Tuesday, July 19, 2016

SUB-MISSION, IMPOSSIBLE?



post by Lynn

Our mission as writers, should we choose to accept it, is to put pen in hand or fingers on keyboard and craft fully-formed stories, poems and essays.

Our sub-mission, should we choose to accept it, is to submit these pieces of writing for publication.

Can you tell I like the old-school version of Mission Impossible? :-)

I always thought the mission would be more challenging that the sub-mission, but lately I am wondering. I’ve recently had several people approach me, all of them good writers, and ask where they should submit their work. I’m not sure what to tell them, except that I have this instinct that says: submission can’t really be outsourced.

Learning where and how to submit is an integral part of the writing life.

I remember seeing somewhere that there is a group who will do all your submitting for you: find the most appropriate journals to target, write your cover letters for you, submit and track your acceptances/rejections--at a substantial cost.

To tweak a popular phrase: Ain’t nobody got money for that! Not me anyway.

I confess I have been too lazy/busy/clueless to do much submitting lately. So, I am challenging myself to take on the Sub-mission Mission, and to be less haphazard about it. I am going to treat it like the core component of my writing life that it is.

If you are in this phase of your writing life, join me in learning about submission. If you are ahead of me in this process, well, share your wisdom and experience with me/us, please!

Note: I have some experience and interest in publishing my work in literary magazines and journals, so that’s the kind of submission I’m talking about. Somebody else (guest posts to come) will talk about book publishing, self-publishing, finding agents, etc. I’m waaaay out of my league on that.

KNOW YOUR WHY

I know myself well enough that in order to be successful in a project, I have to be motivated. So, what motivates me to publish my writing?

Why #1: I write to be read. It’s that simple. I’ve been working for a decade now to learn the art and craft of creative writing in order to reach readers. I love to journal, but I want my writing to move beyond those pages.

And also, I just think that if I want the writing to flow, it has to go somewhere. It’s like a pipeline. Creativity goes in one end and the finished piece of writing comes out the other end.

Not to publish--well, that would clog up the pipe, wouldn’t it?

Why #2: I want to build a writing resume.

If I want the job of writer, I have to gain experience and develop a track record.

In my previous professional life I built my resume by performing different jobs, volunteering, getting an education. I’m going about it in a similar way for my writing career. I have a writing resume and on it I list the publications where my short stories, essays and poems have appeared.

Why #3: I want an outside opinion about the quality of my writing. 

Feedback is one way I improve as a writer.

I get feedback from my writing buddies and the members of my writing group, and their comments mean a lot to me. But I also want feedback from people who don’t know me--people who only see the words on the page.

By submitting, I get feedback. Acceptance says I have reached a certain level of quality in my writing. Rejection is a little more ambiguous: either the writing isn’t good enough, or the editor doesn’t find this particular piece to be a good match for their publication.

Occasionally, I get even more—a note or two—that explains why the piece wasn’t accepted. Once, I got accepted and then the editor worked with me on revisions. The essay improved and I learned a lot. Bonus!

Why #4: I want to have a focus, a deadline, a target.

When I hear that Parabola is doing an edition with the theme of “Generosity and Service,” I think that maybe I should finish that essay about my friendship with Aisha when I was in the Peace Corps. I check the deadline: September 1st.

Voila! I now have a target and a target date. Which works much better for me than a general, I-ought-to-write-that-piece-and-send-it-somewhere approach. 

Those are my top reasons. Yours may differ.

There is an intriguing blog post on this topic by the founding editor of The Review Review, titled "What’s So Great About Submitting to Literary Magazines?"

DEVELOP A SYSTEM

Speaking of targets, I’ve been told by numerous writers and teachers to come up with a three-tiered system for submissions. Once you have your three tiers, you submit to three publications (what is it about threes?) from the top tier first and wait for responses. (Note: the Sub-mission Mission involves a lot of waiting.)  If I get rejected by all three, I choose three from the second tier and submit, and so on.

In the top tier are the Big Dog journals and magazines. Submitting to them is a long shot, perhaps, but if I feel like my piece is ready for prime time, then I can submit to this tier first.

When the rejections roll in, I’ll keep track in my records and then move to the second tier.

Or, if I get the magical message: ACCEPTED, I’ll invite you to the party and we’ll eat cake.

The second tier should include journals/lit mags that aren’t quite so prestigious.

The third tier is made up of journals I would feel good about seeing my work printed in, but that are not quite as competitive as the second and top tier.

I’ve decided to tweak this format (I never follow directions completely, just ask my family) and change the third tier to include publications that are not well-known but that have an intriguing format or I simply love the magazine’s title. Cease, Cows anyone?

Also in this tier I'll put opportunities that pop up unexpectedly, like the one recently, where poet and UW professor Lori Howe sent out the call for writing on Wyoming, to be published in an anthology through Sastrugi Press. (Sorry, the deadline has passed on that one.)

WHICH TIER?

How do we know where journals fit in each level of this tier system?

Research, my friend.

I know, you’re always being told that cruising the net is bad for your writing. But this is one case when we get permission.

It is time consuming, yes. But not wasted time. I’ve spent many hours perusing journal websites, and even if I don’t put them on my list, I always learn something and—as a extra benefit—I often find some amazing writing.

A new tool I’ve found, and am really excited about, is a website called The Review Review.

These kind folks have done a lot of the research for us. They post reviews with titles like “Online Lit Mag is a Cozy Place Full of Winners” and “Short Stories Front and Center in This Online Magazine” and “Esteemed Long-standing Lit Mag Runs the Gamut of Genres.” The reviews give me plenty of information to decide whether the publication should make my target list, and which tier it would belong to.

Here’s an example of how my random cruising works for me: I read a Brevity blog post and the editor there mentions that Slice is a literary journal he admires. I go to The Review Review website and find their review of Slice. I find out that Slice has been around since 2007, is based out of Brooklyn and it is touted by Pulitzer prize-winning author Junot Diaz as being “Beautiful, compelling, irresistible. Slice will knock you right out. In the best way possible.” Slice publishes emerging and established authors side-by-side and has a different theme for every issue.

Hmmm… I like that approach. I visit Slice's website, check out upcoming themes. Make note of their reading period. While I’m there I read a thought-provoking interview with Jeffrey Thomson, about memoir writing. I put Slice on my first-tier list.

And so on. The tier system will always be a work in progress, because the literary world is always in flux.

READ, READ, READ

We need to get to know our targets. We would be wise to read a copy of the journal before submitting. Wander their website. Subscribe to their blog.

I have subscribed to The Sun, One Story and Creative Nonfiction. My husband takes Orion. My writing group buddies lend me copies of River Teeth and Glimmer Train. I picked up a copy of Ruminate at City News bookstore in Cheyenne. I read a copy of Parabola at the library.

I have, on more than one occasion, looked through a journal and thought: I’m not edgy enough for this one. That’s important information, because I want to find a target that is a good fit for my writing. I don’t want to waste my time or the editor’s time.

There are more tips on the submission process in this Writer’s Digest article: How to Submit to Literary Journals.

LEARN, LEARN, LEARN

We need to let ourselves try and fail, and give ourselves time to learn new tools, techniques and technology. We need to be brave beginners, no matter what our age is.


For example, many journals are now using something called Submittable to receive submissions. (The Wyoming Arts Council is using it for the 2017 Creative Writing Fellowships.)

Never used it? Learn about Submittable here.

For a couple of years now I have been using a submission tool called Duotrope to find targets and track my submissions. They have great search features that allow me to find publications that meet certain parameters. (According to Duotrope, there are around 5000 current markets for nonfiction, fiction and poetry submissions—that makes my head spin!) With Duotrope, I can narrow the field, and learn a lot about each publication along the way.

Note: I’m not trying to sell you on Duotrope, just explaining why I fork over the $50 a year for it.

Let's say I want to target publications that print essays, allow simultaneous submissions and accept reprints. Using the drop down menus, I do a search on Duotrope with those parameters.

115 publications meet that criteria. Now I can start looking through them for more information.

Duotrope also has a calendar of upcoming themes. So, for example, I could check to see if any journal is looking for nonfiction stories on mountain climbing (if I just happened to have such a story, which I don’t, because I am terrified of heights).

Learn more about Duotrope here.

OTHER RESOURCES

These are just a couple that I know of. I’m sure there are more and I’m hoping you’ll share with us if you know of others:

If you're a member of Wyoming Writer's Inc. you'll find submission info in each newsletter.

Poets and Writers magazine has an online "Literary Journals and Magazines" section with over 800 lit mags and journals listed, along with tons of information. It’s free.

New Pages has a free guide to literary magazines as well.

ONE STEP AT A TIME

Okay, that’s enough for now. Submission is a huge topic and an even bigger mission, and we don’t want to get freaked out.

My immediate goal is to refine my three tiers so when I finish my next essay, I can choose several targets. That’s manageable.

I’ll be sharing the progress I make on my Sub-mission Mission in future blog posts. Feel free to share your progress and experiences with us here at Writing Wyoming.

Together, we can learn and write and, yes, publish.


2 comments:

  1. Thanks, Lynn, for the very informative blog on submissions. I’ve tried the same basic submission scheme, except to load it heavily at the third tier, those online and paper journals and magazines that have accepted my poetry in the past. Perhaps I’ve accepted that I am not going to get some of what is considered top tier to publish my poetry. But I am happy with having High Plains Register at Laramie County CC or Emerging Voices at Western Nebraska CC or The Human Touch at UC Hospital in Denver publish my poetry. I send nature poems to The Avocet which publishes weekly online and quarterly in paper and have them accepted. As Dirty Harry, said so eloquently, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

    And I am happy with my limitations. Writing is the primary joy to me and seeing my work in print is secondary. I’m not saying that’s the right route for any other writer, but that’s what works for me. I am about to self publish a chapbook of poetry, and I can put an acknowledge page in to show that 80 percent of the 32 poems have been published in places like HPR, EV, THT, Avocet, or other smaller journals. And that works for me. I think we all need to figure out what’s most important for us individually.

    I would add CRWROPPS to the list of good places to find places to publish. It shows up in my inbox every morning and has places from top to bottom in the publishing food chain.

    Thanks for another great blog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Those are excellent points you raise, Art. I think it falls into the Know Thyself camp. Know your goals, what makes you happy, and what contributes to your writing life.

    I've published in High Plains Register, too, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

    I wasn't familiar with CRWROPPS so I looked it up. The Creative Writers Opportunity List, a service of The Poetry Resource Page and it's been called a "treasure trove of information for creative writers." Nice! I'll be signing up to get their emails. Thanks for sharing that.

    And thanks for sharing. I always love hearing from you!

    ReplyDelete

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