submitting poetry

21 posts

Submittable Q & A

sub

Periodically I like to send questions to my fellow submitting Submittable Warriors, also known as “writers.” Their answers show that we all share a similar range of experiences using this technological convenience. Here’s a sampling of the Q & A’s.

What is it like waiting for RECEIVED submissions to flip over to IN PROGRESS submissions, and IN PROGRESS submissions to progress to a decision?

  • “It’s like watching water wait to wait to be boiled.”
  • “Like political ads. Excruciating and maddening.”
  • “Have you ever played fetch with a tortoise? You know. You fling the lettuce, then yell in its face: ‘Go on, boy! Go on!’ Like that.”
  • “Like looking forward to Christmas on December 26th.”
  • “Auditing a course on studying wallpaper.”
  • “The word ‘Received’ is my mantra for morning meditations, ‘In Progress’ for nightly ones. Has been for 8 months. Maybe your question’s a koan.”
  • “Like watching The Food Network. Eternal similarity. Stubborn persistence. Few payoffs.”

When is it worth paying a reading fee?

  • “When you’re accepted and it’s a paying market. Other than that, never.”
  • “When the journal is worthy of financial support. That way, you can look at it as a non-deductible contribution to a good cause.”
  • “When no one will read you for free.”
  • “I do it to reward audaciousness.”
  • “I haven’t done so because every time I email an editor about my writing fee, I get virtual crickets. Have you ever heard a virtual cricket?”
  • “When you want to brag about a certain magazine soliciting your stuff. Just don’t mention that your ‘stuff’ is a credit card as opposed to your poems.”

How many simultaneous submissions do you typically make for any given work?

  • “Three. Maybe I’ve been hard-wired by bad jokes, but everything comes in threes and that includes my submissions ceiling.”
  • “I don’t believe in simul-subs. This gives me plenty of time to revise my work between submissions, meaning no two submissions of the same work are ever alike.”
  • “You mean you count them?”
  • “I take it as a challenge. I once had a poem out at 53 markets over the course of two years, all eventually demurring. Would you say it needed work?”
  • “6.5.”

Is Submittable is more worthwhile for writers or for markets?

  • “Well, let’s see. I’m a marketing dunce, so it’s a godsend. Writers.”
  • “Definitely markets. Journals pay for the service, but if they charge a reading fee, they more than offset their costs. They profit handily. In some cases footily.”
  • “More and more markets use it, so I guess there’s good financial reasons to do so. Markets.”
  • “Submittable itself is a market. Markets benefit markets. It’s in the same aisle as corporations being people according to SCOTUS. Different but the same. Ka-ching!”
  • “Writers. How else would I know what I sent where three years ago? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.”

The Hazards in Speed Back or Feedback for Dollars

roadrunner

Submitting your work for publication? You and a few million others, it seems, and with increased submissions comes increased response times comes new ways to separate a writer from his or her money.

Let’s start with the ironies of time. We all know how tempus has a habit of fugiting, especially when it comes to that person in the mirror you see every day. You know the drill: a few gray hairs here, a few wrinkles there.

Wouldn’t it be nice to slow time down for yourself? Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about redefining your body as a poetry submission? Voilà! The process of aging slows to a turtle’s crawl.

Business being business and mankind being mankind, there are always ways to cut the long line when submitting your work. But it’s going to cost you, of course. Like everything else in our times: Be prepared to pony up some money (or, in some journals’ cases, more money).

Which leads us to the world of “expedited responses” where your disappointment arrives much quicker and your wallet grows much lighter. My advice? Unless you’re 99% sure of acceptance (and who is?), don’t do it.

Like the reading fee, the expedited response temptation is a drain best defined by tracking it. Trouble is, most writers don’t. It’s similar to coffee drinkers who stop to buy a cup of java on the way to work each morning. Considering these drinks can cost $3-$5 (especially the iced variety with sweeteners), most people wisely leave their purchases untracked. Imagine that “little” cost multiplied by working days per year! Nice money if you can get it! (And to think, you actually had it, but at least you can argue you got some satisfaction from it.)

The other pocket hole to watch for is the feedback fee. Though I’m guilty of a few “expedited dice rolls” (all turning up “snake eyes”), I’ve never done the feedback option. In this scenario, a journal offers a critique on your work for a reasonable (in itself) but sizable (when multiplied by the habit it feeds) fee.

The problem here? There’s no telling who is offering the feedback and what his or her credentials are. Sure, if it’s a name-brand poet doing the reading and feeding, I might pay for my church supper and take a seat. But the responses are mostly from folks like us… people who like poetry, read poetry, have opinions in poetry. Sometimes an intern. Sometimes a reader. Or even an editor (which you or I could call ourselves if we decided to throw up an online zine tomorrow and open a Submittable account).

When it comes to feedback, then, mileage may vary, quality-wise. For the offering journal, however, mileage will surely accrue. It’s Finance 101 come to the Arts. In a numbers game (even one based on words), both speed and opinions translate into dollars made and dollars lost.

As for the market for such practices, it’s primed and ready due to the flock’s size. After waiting from 6 to 12 months for responses and receiving boilerplate rejection notices that give no clue as to any of the thousand reasons “why” work is rejected, writers with a little cash (or plastic) are remarkably vulnerable.

Proceed with caution, then. And repeat this pithy aphorism after me: “Unless there’s an extenuating circumstance guaranteeing more than free disappointment, patience is a virtue (not to mention a savings strategy).”

Signed,

Ben Franklin trying not to be Poor Richard

When Rejection Really Isn’t Rejection

trash

Why so quick to take it personally? Rejection of your writing doesn’t always mean the writing is not good. It can mean a few other things, too. Things you’d never think of because you’re not running a poetry journal (which requires a different sort of thinking).

A few weeks back I made a submission to a poetry journal in Europe. It was posted in Submittable with a deadline a MONTH OUT. I received a “rejection” the very next day, with the editor claiming they had been swamped with submissions and already had enough work to publish their journal.

I wrote back, which is not like me because I know better. Something to this effect: “Well, sir, as your posting is four weeks out, why don’t you have the decency to contact Submittable and have them yank it to save other writers the futile exercise of putting a submission together, executing the submission, and updating their writing records?”

The response to this wild and crazy idea sounded like this:  *** Crickets ***

Then I got the real answer yesterday — an email from this very same European poetry magazine. It was sponsoring a special introductory subscription offer of 40% off, featuring some of the very best poetry in the world (just not yours)!

Suddenly it dawned on me. The rising sun sounded like this:  *** Duh! ***

They were not in Submittable for poetry submissions, they were in it to build a poetry-readers subscription base.

And here we have writers constantly taking rejections personally. Look how creative some editors can be! And others may be rejecting your work not because it is bad, but because it’s good but not to their taste. Or because it doesn’t fit with the other works they’ve already accepted. Or because it’s free verse when they fancy form poems (or form poems when they fancy free verse).

Sure, sometimes rose is a rose is a rose and rejection is a rejection is a rejection, but buck up! Your entry might be accepted to a mailing list saving you 40%!

BTW, the response to this introductory offer sounded like this: *** Move to Trash ***

The Pandemic Strikes Publishing, Too

covid

A pandemic wreaks havoc in both obvious and less obvious ways. The obvious ways appear, depressingly enough, on the homepages of our online newspapers and as “breaking news” on our televisions. Less obvious are the effects of being holed up at home, especially if you’re an extrovert or someone in a bad marriage or a kid who relies on schools for breakfast and lunch.

Less obvious than these less obvious items? Covid-19’s effects on publishing. This past week brought two interesting emails to my inbox. One was from a print magazine publisher that had already accepted one of my poems. They said the printing press that usually brought out their publication was not considered “essential,” therefore the magazine would not appear as scheduled. Instead, the editors were working on their first electronic version of the magazine ever.

Be patient, was their bottom line. And pray for us, because we’ve never done this before. I did not reply but my subconscious did: “Uh-oh.”

Another email came from a journal still entertaining a poetry submission I’d sent. They apologized (as if they had to, given the circumstances!) and said the whole pandemic thing had sent their efforts into disarray and that everything would be backed up, with the chance that said “everything” might even be backed up over a cliff like Wiley E. Coyote or something, so don’t expect to hear back from them soon, or at least as soon as they had promised.

Oh. OK.

So if you’re noticing little action on your Submittable page, now you know why. Granted, “action” is a misnomer when it comes to submitting to poetry journals because things move like sludge even in the best of times, but this is sludge in a stubborn mood we’re talking now!

I imagine this chaos extends to book publishing, too. My third manuscript, already seatbelted in and preparing for takeoff next week, is in for a long ride. Perhaps it will see Jupiter outside the window before I hear anything about its fate, good or bad. I’m packing extra sandwiches for the 57 poems, just in case.

Go ahead. Call me a helicopter author. But these are strange times, and all the old rules are going out the window. Like everything else, the publishing industry is either sick or in hiding.

A Sure Sign That Your Poems Might Suck

ordgen

Kim Addonizio’s book Ordinary Genius came out 11 years ago, so the statistics I’m about to cite about poetry readership are dated. The greater point remains valid, however. Let’s dive in ipso fasto and meet around the excerpt, shall we?

 

“Books of poetry will teach you more than your mentor or professor or the well-known poet you have traveled to a conference to work with. Reading is like food to a writer; without it, the writer part of you will die—or become spindly and stunted. If you’re afraid that reading will make you less original, don’t be. Falling under the spell of—or reacting against—other writers is part of what will lead you to your own work. Reading in the long tradition of poetry shows you what has lasted, and those poems are there to learn from. Reading your contemporaries shows you what everyone else is up to in your own time, so you can map the different directions of the art. There’s never one route to poetry, one style. Reading widely will help you see this.

“Here is a sobering statistic: Poetry, which has been for many years one of the premier poetry journals in America, has about ten thousand subscribers. Every year, it receives ten times that many submissions from writers hoping to land a poem on its pages.

“That’s a hundred thousand people, writing.

“Are they reading? Possibly. Maybe they’re not subscribing to Poetry because they’re spending their money on books by Neruda and Baudelaire and Muriel Rukeyser and Derek Walcott. But in fact, a large number of people who want to write poetry don’t seem to like to read it. Many journals have a circulation of a few hundred copies, and poetry books sell dismally compared to fiction or memoir: the first print run is usually one or two thousand copies.

“Maybe you’re one of those people who writes poems, but rarely reads them. Let me put this as delicately as I can: If you don’t read, your writing is going to suck.”

 

I love it when people get delicate, don’t you? Kind of like Mom and Dad when you were a kid growing up. Or certainly your siblings. Direct and to the point.

What’s worth gleaning here is this: Although she runs workshops herself, Addonizio is convinced that immersing yourself in the reading of poetry is the best training a wannabe poet can get, period. And yet the statistics seem to show that something else is afoot. Lots of writing, but nowhere near as much reading.

Certainly there’s a marked reluctance to plunking one’s money down for a poetry book or journal. This is surprising, considering the number of poetry practitioners is legion. Why do you think you wait six, nine, twelve months for a response from poetry editors? The transom looks like L.A.’s highway system, that’s why, while the poetry-reading traffic resembles rush hour in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

What’s wrong with this picture? Addonizio would say, “Where to begin….” She finishes her chapter on reading with this flourish:

 

“I can’t stress this point enough: You need to soak up as many books as you can. Even the ones you don’t like can teach you something. If you were a painter, you’d spend time looking at works of art from every period in history. A chef I know, whenever he travels, eats enough for three people—he wants to sample all the dishes. Boxers study the great fights of the past, like the Ali-Forman “Thrilla in Manila.” Marketers look at the successes of past products to try to duplicate those successes. Poetry isn’t a product in that way, but you see what I mean. Read. Imitate shamelessly. Steal when you can get away with it. T. S. Eliot said, ‘Good poets imitate. Great poets steal.’

“So read. Let other writers teach and inspire you.

“Unless you really want your writing to suck.”

 

Time to look in the mirror, poets. What’s your writing / reading ratio? How much time do you spend reading, rereading, copying out, and memorizing poems (all practices Addonizio professes to practice as a successful poet)?

And what about your sense of history? Are you all about contemporary poets only (or even mostly)? Do the words “John Keats” send ripples of fear through your very being?

There’s no time like now to start changing all that. Especially if you’re “hunkering down,” a folksy expression for being cooped up by a pandemic.

What Are Poets Writing About?

kimaddonizio

OK, I get it. Asking what today’s poets are writing about is a stupid question. They are writing about whatever they want to write about.

Even amending the question helps but little: What are poets who are getting published writing about?

There is no way one can gain accuracy via a random sample. They’re all too…random. That said, randomness can provide some indications, anyway. And count me curious (thus, this post), because I’ve often noted a chasm between some of my favorite topics and what poetry editors seem to like best these days.

Put it this way. If I were a contestant on Jeopardy!, I wouldn’t fare so well on popular culture topics, and I suspect modern poetry loves popular culture more than I do.

For my sample, then, I turned to the most recent issue of Rattle, a popular poetry magazine that features “approachable” poetry. Better yet, the Spring 2020 issue features a special section dedicated to students of the poet-teacher Kim Addonizio (pictured above). It’s called “Tribute to Kim Addonizio & Her Students.”

(And can we interrupt this broadcast to say just how much better these poet-students’ odds for publication became thanks to this oh-so-specific condition? I mean, c’mon. I’ve written Editor Tim Green about having a special section for former 4th-grade students of Mrs. Ann Wilcox in Cowtown, Connecticut, in some future issue. Instead of competing against… basically everybody… I’d need only best a handful of historic writer sorts who traveled through Mrs. W’s storied classroom!)

But where were we? Ah, yes. A list of topics chosen by the 17 Addonizio-trained poets. As noted, it’s a doubly good sample because a.) they were trained by a top name, contemporary poet, and b.) their work was selected by editors of a paying poetry market (“paying” and “poetry market” being such strange bedfellows these days).

Care to play along? Let’s see how you do as I see how I do! Are their topics similar in many ways to yours? Or are you writing just a few too many poems about the Reformation in 16th-century Germany?

Accepted and published poem is loosely about…

  • a woman after her lover has left her
  • a narrator with a girl in the neighboring seat who is now sleeping on her shoulder during a long airplane flight
  • a dying man’s plan to paint vistas of deserts and mountains in his final weeks, months
  • a pair of lovers staying at a romantic place by the sea
  • someone’s updates on their neighbor, a man who unsuccessfully tried to hang himself two months back
  • a series of metaphors comparing a sermon to the neighborhood
  • a narrator who likes to talk about sex and think about turning into a wild animal
  • Penn Station as life: the board, a homeless person, commuters, movement
  • ruminations on love and life as a formerly-married, now single middle-aged sort
  • a quirky look at society post-Election Day (of gee, I wonder who?)
  • lovers sailing near the equator where they dive and photo-shoot creatures of the sea
  • Kafka’s Gregor Samsa reimagined in modern times interfacing with Twitter, tow trucks, protesters, police officers, and (God save us) Starbucks coffee
  • someone’s 16-year-old cat at the veterinarian’s, along with other animals and owners in the waiting room of angst
  • a woman entering a bar, sizing up a man, and deciding “Hell, yeah!”
  • a fraught mom comparing her infant son (cuddly) with the 5-year-old he has become (not so cuddly)
  • a couple in a house of many windows, observed by outsiders but observing themselves as well, concluding that living = being seen

 

I’m not sure how the “popular culture test” works here. Maybe this: Could these poems be developed into reality TV pilots that people would watch? Well, there’s sex, love, despair, death, travel, politics, social networks, coffee baristas, pets, mothers-and-children, alcohol, and, of course, self.

The stuff of traditional poets like, say, Frost? Not so much, really. The topics seem to be more immediate, contemporary, familiar. Ideas that could easily segue into features for popular magazines.

Can we learn from this? Perhaps. It seems the overall notion of sharing your life more openly—a prerequisite of life online— is a good thing, at least for poets aiming to get published.

In that sense, poetry is a reflection of our times, where folks upload not only pictures of their cats, but pictures of what they are eating for dinner, where (jealousy alert!) they are traveling, and (wait for it!) themselves via the now-hackneyed selfie.

Popular culture, then. Out of the confessional box and into open air. Only poetically. Then submit and like your odds a bit more!

Life as a Submitting Author (Hint: It Ain’t Pretty)

mail

Being a writer who submits your work has its charm. One is the perpetual state of expectation (just west of the perpetual state of Tennessee).

Remember when you were young and the Internet was still an idea-in-waiting, how you’d look forward to the postman’s visit to see if you got any handwritten letters? It’s somewhat similar, in a pale fashion, checking your inbox daily for responses from magazines and journals.

Mostly, the following happen to you:

  • Nothing. I mean nothing. For days. Weeks even. Sometimes months. Remember what Mama once told you: “A watched micro never waves.”
  • Nothing goes on for so long that you decide to submit to another five or ten markets. That’ll show ’em!
  • Hint: This is known as saturating the market out of frustration. It is also known as making work for yourself should one of your simultaneously-submitted babies get accepted.
  • Something, in the form of subject lines beginning with RE: followed by a journal’s name. Here you engage in little reindeer games. You open the other emails first and save this one for last. You act like a little kid plucking petals from an ox-eye daisy while reciting, “S/he loves me, s/he loves me not.” Then you finally click it and know immediately by the shape and length of the message.
  • Hint: Usually “…s/he loves me not.”
  • You get a form rejection from a journal that charges a reading fee. You kick yourself (no small feat, even if you have big feet). How many times have you sworn this off? And yet you continue to fool yourself by saying, “Yeah, but this poem is that good!”
  • Hint: No it’s not. Unless you’re already famous. Then it might be.
  • You get rejected by a journal two days after you submitted. Though it’s disappointing, it actually feels good. Why?
  • Hint: It might have something to do with submissions from 10 months ago that still read “RECEIVED” in Submittable (maybe the journal’s name, The Cobweb Review, should have served as a hint).
  • You agreed to subscribe to emails from the journal the day of submission. It sends you a form rejection and your babies (typically five of them) come home downcast and in tears. As retribution, you go into indignant mom mode and unsubscribe to emails from that journal. Here we go again: That’ll show ’em!
  • Hint: This is small-minded, but rejected poets are quick to forgive themselves.
  • You make a run and get three or four acceptances in a row. You’re hot. Like ham and cheese with mayo, you’re on a roll. Now the poetry world gets it! Now they finally appreciate your genius!
  • Hint: Do you actually think they are aware of each other’s acceptances and are jumping on your imaginary bandwagon? Hey. Whatever floats your boat, dreamer.
  • Your run ends with a series of rejections (say, ten), landing you back where you began, unable to break the ceiling of unknown poets (not as famous as the Sistine Chapel’s, but a very real thing).
  • You get a letter in your snail mail box.
  • Hint: Just kidding. And seeing if you’re still reading. No one gets snail mail letters in their snail mail box anymore. That is now the conquered province of bills, catalogs, and credit card application come-ons.

Is That All There Is?

peggylee

Being a successful writer may not be the Shangri-La would-be writers think it is. In his fast-paced, anecdotal writer advice book, Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different, Chuck Palahniuk warns that true success depends on putting a new book out every year. Feed your demanding readers, in other words—or else.

Then he goes into a long story about Stephen King at a signing where the horror master suffered a bloody callus on his signing finger. He was getting bits of blood on the books he was autographing and asked a handler to fetch him some bandages.

No way, the fan behind the guy whose book was presently being signed shouted. He wanted the King’s ink and blood, too!

Turns out, so did the others in the serpentine line behind these two. Seemed everybody wanted that famous blood, thinking it would make their keepsake books not only better keeps but more valuable sakes. Thus, to avoid a mini-riot, the Master of Horror had to endure his own horror show of sorts, signing on in pain.

You guessed it, in Palahniuk’s book, book tours come off as decidedly less romantic than wannabe writers suppose, to the point where many stories have you muttering, “Is that all there is?”

If those words sound familiar, it’s because Peggy Lee sang the song in 1969.

It could be a theme song for writers. The thought came to mind this past week when I received a rejection from a small book publisher.

Think of it: You send five poems to a poetry journal with a reading fee of $3. Ten months later, you get a rejection and say, after the long wait, “Is that all there is?”

The book rejection seemed seven times worse. It cost $20 for the privilege of being read, but you know and I know that some editor reading a book of poetry knows within the first 5-10 poems whether she wants it or not, even if, in fairness, many poetry collections feature a whole that speaks volumes about their parts.

But, no. In this case it was, “Thanks for the 20 bucks, pal!” And for what? This publisher sent me a one-sentence (!) boiler plate rejection note, almost assuredly after having never read the manuscript in full.

Feedback, even in general terms? None whatsover. That would require I full reading. Instead, it was take the money in run, in broad daylight.

Is that all there is?

Even “success” brings this nagging question around. Got a book accepted and published? As a newbie, you get ridiculous delusions of grandeur. The book tours Palahniuk referred to. The huge sales sure to come. The inevitable demand for another book from your adoring legions.

Truth is, for 99% of writers, it’ll be but a few sales, and most of those to kind friends and family.

Is that all there is?

Palahniuk even shares stories of well-known writers like Ken Kesey doing readings for, wait for it, TWO readers, followed by none whatsoever at a second locale. That and readings where there three dozen people, but they only bought a sum total of three books.

Three.

One could well picture Kesey channeling Peggy Lee as he shuffled back to his hotel room, saying: Is that all there is?

Ah, well. There’s always the song for consolation. If you listen to it, the mood Peggy creates seems perfect for writers and poets who are learning the hard way. Success comes in many shades and, quite often, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Alas.

Growing Reading Fees Cause for Concern

costs

Submittable has a filter called “No Fee” but, for whatever reason, using it does not totally eliminate journals levying fees. And lately, there has been increasing cause for worry on the reading-fee front.

It used to be fairly standard that reading fees would be either $2 or, more typically, $3. I wrote about this in greater depth in a 2018 blog entry based on a Poets & Writers article. This piece detailed the profits a poetry journal stood to make at such rates.

Before I go on, let’s review a key paragraph from that entry. It uses an interview with Alaska Quarterly Review editor Ronald Spatz to help illustrate where the money goes:

Submittable charges magazines an annual subscription fee, then takes a cut of the proceeds when writers pony up for a hearing. Let’s stick with the AQR example: “Those administrative fees can add up to a small but attractive revenue stream for perennially cash-strapped literary magazines. At AQR, Spatz paid $757 for the journal’s annual Submittable subscription and retained $1.86 of each $3 payment from writers using the system, with the remainder going back to Submittable.  With 1,190 submissions, the revenue from fees more than paid for the journal’s Submittable subscription in just the one month submissions were open. Had AQR kept the online portal open for a full year, Spatz says, ‘we would be getting lots of revenue, which we need, but the thing is, that would be unethical [because the journal doesn’t have the staff to handle the added submissions].’”

(If you’re interested, here’s a link to the entire blog entry.)

Yesterday I experimented on Submittable by eliminating the “No Fee” filter entirely to see what kind of numbers would pop up and how much they had changed since 2018. Turns out, they’ve changed quite a bit.

It seems that the standard $2 to $3 rate is becoming less standard. In many cases, poets will now see rates of $4, $5, and even more. There are also nickel-and-dime variations such as $4.20, $4.50, and $4.97 (all together now: “Huh?”).

This is a worrisome development, considering that journals make over 50% profit on each fee Submittable collects from a writer. Note in the excerpt I provided above how Alaska Quarterly Review editor Ronald Spatz admits that opening their one-month submission window from a single month to an entire year “would be getting lots of revenue,” which AQR (and every literary journal) needs, but that it would also be “unethical” because the journal’s resources would not be capable of handling the flood of submissions they would receive.

What I saw yesterday in my unfiltered markets search was concerning in multiple ways. For one, what if a particular journal is not quite as ethical as most because the money flow is too sweet to pass up? I mean, rejecting submissions is just too easy. Are there safeguards against this?

And what of these new developments that prey on eager writers who often endure six months to a year of waiting for responses, making them particularly vulnerable? Now we’re seeing journals that are offer “quick responses” within a week, a few days, or even 24 hours. This, of course, for a higher fee.

For instance, I saw one asking for $10 in exchange for a response within a week. Again, this is all too easy to do with a boilerplate rejection note and jumps the journal’s profits (not to mention Submittable’s) handsomely.

Also on the uptick is pay-for-feedback. Prices for feedback go even higher, but there are no guarantees on either the amount of feedback or the quality of the feedback. And again, if the journal’s resources are sorely tested by the transom (and most are), wouldn’t it follow logically that the feedback, in many cases, would be brief, generic, and/or of a cut-and-paste variety, given that similar critiques can often be used for many poets?

It would, I think, which is why I advise writers to be more wary than ever about the mounting costs of their impatience. Stick with reputable fee-based journals that you trust or, better yet, avoid fee-based markets altogether.

Why? Because the quantitative costs of entry fees, contest fees, rapid-response fees, and feedback fees can lead wannabe writers (especially newer writers still heavy on the “wannabe” part) to financial ruin. In a hurry. And that’s just not right, even in these times when “right” is decidedly out of fashion.

Writer / Readers Can Reject Journals, Too

reject

For writers, rejections sting, but let’s think about it. As readers, writers are in the position to reject as well.

Writers often get rejections from editors that read something like this:”We are sorry we are not accepting your work as it is not a good fit for our journal. This is by no means a judgment of your work, however, and we wish you well in placing it elsewhere.”

We know from research that the reader-writer transaction is an equal one. Readers need writers. Writers need readers.

And so it is that readers who subscribe to journals have an equal right to say goodbye to a subscription—not because the journal’s content is bad or even suspect, but simply because the reader doesn’t feel his or her tastes are a match with the editor’s selections.

That said, there is one way readers and writers are not equal. Readers are not necessarily writers, but writers are necessarily readers. Call them writer / readers, a substantial part of every magazine’s subscription rolls.

To complete the logic, then, writer / readers who subscribe to literary magazines might find themselves not renewing (the equivalent of rejecting) a journal by saying, in so many words, “I am sorry I cannot read your journal any more as much of the work you print is not a good fit with my tastes. This is by no means a judgment of your journal, however, and I wish you well in selling subscriptions to others.”

Of course, editors don’t get that message unless a lot of subscribers sign off. Still, for writer / readers, the message is empowering. Rejection, fairly done, is a two-way street. And just as the sun will rise in the east, there are other literary magazines with editorial decisions more closely aligned with your tastes.

All this came to mind as I decided, after two years, that I don’t really enjoy the poetry journal I’ve been receiving in the mail. Yes, I’ve submitted work to them, but it really made no sense to do so.

After all, if I don’t care for the editorial team’s tastes as a reader, what makes me think they will care for my poetry as a writer?

I know, I know. Writers aren’t the most logical of creatures. They can even get delusional at times. But give us the benefit of the doubt. We’ll think it through and eventually come to our senses—as writers and readers both.