Monday, August 16, 2010

Bragging Rights and Submission Strategies

So I'm not usually a good judge of my own abilities. It does not matter how well I've done before. Past experiences with success are often not satisfactory enough for my brain to accept that I might be good at something. "I succeeded before, but this time I might not!" my brain will shout. I tend to seek validation from outside sources to gauge my own success. Because of this, I tend to avoid bragging.

That's why I don't have too much of a problem discussing my own recent successes in getting published. This past week, I received acceptances of six poems from four different journals. Some of these poems I was sitting on because they were up for consideration at another journal I'd really like to see my work in. When that didn't work out, I sent them out to a number of journals and within a couple weeks I was hearing back. Here is what's been accepted and where:

dotdotdash - "From Scratch"
Pear Noir! - "Dear Outer Space"
OVS Magazine - "Blame" & Upon Realizing I Am Filled With One Million Poems"
Radioactive Moat - "On Rainy Nights I Dream I Am Pregnant" & "upon realizing men could see through my white skirt"

This is highly unusual based on what I've heard from other writers. It's also unusual based on my own past experiences. I have been occasionally submitting work since 2008, but I ramped up to submitting very aggressively in December 2009. I sent a ton of work out this summer. My first publication will be out this fall at Coal Hill Review, along with the others I've listed above.

With the competitiveness of the writing field, I've begun to approach submissions in a very practical, business-like manner. I got great advice from a former professor of mine at Chatham, Aubrey Hirsch. She primarily writes fiction, but has been successful in publishing nonfiction and poetry as well. When she has a story to submit, she keeps it out at five places at all times. If she gets a rejection, she tries somewhere else. No harm, no foul. It wasn't the right market. My feelings are rarely hurt anymore when I get a rejection. Aubrey also gave me advice about continuing to edit a piece, even after it's been submitted. Why not? If a journal accepts a previous version, well, great! I currently have at least 25 poems I'm trying to publish, so I've got about that many submissions out right now. I always appreciate a journal that accepts simultaneous submissions.

Other strategies I've picked up on my own is researching journals and targeting submissions, as well as tracking all my submissions and journal reading periods on an elaborate Excel spreadsheet. I did not set out for it to be so elaborate, but now I've got five worksheets for different kinds of information. Current submissions, Online, Postal, Contests and Responses. Each of those track which poems or stories I've sent where and also additional info about the journal, like their reading period dates, mode of submission, and contact info. I've also begun to research the various "tiers" of publications. I've found a few good lists that rank journals and now I've got a 1-5 ranking system. Soon I will begin to submit work in a system I've yet to develop based on these rankings. So far I've submitted (by accident) to ranks 4 & 5 and unranked journals. I've received personal rejections from two tier 5 journals, both encouraging me to resubmit. That's hopeful!

What I can't decide is, should I submit my work to the top tier journals first and then, as the rejections roll in (as they surely will), move down the list? Or should I submit to all levels simultaneously? Some people begin at the lesser competitive (but still competitive) markets first, gain a certain number of acceptances at that level, and then move to the next tier. But this seems like it will take more time. Why not try for the more competitive markets right away? Maybe you'll get lucky.

While this outside recognition of my work is nice, I can definitely see why it's happening. Looking back at the work I was sending out a couple years ago, I can see why the poems were not getting published. They weren't ready. The work I've created more recently is far better. I'm glad I am more capable of judging the quality of my writing. It sure does make the editing process a lot easier. Also, my skills as an editor have helped me with things like not feeling overwhelmed by submissions guidelines or being afraid of asking editors questions. I guess this is what confidence feels like. It's a strange, unfamiliar feeling. I hope I can hang on to it for a while.
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