On the one hand, as someone with experience working on a lit mag, I understand how tiresome it is to wade through otherwise-valid submissions that don't meet requirements, or read something that has no place going out for publication yet. On the other, I have received rejection notices that are as unprofessional as the Comic Sans font submissions that read like someone's first time in a word processor.
For writers to produce the work and struggle with it is hard enough. Then, they must wade through tons of listings, inspect the requirements, and analyze the market. It's easy to fall into the trap of writing and editing in one phase, and then searching for submissions in another. But by doing so, you lose a lot of deadlines and potential markets that won't be reading by the time you think about publication.
Just like the writing process is a stream that goes through my daily life, I have made the submission process into something I should always be doing unless there's a valid reason not to (hint: there never is). Incorporating my interests as a visual artist made the process harder. It made the research I did easier, because I was ruling out markets anyway, and harder, because I had to keep track of what work I wanted to send out, and because artwork--especially oil painting, but also post-processing photography--has a different time to completion than a writing project.
As I keep track of my publishable work, I start to envision a home for it. Sometimes, any home is better than no home. Sometimes, I want to aim higher with a piece, so I'll hold back from certain markets until after I've received rejections. Here are some tips:
- I subscribe to Duotrope, a submission database, which can sort markets by upcoming deadlines and keep track of what projects you submit where. I would not be able to do this without it.
- I try to research a few markets per month (beginning, middle, and end of month are popular deadline dates) and plan around the summer/holiday vortex (fewer markets available over Christmas into January and over the summer). I sort Duotrope with 'include unthemed deadlines' checked and, normally, with 'include deadlines with fees' unchecked. I scroll through the names available and open each one in a separate tab. I read all submission guidelines to make sure it's a good fit and that the formatting guidelines aren't too arcane.
- I list the markets for the month in a word document titled by the deadline cluster (Midmarch 2016, for instance) by specific date. Underneath a link to the submission guidelines, I write a couple words, such as "art--Uganda" or "theme: chaos" that will help jog my memory later as to what I thought I could submit to that market.
- On submission days (ie, whenever the deadlines encroaches and I can spare a couple of hours), I go back through my document, making sure I prepare my files correctly for each market. There are always a few more markets that I rule out by this point. I try to submit in groups of at least three or four markets at least once per month. After I submit to a market, I delete it from the document or italicize the listing so I know I've already submitted there while I'm looking at the document.
- I'm not a perfect writer, but by reading guidelines, vetting markets, and making serious decisions about what response time/acceptance probability I want for each piece, I have been able to have a higher than average acceptance rate. For instance, I sent out 'On the Bamboo Train' to four markets, two in April and two in August. However, I had more in mind for when I wanted to shop the piece more aggressively, which I would have done in the September deadline set.
- I try to be realistic about a piece's chances. Some works that I've written exist in a form that I see as perfect for that work--that I know could be improved upon, but that I'm also not interested in improving. However, I always ask myself whether I think I would be embarrassed to have my name associated with that piece, that market, in five or ten years.
- I retire often. Short stories, photographs, paintings, poems have all gone by the side of the road because I wasn't interested in aggressively submitting them to every single market out there rather than giving my most current work a fair chance. Sometimes, however, I'll have a breakthrough on a project that will take it to a different level. For instance, learning Photoshop helped me publish some older photographs that weren't good enough without extra post-processing such as sky replacement. I save the writing in case I can work on it or use it in the future; the art I publish to my online portfolio if it's good enough.
- Sometimes, I don't feel like I have anything worthwhile to send out, so I'll delete my list of markets, or miss deadlines that I've researched. However, just the ability to keep up with lit mags, read some great new work, and hopefully make some 'friends' to submit to later will help you. There's an entire wishlist of markets I have, not because they're too exclusive for me right now, but rather because I don't have an appropriate work for them right now but I love what they do. Submitting should be a labor of love with a list of favorite destinations in mind, rather than a set of checkmarks in a bunch of generic boxes.
I'm feeling very accomplished this month because I have works to submit and a list of markets to match before AWP, which means I have to submit by March 29th for the late March/early April deadlines. Good luck with your own submissions!