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.