T.C. Porter Submits
For literary writers and poets, May 30 is a Tax Day of sorts, a time when literary journals (1) conspire against us, or, depending on how you see it, (2) assist our procrastinating natures by providing a consolidated day of last-minute revising and submishmashing, sure to put a damper on any writer’s otherwise cerebral visit to parallel universe of one’s choosing. It’s a day when many journals close submissions for the summer. It might sound easy enough to upload a short story, but here are the actual submission guidelines of a respected journal:
Hal Incandenza Magazine invites works of fiction, creative non fiction, poetry and book reviews sent between 3:43 PST, October 3, 2011, and half past midnight (MST) tonight; except for those who have already submitted since October 3, unless you have been expressly declined, in which case you may submit another work, but only if invited by us in your first rejection letter. Update: never-mind the book reviews, those are closed; and, let’s see … we no longer accept unsolicited CNF. … Fiction should be between 2,293 and 7,422 words, but > 6 and < 29 pages [formatted at 11.5 sans serif font, double spaced, with margins of 1.2 inches, and your name, address, gmail (sorry, ymail and others are not accepted at this time) and phone number in the upper right corner of the cover page, but nowhere else in the document, or we will not read the document, nor will we return it; number your pages, in the bottom margins, but not page one; click here for complete formatting guidelines]. For poetry …
As if one journal’s instructions were not enough, consider that each journal has slightly different guidelines. Submitting a short story to nine publications can pretty much wipe out the day. No more than one journal can accept the work, and it wouldn’t be unusual for none to accept – one journal writes, “we accept less than one percent of submissions” – and the payment, in most cases, is negligible.
I begin to realize why, last summer, my first workshop teachers basically encouraged me not to get into the writing business, regardless of talent (or lack thereof). After my most recent workshop, another teacher said: “There’s a hell of a lot of rejection in this business, and it’s become more obvious over time that getting published really has more to do with persistence than talent.”
So there I have a recipe for success. Persistence. It’s time to get used to thick skin. Get punched and say, “Thank you, sir. May I have another?”
Once capable of handling rejections, a writer finds reward. Playing the journal game is its own pleasure. Whatever the inconveniences and long odds (of the business in general, and journal submission in particular) it’s a game you should want to play, assuming you are a writer, and why else would you be reading this? (Hi, Mom.) Writing is a solitary activity, but we write to be read, and that makes it an essential paradox. Complication ripples from the core and touches every aspect of the business. Accept this, celebrate this, and then enjoy the wild ride.
The journals are an entry point from the world of solitary confinement to the world of readership. Sure, the vast majority of Americans do not read the journals, but the people who matter in literary fiction and poetry do read the journals – and write for them, and edit them. For many of us, the journals are a first step, a pre-requisite for MFA programs, residencies, book deals, world tours, political domination, fame and fortune and status as Utmost Lord of All. (Well, maybe not all that.) Playing the journal game might not be the route taken by Shakespeare, but it is the way things work today (if you are in literary fiction, poetry and, to lesser degree, creative non-fiction).
Lest you think this game of journal submissions is a means to an end, consider a different way. To me the writing is good enough, and so is the game. There’s no bigger charge than spinning an enduring sentence, concocting a metaphor that speaks a library of propositions; and engaging with the literary world – i.e., the editors, publishers and readers of the journals – is an outer corollary to that introverted artistry of writing.
Not that I know what I’m talking about. This is my first run at the game. Maybe it’s the newness that is so exciting this time around. But there have been enough pleasantries along the way to make up for the work, the time – and the rejections.
My first batch of submissions went out to several journals in December. Meanwhile, I ordered a few journals, and some of the magazines sent issues whenever I entered a contest. I find myself eagerly opening the mailbox, hoping for something new. I have been presently surprised by the quality of work being published. Too often, the compilations – Best American Short Stories and such – seem well suited to whoever compiled the work, but not so exciting for me. In receiving a broader assortment of work, with more to choose, I discover a whole new crowd of to appreciate and follow. That has set up the corollary: Me reaching out to the crowd, offering my work in return.
If you’re where I was a few months ago, and are interested in getting involved, you might check this list as a primer for some of the largest and most well-known literary journals, or perform your own research (Google: “literary journal”). Browse the various publications, check for online samples and deals on past issues; enter contests that include one-year subscriptions. Check the “submissions” page, which will lead you back to something that looks just a little like my fictitious Hal Incandenza Magazine entry above. Realize that I was exaggerating too: there’s no real Tax Day for writers. While many journals close entries for the summer, a time when professors and interns are often less engaged in the process, other journals stay open year-round.
Enjoy the process.