Last updated on January 6, 2020
Submitting poems to journals is an arduous process, and apparently my way of implementing it makes it more so. I have a personality defect which makes me sometimes take things too seriously, and sometimes not seriously enough, (but that will be the subject of another post). So everything takes a little longer as I consider, evaluate, reflect, reassess, grumble, consider again, and eventually come to a resolution. Or not.
The advent of the paperless world has made submitting poems easier, though electronic vehicles come with their own challenges, as you know. Mostly, though, it’s easier.
In the old days I had to stuff envelopes and mail them out, a more arduous task than it might sound to those whippersnappers who have only been on the receiving end of an envelope.
The first step in submitting work was to research journals that might be a fit for my work. In the 1990s, when I began to seriously engage the mechanics of publication, I consulted a three-inch thick directory of little magazines and small presses called The Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses. When I found some I thought sounded interesting, either because of their titles or subject matter (various indices indicated each), if I were responsible I visited the local Borders or independent bookstores (neither of which exist in the Rochester area any more, except Greenwood Books in Rochester and Lift Bridge books in Brockport), or tried to find them in a library (sometimes I was able to locate a few in the Rochester downtown branch or, rarely, at the University of Rochester). If I were less responsible, I just shot in the dark (against my nature, at least the greater part of it).
Having narrowed the field one way or the other, I compiled 3-5 poems in Word document batches according to style or content. Then, usually during school vacations, I filled our large dining room table with the printed-out batches, placed cover letters atop them, folded SASEs for responses and return of manuscripts, and then stuffed stamped envelopes with the lot, and hauled the bundle to the post office.
A few months later the rejections rolled in, and I would repeat the process over the next school break. My wife told me she had heard of a poet who kept his batches in a cubby he had inherited from a local post office, and as soon as a rejection came in sent out a new batch, but I never got that organized. In those days, few journals accepted simultaneous submissions, so the cycle was slow.
As those of you know, now the process is much easier. Go to the website of the journal you hope will be interested in your work, read a few sample poems to see if it is a good fit, click the “Submit” link, and upload your work. Most sites have some kind of submission manager, such as Submittable, to help you keep track of your submissions.
Some use the Ur-submission manager, Devin Emke’s “Submission Manager,” that all presses accepting work online used to use, and that now only a few, such as Cider Press Review, still do. Maybe they’ve invested too many of their few dollars and precious time to move over to Submittable, which most journals use, or maybe they’re just very nostalgic.
Some, such as Diode, still accept work only through email. And some very respectable journals, such as The Southern Review, still rely on the post office, which probably narrows the field to those who are really serious — or who can’t deal with the computer.
Though the process is easier, it doesn’t necessarily mean one’s chances of getting a poem or story published is much greater. There’s a proliferation of online poetry journals, and more people seeking publication for poetry than fifty years ago. Presumably the same problem exists now as did then: more people writing poetry than reading it, but at least online publishing makes it easier for people to access creative work, as noted in Stephanie Burt’s 2015 article in the New Yorker, “The Persistence of Lit Mags.”
Regardless of success, I don’t write to get published. Several times in my life I’ve given up on trying to get in print, but after a few depressed weeks of not writing, picked up my fountain pen again and started. Not to get published, but just because I couldn’t help it. Of course, being back in the saddle riding towards publication does put a happy pressure on what I write — or at least what I choose to revise — to be clearer, wiser, funnier, and altogether more effective as a writer than if I were just fiddling with my navel in a journal.
Wish me luck.