Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pro Tips: Submission

When I started submitting work in ernest, shortly after starting my MFA program, I presumed that everyone else was doing it. Man, I must sound like such a follower, saying that after admitting I went to a male strip show because "everyone else was doing it," but I swear I'm not. In the case of school, I'm competitive. I knew my work was at least as good as the work of my classmates, and if they were brave enough to send out stories, I should be too. Turns out though, I was talking to a precious few who regularly send out work. Since I started submitting, I've met more classmates who have yet to send out anything than those who have been published. So, in the interest of budding writers everywhere, tips for submitting. Notice I did not say, "Tips for Getting Published." I've only had one story accepted so far. But I've submitted plenty. It's not scary. It's actually exhilarating, in a way.

1. Sign up for Duotrope. Not only can you track all of your submissions using this site, but you can also find markets, see how long it takes for them to respond, and see how your brethren are doing (that rejection from the New Yorker stings a little less when you see that they only accept 0.00% of submissions (of course, Duotrope is careful to point out that no magazine has 0% acceptance, but I suspect the New Yorker is able to simply ask anyone they like for work).

2. Make your own spreadsheet too. Duotrope is awesome. I'm not denying that. But so is my own spreadsheet. I have fields for when I submitted, to where, which story, estimated response time, notes (invited to resubmit, contest), acceptance/rejection, and date I heard back. I like seeing at a glance who asked me to send more work and who sent me a blank piece of paper as a rejection (true story). You can make whatever fields you like in your own spreadsheet. Duotrope is especially useful for seeing if it's okay to pester a magazine about your submission, but it doesn't include a field for whether something was a contest, or what your username and password is for the magazine's site.

3. Make your list. That's right, your list. Decide which magazines you most want to see your work in, and submit there first. Not the place where you think your work could fit, not the places you think would take it, but your personal end of the rainbow. The places where, as you send, you think, "Yeah, right." It only takes one reader to believe in you. Take that chance. Submit to the New Yorker or the Paris Review, or the Atlantic Monthly. And when if they all reject your work...

4. Go to your 2nd tier. Set up tiers of submission. I use groups of five. "Yeah right." "As if." "Maybe." "Definitely possible." "Probably." "For sure." "Revise." I heard about one author who, after receiving seven rejections, decides a revision is necessary. What I learned from this is that you can use rejections as a workshop-like tool. Before you submit your way down to Shovel Enthusiast Quarterly, consider that maybe the story needs a little extra something.

5. Grow a Thick Skin. And I mean rhino thick. Elephant thick. T-Rex Thick. You are going to get rejected hundreds of times. Literally. Hundreds. You have to believe in your heart that is okay. Someone, someday, is going to read your work and love it. They're going to believe in it. They're going to ask you for more. It's going to happen. It only takes one person. Keep going. Keep trying. Don't stop.


  1. The idea of "regularly sending out work" is so foreign to me. I have a batch that I liked after undergrad that I've since given up on, and I've been working on basically the same 5 stories all through grad school so far (and I knew I wanted to keep them that long, as my thesis, from the beginning).

    It'll be weird trying to find some submission cycle that works after graduation.

    In the meantime I'll just have to keep telling myself that since I'll maybe -eventually- be published, that my opinions on peoples work has some merit. That's the only "competitive grad school" mindset thing that's gotten to me so far.

  2. I use Duotrope too, but now I'm off to Excel. Those frigging passwords and user names KILL me when you have so submit direct to site. Fields for recording them on a spreadsheet is brilliant. I even have my grocery list in spreadsheet format, how did I not think of that??