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Submission Strategies

Amanda Bauch

Apparently, I’m a weirdo.

OK, so maybe that’s not a revelation to anyone who knows me well.

I’ll be more specific: I’m a weirdo when it comes to my submission strategies.

Simultaneous submissions? Don’t do ’em. Cover letters listing previous publications and experience? Unless specifically requested, don’t do that either.

I dunno—you just have that “post-MFA” look…

At my productive apex, when that magical post-MFA glow still enveloped my creative self, I sent out a minimum of one piece per week. Colleagues scoffed, “How could you be submitting a piece a week? Aren’t you burned out?” On the contrary, I was writing more and better. But two factors made this possible: 1) My graduate work was memoir, and I now wrote fiction. 2) Instead of the novel-length work I typically produced (usually, without meaning to, my stories were like those tiny figurines that grow into foot-long, squishy figurines when soaked in water), I wrote a lot of flash fiction.

Simultaneous Submissions?

So what is weird about my submissions strategy? As mentioned above, I don’t do simultaneous submissions, for a couple of reasons—one personal, one practical. Personally, I feel that I owe it to each publication to find out what they accept and tailor a piece specifically to their aesthetic. While I wish I could subscribe to more journals, my peanuts adjunct pay and sizeable student loan debt don’t allow much budget room. Not to mention that even if I did subscribe, I’d have a pile of unread journals. Which would only make me feel guilty for spending money on something I then did nothing with, and also for supporting a publication I don’t even take the time to read.

To spare myself the agony, I find other ways to determine what publications want—mission statements, submission guidelines, who the editors are and what type of work they like. It’s amazing what you can discover by exploring a publication’s website from top to bottom. I relish the challenge of crafting unique pieces for each publication.

Now, for the practical reasons I don’t simultaneously submit. Although I’m an organized person—OCD, in fact—I loathe keeping track of stuff. Perhaps the OCD is to blame for this. I would develop anxiety about whether or not I written down every place I’d submitted a piece, then I wouldn’t know until I heard back from the editors, and then they would hate me and blacklist me from every publication that exists.

All right, so maybe the last part wouldn’t happen, but that’s where my mind goes.

So what DO you do?

Here’s the deal: I have four binders:

#1: Current pieces I’m working on to submit, with a chart listing the vital information for the publication: name, editor, address/email, genres accepted, deadline, etc.

#2: Currently pending submissions, with a log tracking all of this same info, including what piece I sent, the date, and the rejection/acceptance date. Each piece is in a plastic sheet protector with the submission guidelines, cover letter, and final version of the work. I also have a follow-up date listed for each piece on a blank calendar page in the binder front, so I know when to touch base with the editors, for those that permit such contact.

#3: Submission opportunities, organized by deadline and genre. This is where I pull from when I want to enhance my binder of submissions I’m working on. This binder has cross-referencing charts: publications that accept year-round submissions, listed alphabetically; listed by deadline date; publications with deadlines listed alphabetically. Usually I try to review this binder a few months in advance of deadlines (e.g., for April submissions, I’ll pull them in January).

#4: All of my past submissions, whether rejected or accepted. One the rare occasion I want to resubmit a piece, I take it from this binder, peruse any comments from the editor (infrequent, but usually telling), and begin my revisions.

Stick with the program

In the past year I haven’t done much submitting because I’ve been teaching a lot. But when I stick with my program, I generally meet with success—at least by my own standards. That first 1.5 years, I submitted 53 pieces (nonfiction, fiction, and even poetry) to 53 different publications and contests. Only 9 of these pieces were resubmits (i.e., submitted to more than one publication in that timeframe, but after much consideration and lots of revision), and a total of 10 were accepted. Like I said, this might not seem awe-inspiring, but it is about a 19% success rate. My initial goal was 25%, so that one of every four pieces I submitted would be accepted. However, the proximity of the reality to this goal satisfied me.

To each his or her own…

My system wouldn’t work for everyone. However, I do think it’s important for all writers to have some sort of plan when submitting work, even something as simple as grabbing a sticky note and jotting down the name of the publication, title of your piece, and the date you sent it. Being disciplined—and at least somewhat organized—can go a long way in helping you get your work into the hands of readers.

P.S. Don’t forget that Relief’s submission period is now open (until March 1). Even if you don’t go all crazy like me and set up a spreadsheet to track your work, we’d love to see it!