Submissions: My Process
Recently, a friend asked me for some advice when it comes to submitting poems to literary journals. I've been at this for awhile now, and my "process" for submitting poetry to literary journals has changed over the years, mainly because of the different goals I have for submitting and the different tools available to me. I thought it might be useful to describe my process here, and perhaps end with some advice for someone feeling overwhelmed or lost in this crazy process.
I think the first thing you want to ask yourself when you start submitting to literary journals is WHY? What is your goal from this process? That will likely steer your efforts in the right direction. For me, submitting work is of course about finding readers, but it's also about gaining recognition in the writing communities I see my work contributing to, including feminist poetry, formal poetry, and Texas poetry. Also, let's be honest, I do it, too, for the C.V.
Now, how do I find appropriate venues? I look for a few things in a potential literary journal. First and foremost, the journals I submit to I have to admire. I've learned the hard way that sometimes you submit to a journal and then all of the sudden you're not exactly proud to be in there. I don't mean to sound like a snot, but you want to submit to the places the poets you admire submit to. You want your poems to be presented alongside work you love. Usually, the only way to find these journals is to 1. read a lot of literary journals and 2. read a lot of poetry books and check out the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS page to see where they publish.
Other than the subjective, what makes a "good" journal? I look for the following criteria:
1. Is it affiliated with a university? Again, I know, I sound like a snob, but as an academic, for me, it's helpful to publish in journals that are affiliated with a university. I don't exclusively submit to university journals, obviously, but I do try to seek them out.
2. Does it have its own website? I don't like submitting to journals that are .wordpress.com or .wix.com or .weebly.com. Domain names aren't terribly expensive, and it shows that the publisher is at least a little committed to their publication.
3. Does a journal charge submission fees? Ok, this one is a bit controversial. I'm a cheapskate. I don't mind journals that require a subscription to submit (totally reasonable), journals that offer a tip jar or critique option (cool), or journals that have contests with prize money (makes sense). But for the most part, I don't pay to play. And it's not because I can't afford it like I know many writers legitimately can't. I have a decent job and am middle class. But I'm cheap, ok? And it feels ucky. I'll bite the bullet and do it once in awhile, especially if it's a journal with a special focus or reason. I occasionally enter contests I believe in, too. And I buy lots of poetry books -- I have two bookshelves full of literary journals and poetry books/anthologies in my office, so I do contribute, but I don't like being told I have to by some snot-nosed journal. Maybe I'm an old fart, but I remember a time when submission fees WEREN'T a thing. Those were the days!
4. Does the journal nominate for Pushcart, Best American Poetry, Best of the Net, etc? Always nice. It's on my bucket list to have a poem in one of these publications, so you know, I like to up my chances by submitting to journals that nominate to improve my chances.
5. Who READS the journal? I try to submit to journals and produced by communities I'd like to become a part of.
In terms of how I find the good journals, I have a few places I look:
1. I keep up to date on the Pushcart Prize Rankings list put out each year by Clifford Stang on Perpetual Folly. In fact, I'll go down that list and browse each of the journals throughout the year, sending to the ones that don't charge fees. These journals just have a good track record for the most part, so I feel good submititng there.
2. I look in my women's writing group for calls. I'm a part of a super secret women's writing group on Facebook that often lists calls. If a member of this group edits or works for a journal, I try to send work that way to keep it in the sisterhood. These journals also tend to have a feminist bent to them, which of course works for me.
3. I submit to Texas journals. I'm a Texas girl. I'm trying to establish myself as a Texas poet. I like when other Texas poets read and think about my work. So sue me.
4. I subscribe to Allison Joseph's Creative Writing Opportunities List on Yahoo and keep an eye out for interesting calls.
5. I lurk Eratosphere to see where my fellow formalists are submitting/publishing and send stuff there, too.
For the most part, this gives me enough to work with. It can be a bit tricky. I used to use Duotrope obsessively, but now I feel like I don't need it so much anymore because I have a general understanding of the literary landscape.
I try to submit year-round. Try. My goal is always to get out two packets a week, though as an academic, I'm much better at this during the summer months. I don't beat myself up if I don't make that goal during the semester or when life happens. Also, I'll only submit to a particular journal once per year, maybe twice if I really love them. I don't want to flood their inboxes, and plus, this encourages me to try new publications.
In terms of WHAT to submit, I "batch" my submissions by the project I'm working on. When I finish a book, I'll get more aggressive about placing the poems in that book before its publication. Right now, I'm doing just that and leaving the "new" poems I'm writing in waiting.
As a writer, my focus is, as it should be, on writing. I submit when my brain gets too fuzzy to write or if I don't have enough time to hammer out a poem. Usually, I spit submissions out in the evening because it's a bit more mindless and easy to do while watching t.v or lounging with the cats.
So what advice would I give a poet just starting out? First of all, know that the writing is what comes first. Submitting is just a small part of the process and should not occupy the majority of your time, energy, or thought process. So don't drive yourself crazy with it.
Read a lot of literary journals to develop a sense of the literary landscape. Lots are free online, so that makes your life easy.
Find out where your friends/superheros are publishing and aim there.
Expect rejection and don't let it get to you. That part's hard, I know.
KEEP CAREFUL TRACK OF YOUR SUBMISSIONS. Especially if you sim sub. I sim sub and use an excel sheet. In my ten or so years doing this, I haven't screwed up a sim sub yet, and I hope not to.
Just do it. Submit your damn poems to the damn journals. Don't overthink it. As long as you're following the submission guidelines, you're good.
So there you have it! How I submit and manage the craziness that is trying to get published. It's a lot of work, but also, it's really rewarding. And there's a sick side of me that actually enjoys counting the numbers, looking at my stats, and watching my individual poems get placed.