in a list, add the number to a tally for that month, and evaluate whether the piece should be sent to other journals or put back into the revision pile.
When my rejections passed 50, I got a bit excited.
I hadn’t crumbled.
I hadn’t stopped writing.
I hadn’t submitted to fear.
There were moments I wondered if I could truly withstand 100 rejections. For years, I had worked and reworked an essay about the onset of my father’s Parkinson’s disease. Writing pals declared it ready—it would find a home. I sent it off to my dream publication, checking the box that said I wasn’t simultaneously submitting. I waited. It took only six weeks to receive a friendly, impersonal rejection wishing me “the best in placing [my] writing elsewhere.”
I submitted the essay to what I thought would be a sure shot. I’d read their issues. Read their mission. This fit. Again, it took only six weeks for the rejecter to wish me “the best finding a home for it.”
Fortunately, encouragement occasionally showed up in my rejection pile. Several pieces garnered “…we hope you will consider sending us more in the future.” Then there was the rejection that I celebrated as much as an acceptance. A hybrid piece of polyvocality, part Twitter/part narrative, had made it up to the editor’s table at another dream publication. The rejection came directly from the editor. She told me how interested they were, that it was a close call, even though my essay didn’t make the final cut. She gave me hope for a piece that was having difficulty finding a home.
My new mission of aiming for 100 rejections helped me finish pieces. After years of generating lots of starts and little finishes, I knew that in order to have enough material to aim for 100 rejections, I had to actually produce and finish work. A specific number gave me accountability.
At the end of last year’s experiment, I had four pieces published and one forthcoming. I had enough polished work that when someone solicited me for a potential submission, I actually had several pieces I cared about to send in (and one was selected for publication). It’s too early to predict this year’s outcome, but I’m into 2018’s writing intentions with a busy calendar filled with promise—and rejection.
Amy Braziller is a former punk rocker, sometimes banjo twanging foodie, and current Professor of English at Red Rocks Community College. Publications include Front Porch, Entropy, Split Rock Review, and Hippocampus. Amy is working on a hybrid memoir related to her punk rock days in NYC. She writes about food, film, music, GLBT issues, and social media distractions at amybraziller.com.
February 2, 2018 § 10 Comments
By Nicole Walker
There is among controversies, a controversy that can divide liberal from progressive, intelligentsia from academic, diversity embracers from intersectionality champions. It is the great issue of of Submission fees, especially via Submittable. And I am here to claim my stake on the wrong side of this story because I just spent three hours sending three submissions to three different journals. First, I googled the magazines and saw, to my distress, that they wanted me to send them via mail. But instead of saying no no no no no, I said, OK. I have half an hour before I pick Max up. I can do this. So I looked at the guidelines. I had to back into the document because some of the journals needed page numbers on the upper right hand corner and some wanted my address and my email and some wanted blind and that was just three so I said, OK, no more than three. I fixed the documents. I pushed print. I went upstairs to my printer. Forty-eight pages of different documents covered the carpet. Thank god the submission guidelines had called for page numbers. I collected the pages into their constituent essay and put a staple into each of them. And then I thought, I should check the pages to make sure I have them all. So I checked the number of pages and their order and page 12 was missing on one and page 5 was between 9 and 10 so I unstapled and went back upstairs to find page 12. I found page 12. Resorted. Restapled. Then I remembered, I have to write cover letters. So I went back to the websites to find the addresses and opened some cover letters I wrote in 2015 the last time I tried this experiment. Then, I printed each cover letter and went upstairs to get the cover letters. I came back downstairs and remembered I needed Self Addressed Stamped Envelopes and where do I keep envelopes? Upstairs. I addressed those envelopes and then looked around for some big envelopes for the big essays and cover letters and SASE’s but couldn’t find any so I said, that’ll do and I went pick Max up from school to take him to a haircut and while we waited our turn we went into the crappiest Family Dollar that ever existed and wandered and wandered until I found 6 big envelopes for, guess how much, one dollar. Max got Cheetos (Flaming hot. I tried not to look) that cost $1.50. Then we went to the car to address the envelopes and stuff the envelopes. I put one cover letter in the wrong envelope so I had to unstick it and pull out the wrong cover letter and restuff that one and restick the other one and also use the little claspy thing for safety. Then we went in to get Max’s haircut which took an hour because Great Clips is apparently the new Aveda and the woman cut each of Max’s hairs one at a time so we were late to get Zoe and she had been waiting in the cold and was frozen and I felt bad but we still had to go to the post office. Max and Zoe waited in the car and I just walked in right after some guy with nine envelopes headed straight for the self service machine, and even if you are expert with the machine you have to answer 19 questions for each envelope to certify no you are not a terrorist and I waited and waited and kept checking the nice-people-will-serve-you-but-you-might-die-waiting line and realized I was going to die either way and the woman inside did not care nearly as much about what I was mailing as the machine did and she said that will be $4.03 cents and now it was almost five o’clock and traffic was bad and I had to call everyone who was driving a jerk which my kids hate because it just makes me look like the jerk but I am here to say please, poetry gods, please allow me to pay you $3.00 a submission for the rest of my life from the comfort of my chair and with the click of two buttons.
Nicole Walker is the author of two forthcoming books, Sustainability: A Love Story and A Survival Guide for Life in the Ruins. Her previous books include Where the Tiny Things Are, Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg (only every third book has the word “egg” in its title). She also edited Bending Genre with Margot Singer. She’s nonfiction editor at Diagram and Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona where it rains like the Pacific Northwest, but only in July.
November 28, 2017 § 10 Comments
We’re settled into our seats, ready to watch Meryl Streep perform in the new musical adaptation of Gone Girl (“Gone!”). We’re leafing through Playbill, counting up Oscar nominations, when suddenly Ms. Streep steps out in front of the curtain to address the audience.
“Hi everyone, I’m really excited you’re here for this show, based on the book about a woman who fakes her own disappearance and sets her husband up for a murder rap. I hope you’ll especially enjoy the scene where I write all the journal entries at the same time with different pens.”
Or she says, “In rehearsals for this show, I worked on my high E notes with a noted vocal coach at Julliard, maybe you’ve heard of him?”
We’re already here, Meryl. We’re ready to watch. We trust you to deliver. Just let us watch you–don’t tell us the story you’re about to tell us. And if it turns out the show isn’t to our taste, your pre-show explanation won’t fix that.
Reading submissions is a lot like being in that audience. Around the Brevity Podcast house, we’re settling in with pages of Submittable entries for the One-Minute Memoir episode. Each essay is the curtain going up on a show we’ve never seen before, enjoying how much humor, sadness, quirkiness, reflection, action, and adventure can be packed into under 150 words, sometimes many fewer than that. There are pieces totally unique in content, and others with universal situations but new approaches. Every author has something truly, beautifully theirs…and some of them tell us about it in advance.
Cover letters everywhere range from a single sentence of author bio to a full page of credits, context, and background information, and every variation in between. Sometimes, authors get nervous that the editors won’t get it. Or they’re really excited about their time working with a prestigious teacher. Maybe they feel like they don’t have enough publication credits, and explaining the story fills up that space. Or there’s a backstory that’s totally amazing.
These things don’t suck, but they’re not helping your submission. I don’t actively read the cover letter until I’ve read the essay–though I end up seeing some of what Submittable displays before clicking through to the submitted piece. Most editors want to come to your words as readers do: a fresh impression on the page. They don’t get to sit down and explain to subscribers what they meant when they picked that piece, why they think it’s great. As authors, we rarely get to discuss why or how we came to write something unless we’re talking about it with our friends or being interviewed. But that’s bonus material for the true fans, not a base to start from with first-time readers. Don’t give away the game.
For example, when submitting your terrific flash essay about knitting with a women’s circle in Guangzhou:
This essay focuses on the time I gave birth in China surrounded by my knitting class. I wanted to tell the stories of the amazing grandmothers I met while doing handicrafts in China. They all had children who had emigrated, and I saw how conflicted they felt.
For the purposes of submission, one sentence maximum about the circumstances directly affecting the writing (not the story).
I wrote this during my missionary work in China.
I’m a professional knitting teacher.
Will detailing parts of your story get you rejected out of hand? Not by us. In the long run, this isn’t a huge issue. For most journals, it doesn’t really matter what you write in that space–at this point in the process, they’re interested in the story and the writing. Explaining neither fixes nor destroys a submission. So don’t sweat it if you’ve fallen into this category before. Just stop doing it.
Reading your story is more powerful than reading about your story. Let us be surprised and delighted and astounded–the way we want our audience to be when they get to read your work.
Edited to add: Aerogramme offers some more terrific cover letter advice from Tahoma Review Prose Editor Yi Shun Lai.
June 1, 2016 § 19 Comments
By Julie Vick
Number of times you checked your Submittable page today: 25
Number of changes in status to your Submittable page today: 0
Days since there was any change to your Submittable page: 37
Number of visitors to your writing portfolio website this week: 2
Percentage chance that both visitors were searching for someone else who has your same name: 50%
Percentage chance that one of those visitors was your mom: 70%
Number of tabs opened on your computer today: 124
Average time spent on each tab opened: 23 seconds
Number of tabs you have open right now: 13
Percentage chance that you opened another tab midway through reading this list: 50%
Number of times one of your essays was rejected before it was accepted: 29
Number of times that essay was revised: 17
Portion of days last week you thought the piece you are working on was pretty good: 1/7
Portion of days you thought the piece you were working on was pretty bad: 6/7
Estimated amount of money spent on coffee so far this year: $391.20
Number of times per day you convince yourself that watching the latest award-winning television series will help you better understand narrative arc: 1-2
Number of shares on your most recently published essay: 7
Number of shares on a collection of images of cats dressed in Elizabethan costumes: 2,978,572
Times you shared that Elizabethan cat costume list: 2
Percentage chance that cats dislike wearing costumes: 99%
Words you read today: 5,762
Words you wrote today: 123
Julie Vick’s work has appeared in publications including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Washington Post, Salon, and Brain, Child. She currently teaches writing at the University of Colorado Denver.