On Submitting

(Actually, that title sounds almost suggestive.  Should we, perhaps, call it “sending out”?)

The very first piece I wrote and submitted for publication was a short story called “Shanghai, Anyone?”  I was in junior high.  The magazine was Langauge Works, the state-wide publication of the Maine Council of English and Language Arts, showcasing student work.  The editorial board took the story.  When the magazine came out, “Shanghai, Anyone?” took up about a fifth of the pages–okay, so it wasn’t so short.  But to a fourteen-year-old, it was awesome.  And addicting.

That was back in the ice age.  I’ve been submitting ever since.  Stories, poems, the occasional photograph, articles, reviews.  Once I decided my goal was professional publication, I chose my first “real” magazine carefully:  The New Yorker.

My very first professional rejection letter.



Of course.  I knew I would be rejected, and I wanted my first real rejection letter to be from the one place I admired more than any other.  In those days, The New Yorker actually did send out real letters, on real stationery:  half-sheets, embossed.  Quite frankly, if you knew you were going to have your work rejected, this was the best way to go.  This is the only rejection letter I’ve kept; in fact, it is framed and hanging over my desk.  Only later did the magazine go to cheap photocopies that didn’t even line up correctly on the page; then they went to online submissions with the instruction that, if you didn’t hear from them in a few weeks, you could consider yourself rejected.  Ouch!

In those first years of conscientious submitting, I was printing out on a dot-matrix printer.  Ew.  I had no clue how to do my self-addressed stamped envelopes on those, so that part was done by hand.  When an envelope showed up in my mailbox, with my own name and address written in my own hand, it broke my heart–and my spirit.  They didn’t like me! It was always me, of course, that the magazine didn’t like:  I took it all so personally.  I would dump the envelopes, unopened, into the bottom drawer of my desk.  Very rarely did I think to re-submit the same work to a different magazine; if one didn’t like me, no other would…until I wrote something different.  Until I remade myself.

Here I’ll pause and once again pay my dues to the late Terry Plunkett, editor of Kennebec. At the urging of a writing professor at college, I had sent Terry a short story entitled “Zelda,” about a delusional man who inexorably draws his lover into her own matching delusion.  When Terry opted to publish the piece, he bypassed the usual note-in-the-mail acceptance, and called me on the phone.  Not only would he publish the piece, but “Zelda” would be the cover story of the next issue.

With that prodding, it must have been after a year or so of submitting seriously, when I decided to clear out that desk drawer.  Imagine my surprise to discover, upon opening an envelope or two or ten, that some of them actually contained acceptances.  Then the contributor’s copies began to arrive.  Talk about addiction!  My name in print.  My work in print.  To paraphrase Sally Field, They like me!  They really like me!

Over the years I’ve used several tools to guide submissions.  Since the vast majority of stuff I send out is poetry, I’ve invested in

Yep. This book. But a newer version.

Poet’s Market, the tome from Writer’s Digest Books, on a fairly regular basis.  This beast is an enormous listing of magazines nationwide, with some international markets included, which accept poetry.  It includes contact information, submission guidelines, information about the kinds of work the editors like to see, names of writers published in previous issues…invaluable stuff, updated every year.  It’s a great place to begin magazine research.  I like, upon purchasing the newest volume, to troll through it and see if I know anyone publishing anywhere.  Though I’ve never come across my name in the book, I have, more and more, been able to check the names of publications which have chosen to include my work. They like me! And I, of course, love them.

More recently, I’ve been using CRWROPPS, an online mailing list compiled by a wonderful writer and teacher from SIU Carbondale, Allison Joseph.  Allison collects listings of magazines accepting work, and sends them out to lucky people like me once a day.  It’s a heroic undertaking.  Thanks to CRWROPPS (which stands for Creative Writing Opportunities), I’ve found homes for my work in magazines around the country.  I like to tell people that, because of these two tools in particular, I’ve now been published in 48 states (I’ve yet to crack Hawaii and Alabama–They don’t like me!), Canada and the UK, not to mention in several on-line ventures as well.

Because of the addictive nature of seeing one’s name and one’s work in print, I envision myself sending out work until I die.  Because of the weird compulsion all writers, including me, have to just write, I envision myself creating an endless supply of work to send out–and I’m so glad that I no longer have a dot-matrix printer, and that I know how to print envelopes now.  After all these years, of course, the addiction and compulsion are paying off:  I’ve created a pretty hefty publication resume for myself.  This helps when trying to convince poetry presses that there might actually be a readership out there for me.

Of course, it’s poetry.  It’s not made me rich yet.  It’s not likely to make me rich ever.  That’s okay with me.  Because I’m both compulsive and addicted.


–In my first year teaching at CHS, the librarian was culling files, and said people could save things out before she hurled the rest in the trash.  Surprise!  I found, amongst all that stuff, a copy of the issue of Language Works which contained my story.  The piece had apparently been hanging out in that school for several years before I finally got there in person.

–For years I’ve posted rejection letters on the bulletin board in my classroom as they came in.  The kids found them interesting and amusing.  Some were distinctly odd:  I put a handwritten one up there that said merely, “I hate school.”  Some were downright cruel, including the one that suggested I buy a thesaurus.  At the end of the year, I’d take them down and throw them away; in the fall I’d start over again.  Lately, though, with the amount of submission transactions actually done online, there haven’t been very many rejection letters to post.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve got quite a few rejection letters of my own – they live in the back of my filing cabinet, and with hindsight I can see why those stories weren’t accepted. Someday I may get round to pillaging the good bits and rewriting, though I have more than enough to go at for the moment…

    I was amused by your assuming the SAEs that came back were inevitably rejections! And I was impressed by the fact you posted your own rejections for students to read – I guess that did give them a sense that you were a real writer and that the path of writing is a hard one, and the latter was probably a good lesson to teach them!

    The current practice of ‘wait 9 months and then assume no response equals rejection’ is annoying. My feeling is that if a journal is going to play that game they should accept that after a decent interval (a week, say) you’re entitled to multi-sub. On the other hand, a couple of times I’ve had the strange situation of getting an email acceptance and trying to remember ‘did I write a story with that title?’ and ‘when did I submit to them?’. Though I’m happy to take the $10 (or whatever) fee…


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