11 posts

Random Thoughts on Another Mother’s Day in May

  • It’s Mother’s Day (don’t forget the apostrophe). Have you called your mother yet? If you have siblings, you should aim to be the first because delays are like weeds. Some people never get out of them.
  • This post is a 4-minute read. I heard you’re supposed to put that up front on everything busy people read these days, but I’m late. It took you six seconds to get this far, by the way.
  • Why do people have such little patience for reading but endless patience for the internet and TV? When you log on to the internet, do you see a page that warns you “6 hours” before you get lost clicking here, there, and everywhere?
  • Finally, some 70-degree (Fahrenheit) weather has found Maine. Every year, Maine is in fair Mr. Fahrenheit’s mostly lost and rarely found bin.
  • Speaking of lost, non-Americans may wonder how we not only lost Celsius but the metric system.
  • 70-degree weather can only mean pine pollen will soon cast a yellow pall over anything outside (or inside, should you leave the windows open).
  • Want to impress your kids? Watch a streaming movie they’d never guess you would on TV (any zombie movie will do), then tell them you actually liked it. They love to box and package your take on the world, so any unwrapping you can do is always fun.
  • Nota bene: If you do the above, be prepared for many more recommendations on what to watch.
  • Spring of 2023 and already we’re seeing too much politics related to 2024. As if we’d recovered from 2020! No, no, and no.
  • I love how people can get logical about President Biden’s age and the dangers of his running for office again but NOT get logical about the dangers of a psychopathic, sociopathic narcissist (among other things) running for office again. Remember selective hearing? This is selective logic.
  • How many outstanding poetry submissions is too many outstanding poetry submissions?
  • Better question: How long should a poetry submission be outstanding (read: “In Progress”) on Submittable? Slow progress. That’s the motto for understaffed, overtaxed poetry staffs.
  • I love it when you pay a $3 reading fee for a journal that never gets back to you. Literally never, I mean. After a year you query and they never get back to you. After 18 months you query and they never get back to you. So you use email vs. Submittable’s message system, but they never get back to you. Meanwhile, they’ve opened up new submissions reading periods as a means of collecting more reading fees (or, as they call them, “Ka-Ching! fees). I recently had this experience with the Southampton Review. What’s Latin for “Let the Submitter Beware”? It should be on the Submissions page of outfits like this.
  • Did you call your mother yet?
  • Speaking of matters maternal (and maternal always matters, let me tell you), it’s interesting that States-side we say “Mom” and Over the Pond-side they say “Mum.” I’ll keep mum on my opinion on that because Mom jokes (and Mum jokes) are not allowed on an upstanding website like this.
  • Am I the only one bewildered by all the streaming costs out there in TV-land? If only we could choose á la carte what channels we want, because most of these cable and streaming services are top-heavy with channels we never look at (or have reason to).
  • I’ve learned the hard way, too, that the channels you DO want are almost never ALL included under one umbrella. Instead, you’d have to pay for “plus” this and “plus” that. Interesting that anything with a “+” sign after it’s name will often lead to a “-” sign on your savings account’s activity log. (I think we’re back to “Ka-Ching Nation” now, further proof that we are indeed a Corporatocracy).
  • Why are you still reading this? You should be talking to your mother!
  • Walking the beach, I’m amazed at how many dogs are well-behaved and stay by their owner’s side instead of charging after people and other dogs like all of my dogs of the past used to. Wow, I say to myself. I wonder if this dog, at its home, actually stays off the furniture and out of its owner’s bed, too.
  • Dogs on the floor used to be “the way” in olden times, but now, in a world where dogs and cats have superseded humans in status, it’s rare indeed.
  • Your mother, if you were talking to her now, would warn you about all that pet hair in your sheets and on your pillow.
  • I like how POETRY the august (even in May) poetry journal has come under new leadership that does tributes to certain authors in each issue. They typically include a bunch of their poems as part of the tribute, too. Usually they’re under the radar poets that we should know better. In a world where a lot of us don’t know better, that’s a good thing.
  • If you write a poem and it falls in the wilderness, does it make a noise?
  • While you have her on the line, ask your mother. Guaranteed she’ll have an answer.

Submittable Q & A

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


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).”


Ben Franklin trying not to be Poor Richard

When Rejection Really Isn’t Rejection

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


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.

Growing Reading Fees Cause for Concern


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.

The Pesky Business Side to Writing


The trickiest thing about writing for money is the most obvious one: there’s an artistic side and a business side.

What’s tricky about that? Few writers are accomplished at both. Some generate all manner of writing, often very good, but fail because they market themselves poorly or send to the wrong markets.

Then we have writers who are sharp on the marketing strategy, but the goods aren’t high enough in quality for editors to commit.

It used to be that writers had to keep track of expenses like paper, envelopes, and stamps. Remember the SASE? How your own handwriting came back to greet you in the mailbox? Seems forever ago, doesn’t it?

Nowadays, those lacking on the business side have two main issues. First, they do not have the patience to research. On submissions pages of most magazines, editors practically beg writers to first read work they have already accepted, but the anxious writers either give the content a cursory glance or none at all.

The point of this research? For a writer, there are two. First, do you as a writer like the editor’s tastes? Second, do you as a writer feel your work is a good fit with this magazine? Would you be proud to see your words under its banner?

The second fault has a lot to do with Submittable. While the go-between site has become a Godsend of sorts for both journals and writers, it is not without its problems. It is, for instance, so convenient and easy that writers tend to rely on it too much. They over-submit. They submit before their work is fully cooked and ready for serving.

Then there’s the money thing. More and more we see fee-based reading. There are any number of reasons (or excuses, if you are opposed) for these fees, usually averaging $3 per submission.

Still, few writers bother to track these expenses. If they did, it might give them pause. The old-fashioned term “nickel and dime-ing someone” means that what appears small actually becomes large over time.

Would writers, looking at their yearly total in reading fees compared to acceptances, be so bowled over by the lopsided ratio that they might switch their allegiance to no-fee markets only? It depends on the writer and said writer’s wallet, I guess. When Submittable has your credit card or Paypal on file, it’s all-too-easy to click submit and not think twice. It’s the old delusion: If you can’t see it, it’s not happening.

Then we have the siren call of contests. Now we’re talking $20, $30, and $40 a hit. Writers need to ask themselves: “Am I willing to pay this kind of money? Is my work really that polished? Is it truly ready to go up against the incredible competition it is surely about to meet? And do I have honest friends and fellow writers who have read my work and agreed that it is, indeed, equipped to compete against other, very talented writers who have done their homework and put in the time to get their work as ready as it can be?”

Sometimes the money just evaporates because writers are kidding themselves. Granted, a little of that is necessary to win contests—dreaming big, I mean—but how many works go out before they’re ready for prime time? And what would the authors say if they saw the total damages of both reading fees, which bring magazines a profit even after paying Submittable, and contest fees across the span of a year?

That’s all business, which many writers find unpleasant and so adopt the ostrich strategy of heads-in-sand-and-carry-on.

Reconsider that! Work on both your artistic side and your business side this year. They are of equal importance because, frankly, if you want to be paid for your work (and you should be because it is work), then you have to be both diligent and savvy about it. And if you are falling behind in other financial areas of your life while rolling up the submission fees in the artistic aspect of your life, you might need to reconsider your strategy.

There are other options. It does not have to be so expensive over time.


The Siren Call of Submittable: Part 2


Yesterday I wrote at length (for me) about ways Submittable has shifted the playing field for writers and literary magazines alike. Today: How Submittable fosters bad writer habits.

For literary magazines, Submittable giveth (to the bottom line, as magazines keep 62% of reading-fee proceeds) and it taketh away (the ability to staff readers who can keep up with the onslaught of submissions).

And for writers, Submittable giveth and taketh away, too. The “giveth” is convenience and record-keeping and making more markets financially-healthy to send to. The “taketh away”? Mounting costs (what writer keeps track?) from the aggregate hits these submissions make on our savings over time. And competition. Lots and lots of competition. Easy for you is easy for everybody. Eventually the odds begin to look like lottery ticket wins: steeper than steep.

But what I want to wax eloquent on today is Submitta-Mania (a disease caused by the ease of Submittable’s portals). Why are writers of all stripes ability-wise in this headlong rush to get published, ipso fasto. By yesterday, if possible?

There’s the easy answer: affirmation. Hidden in every writer (maybe even the established and famous ones) is a dark voice that says things like “Do I suck?” and “Was that acceptance the exception?” and “Am I capable of doing it again?”

Self-doubt, as we know, is one of the Four Riders of the Apocalypse.

But I attribute the rush to submit to social media as well. It’s the cocaine candy of our times.

Think about it: What makes people constantly check their phones? Why do people crave “likes” on Facebook? Why do egos on Twitter want way more followers than those they follow? Ego, ego, ego. The relentless need to trick yourself into the notion that you are somebody. Not only somebody, but somebody “big.” A player.

Oh, yeah. What fools these mortals be, and all that.

This leads me to the theory that writing for publication, and better yet for paying publication, is part of the drive to submit. Technology feeds short attention spans, which come not only in the form of what we’ll read and for how long, but in what we’ll revise and for how long. The result? We pony up the poetry and click submit, sometimes at $3 a hit, far sooner than we should.

Do you like me, pretty please? the submission wants to know. Ah, no, the first intern says while checking his phone mid-your poem. Thus your precious poetry fails to come within a statute mile of its target editor. And thus it returns like a bad penny in your inbox.

By now you know where this is going. Self-discipline is more important than ever. Writers are part of the problem when they ship poetry only written in the last 60 days to The New Yorker (response time: one year) and Tin House (one year and umpty-eight weeks).

Instead, think “we will sell no wine before its time.” Or, if you’re hosting Thanksgiving in a few weeks, this: Would you take the turkey out halfway through its roasting time and put it on a platter before your guests? (Yes, this makes a big turkey of your poem.)

How about this: Would you put on half  your clothes before going out to work?

Does this work?: Would you paint half your house and look at that side only with admiration for a month or two?

The stuff we write is mischievous as hell. It is a shape shifter par excellence. It beguiles and flatters like an illusion in the desert. Trust it as far as you can throw it. And if it says “no” to further revision, you say “yes,” most likely after you’ve sent it to its room for a month or four. Seeing it again after 120 days will change everything. Everything.

And that, my friends, can’t help but be all for the better. Not only for your art and pride, but for your nickel-and-dimed bottom line.

What Submittable Has Done To Us

A most interesting article appears in the Nov./Dec. issue of Poets & Writers. It’s called (and pay attention to the subtitle!) “Diving Into the Digital Slush Pile: How Online Submissions Are Changing Lit Mags (And Your Chances of Publication).”

Let’s take a time out before we dive in, shall we? Any writer submitting to lit mags already knows that this isn’t Kansas anymore. For one, most every writer north of Honduras knows that Submittable is addictive for both editors and writers. And if you live south of Saskatchewan, you’ve probably figured out that this thing called “a reading fee” is making itself comfortable like a guest staying past three days.

But what does it all mean? Two things, it appears. One, Submittable is hurting writers’ bottom line while helping magazines’. And two, the easier it gets for everyone (and their sister) to submit, the harder it gets to land an acceptance. In other words, change is not always a good thing.

Still, as the article attests, when you factor in all the costs of snail mail (postage, materials, and that vanishing commodity called time), reading fees might be a deal. Why, then, a dozen submissions later, does one feel like George Washington after his doctor has bled him (again)?

Holdout magazines like Alaska Quarterly Magazine and Antioch Review (editors of both interviewed here) are feeling the heat, too. AQR‘s Ronald Spatz admits that he might be missing cutting-edge  (read: “young, up-and-coming”) writers by sticking with snail mail. So he did an experiment. He played Submittable’s game for a month in Sept. of 2017.

What happened? “In that time [Spatz] expected to receive three hundred to four hundred manuscripts over the digital transom. Instead he received 1,190—on top of the paper submissions that were still arriving via postal mail.”

This is where holy meets Toledo, folks.

The whole experiment might have led Spatz to change AQR‘s policy for good and go all-in for digital, but he resisted for a wonderful reason: “He believes it’s unethical to invite the deluge of manuscripts he would get online until he has enough staff to read all of them in a timely manner.”

Which can only mean that some lit mags are soldiering on under impossible conditions: too many manuscripts, too few readers, too long a response time. Why would they do such a thing? In the language of that plutocracy we call “U.S.A.”: m-o-n-e-y.

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].'”

Meanwhile, John Fogarty, editor of the Antioch Review, has other solutions to the never-rest Everest Submittable creates.  He’s considering a policy of directly soliciting work from a small group of established writers Antioch has already worked with. “The volume is so large that it is almost impossible to manage at this point,” he says.

If you as a writer think the penny ante-financial drain of regular submission fees is rough, consider the fees charged for increasingly-popular contests. $25, $30, $35. While these might not be salad days for lit mags, there is a discernible uptick in their bottom lines, as they can now use writers’ money to pay off judges and readers of the hopeful writers’ wares.

The conclusion seems to be clear: In its innocent way, Submittable might be hurting your chances of publication. After all, convenience equals congestion equals competition at previously unprecedented levels.

Solutions? You can continue to patronize those magazines that shun reading fees, for one. Or, as the article suggests, you can take a chill pill. Read the magazines you submit to first. Narrow down the periodicals you’d like to be a part of and submit to them and them alone. Stop carpet-bombing!

What’s more, the article wonders, what’s this rush to publication all about anyway? Many writers are rushing works to markets before they’re even ready, just adding to the problem. Wait! Get feedback from fellow writers! Let it cook for a year! Then submit to a small group of magazines—ones you personally love.

If that sounds an awful lot like self-discipline, something people are not very good at, you’re right. Still, it’s advice worth trying. We are in a brave new world here, one where more and more writers are paying more and more money for someone to tell them their writing sucks.

Or, in some cases, one where more and more writers are paying for some front-line intern to skim and reject their work because, well, said intern has such a mountainous pile to scale that he or she is not going to bother giving every single piece a fair reading. Rather, it’s check the box. Caught up. Done. Next?

If that sounds unfair, you need only be reminded that digital life, like life itself, is unfair. As for literary magazines, they want to be fair and they’re doing their best, but injustices will happen. It’s all collateral damage, after all. At a $1.86-a-pop profit, Submittable’s way is here to stay, and everyone has to adjust appropriately.

What? Over-Submitting?


Most writers are fond of proclaiming their devotion to the craft (ahem) of writing and by saying this explains their lack of discipline in marketing their work. Fair enough. These are two different skills, no doubt from two different hemispheres of the brain: Samarkand has a goal of submitting work to ten markets today, while Asunción wants to write art for art’s sake (how noble… and lonely)!

Over the course of my development as a writer, I’ve worked hard to develop the Uzbekistan side of the tracks. I have a special Word document of markets divided into two categories: Submissions by Poetry Journals and Submissions by Poem Title.

Using the “Table” function, I created rows for “Date Sent,” “Title(s),” “Accepted or Rejected,” and “Expected Publication Date.” It’s been a lifesaver.

Why? Because you can become an over-submitter. Yes, the web site called Submittable can be a life-saver, but not all submissions go through that growing monopoly and the growing $3 “not-a-reading-fee” fees participating journals often engage in there. Many journals have their own submission managers, some still use trusty attachments to e-mails, and then, stubbornly in the corner, we have the hold-outs who still insist on good-old postal submissions with self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASES). I mark these special cases with an asterisk in the “Date Sent” column.

The tricky part comes when your poems get accepted. The more simultaneous submissions you have, the bigger pain it becomes to notify all parties. As Ben Franklin (or was it Mark Twain?) once said: “Simultaneous submissions giveth, and simultaneous submissions taketh away.”

The Submittable markets are easiest to alert because you can simply add a note on that site to inform the editors they have one less masterpiece to choose from. Beyond that, you’re often looking up e-mails of editors and/or special instructions on the web pages of all of the other journals submitted to.

One adjustment I might make, then, is adding “Contact Info” to any market that does not use Submittable. This way my Word document will help me to expedite obligations to other editors considering the “sold” poem.

Should there be set limits on how many markets any one poem is courting at any given moment? That’s a personal call. Right now my most marketed poem is waiting in the editorial offices of ten different journals. It’s a sign of my own confidence in the poem, my own incredulity that it hasn’t been snapped up yet.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s my baby. We all play favorites, and as any parent can tell you, when you play favorites, you necessarily overlook flaws.

Whatever the method, you need to have one. You need balance between your artist persona and your business persona. As to the question of over-marketing work? That depends on your ledger-keeping prowess. If you can manage 25 markets-per-poem, more power to you.

Just remember, if the same poem is rejected by dozens of markets over time, haul it into the body shop for some work, maybe. Or face reality. Acknowledge samsara and set it free….